Babe Winkelman moves from television to streaming online
Good Fishing among anchor shows now available on new getoutdoorstv.com.
You could forgive Babe Winkelman if he was feeling a bit down one morning back in March when his name came up on Fox News.
“We filed for bankruptcy on March 9. Your (newspaper) story ran March 15 ... And by March 17 it was national news. We were the number-one search on Google for part of that day, too. We beat the coronavirus for a few hours,” Winkelman said.
But instead of feeling worse, all the publicity about his financial woes actually buoyed Minnesota’s most famous outdoor TV host.
“All those people were interested because they knew our TV shows,’’ Winkelman said. “It wasn’t a bad thing. It just showed me that our reach went much, much farther than I ever imagined.”
Brainerd-based Winkelman, his wife Kris and their business, Babe Winkelman Productions, are going through the process of Chapter 13 bankruptcy reorganization. They had essentially stopped airing their long-running Good Fishing and Outdoor Secrets television shows after the 2017 season, unable to cover production costs with the reduced level of television advertising revenue for the show.
“We were already in the process of reorganizing how we did things, going to online ... But then we just ran out of cash,” Winkleman said.
Now, at 71, Winkelman is not only trying to start fresh to make a living, he’s trying to reinvigorate his brand and get it to audiences that aren’t willing to get up early on Saturday morning or stay up late Sunday night just to watch a fishing show.
A wealth of issues surfaced over the past three years, said Winkelman, to force the bankruptcy. But he eventually was contacted by James Heckman, the CEO of Maven, a major multinational media platform company that now includes something called getoutdoorstv.com. (Maven also owns Sports Illustrated, Backpacker, Ski, Oxygen and many other multimedia labels reaching more than 100 million people monthly.)
Starting this month, several seasons of both Good Fishing and Outdoor Secrets are available at getoutdoorstv.com, streaming whenever you want to watch.
“The days of dad and the family sitting down at 5 p.m. on Sunday to watch a fishing show on television are over," Winkelman noted. “Now they can watch 24/7/365.”
Winkelman’s 2014-2017 seasons are online and available to watch now, free of charge. He's in the process of reaching back to all years of his half-hour TV shows that started in 1985.
“We lost the masters of the first two years in a fire (in Michigan) where they were being stored, but we’ll put everything up we have,’’ he said.
After that, Winkleman has about 30 new shows already shot that will be edited and uploaded to the new channel. Then he plans on getting back in the field to produce all-new shows that, he says, will follow his traditional recipe of striving to teach people how to be better anglers, hunters and wild game cooks.
“As soon as the coronavirus restrictions are lifted, we’ll be back out there,’’ Winkelman said, noting his daughter Karlee will be a big part of the shows in the future.
YouTube and other streaming videos and audio podcasts are a growing venue for "professional" anglers and hunters to showcase their talents with little overhead and no syndication costs, and for advertisers to reach their audience and potential customers, all while some traditional outdoor television shows and publications have seen declines in viewers and advertisers. New outdoor “shows’’ like Themeateater.com have become famous, attracting huge audiences, without ever being on traditional TV.
Other shows at getoutdoorstv.com include Aaron Outdoors, Fishing 411, the Game Meat Cooking Series, Hunting with HECS, Long Range Rifle Shooting with Ryan Cleckner and the once nationally syndicated Wild America series by Marty Stouffer.
This isn’t the first time Winkleman has had to reinvent himself in the world of outdoor entertainment. In the early 1990s a bruising legal battle with Minnesota television fishing rivals Al and Ron Lindner — that time involving then-newly-popular fishing videos, among other issues — nearly bankrupted Winkelman. But he recovered to thrive again.
“That time we avoided it (bankruptcy) when I went round making arrangements with everyone and we made everyone whole within 18 months,’’ he said. “This time, it was the only way out.”
As opposed to Chapter 7, which is a total liquidation of assets, Chapter 13 of the federal bankruptcy code provides for adjustment of debts of an individual with regular income. Chapter 13 allows a debtor to keep property and pay debts over time, usually three to five years. Winkleman said a private investment group fronted the cash for him and his wife to repurchase their Brainerd-area home from the bankruptcy trustee.
“I’m excited about where things are going,” he said. "Jim Heckman and Maven are the wave of the future ... This is going to be the next big thing.”
Winkelman grew up on a dairy farm near the small town of Duelm, Minnesota, just east of St. Cloud. He started guiding anglers in 1965, at age 16, and started fishing tournaments in 1970. He sold his construction businesses and moved full-time into the outdoor media profession in 1975, guiding, fishing in tournaments, teaching seminars and promoting Lindy/Little Joe fishing tackle while writing for magazines.
In 1978, Winkelman became a national celebrity of sorts when SC Johnson used his rugged northwoods image to introduce a new product to America, Deep Woods OFF mosquito repellent, in national television ads. Winkleman’s first TV show, "Good Fishing," hit the airwaves in 1980 as a short segment during TV news sports broadcasts and went to a half-hour format in 1985, one of the first major outdoor shows to feature northern U.S. and Canadian fishing and not just southern-state largemouth bass. A second show that focused on hunting, "Outdoor Secrets," followed later.
Winkleman was inducted into the National Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame in 1988 and the Fishing Hall of Fame of Minnesota in 2001.