Weathercasters take a beating all the time for screwing it up. They said it wouldn’t rain on the weekend, and there was a hurricane. They said the East Coast would be buried deeper than Jimmy Hoffa in an historic snowfall. OK, some got buried, New York City didn’t, but they bitched about it anyway. “Hey! You said we were screwed and we didn’t get screwed! You screwed up!”
Many years ago I was, in fact, a TV weather guy and I’m here now to reveal some secrets of how this whole thing really works.
The first thing you have to know is that I knew nothing about the weather. To get the job as the weekend weather guy at KGUN in Tucson, Arizona, I took out at weather book from the library and memorized a few facts such as what those lines on a weather map that have either bumps or triangles on them mean. Hint. It doesn’t matter to the viewer.
For my audition, the news director told me to use the same map as the real weather guy. The problem was, the real weather guy was 6’2” and I was roughly two-thirds his size. That’s an issue when you’re using a 7-foot tall physical weather map made of aluminum. After acing the audition, I got the job, but I was so short, the station built me a platform so I could reach Montana at the top of the map.
My background was spinning records as a morning drivetime radio announcer, but I was told I landed the job because news directors thought radio guys were “good bullshitters who could ad lib, working without scripts.”
So how did I come up with my profound prognostications? Simple. We had a weather wire that spat out the weather map features and forecasts. All I had to do was get that all in my head and act like I made it all up once I got on the air.
Oh, I had no fancy graphics or satellite map or Doppler Radar, or even a weather vane. Just little magnetic raindrops and sunshines and L’s for low pressure systems and H’s for high pressure systems. The weather wire told me where to toss them on the metal map. I also had magnetic numbers for the various temperatures. One night, between the early and late shows, the studio crew got stoned and when I returned, I found all the temps changed. For example, the map now showed the temperature in Chicago at 32,271 degrees. Wow! Windy AND warm!
We had a Native American cameraman who carried a hunting knife. When I predicted rain for the weekend he flashed the blade at me with threatening eyes while I was on the air. OK, well, maybe it’s only a 10 percent chance of rain. Put the damn knife away!
My big and tall predecessor who had been a TV weather guy for 25 years and was about to retire, gave me some important advice. “Make the shit look convincing and toss in a technical term every once in awhile to make them think you know what you’re talkin’ about.” His favorite was the acronym, CAVU, which stood for “ceiling and visibility unlimited.” Fancy pants for clear skies. I did toss it in a few times but after that I was outta bullets.
If you look at this video of one of my weathercasts, at the very top you’ll see “Associate Member of the American Meteorological Society” on the screen below my name. How did I earn that lofty title? I tossed a check for 25 bucks in the mail and sent it to the AMS and that bought me the right to stick that instant credibility on the screen.
Sometimes I got it wrong. Very wrong. Maybe I read the weather wire wrong. One day a guy from a local sub shop called and said my 6-foot sub was ready. I told him I didn’t order one. He insisted the giant sandwich was ordered in my name. Turns out it was a pissed off viewer who didn’t like the fact that I said it would be nice on Sunday and it rained on his family picnic. Nice prank. I lost two viewers. The wet picnicker and the PO’d sub guy.
So you see, weather’s a tough game. Not everyone is up to the task. Indeed, we decided to audition some lovely aspiring actresses to do the weather on the weekends. One flustered babe looked at the map during her auditioned and proclaimed, “Well..Looks like there are L’s! Those indicate the Left side of the map!” When the director asked what the H’s stood for, she proudly announced, “Hot, silly!” Maybe she’s the one who predicted NYC would be buried.