Here are the latest two entries in this reality blog series about blogger Scott Zakheim’s quest to be a famous weatherman. Read Scott’s previous blog posts.
Entry 3: The Inspirations: my Weathermuses
Today’s theme is inspirations. I’m going to dedicate this post to those folks that were so good at their weatherman jobs during my childhood and beyond, that they pushed me to dream about becoming like them.
My dream of small talking with Jim Vance, Doreen Gentzler and George Michael (R.I.P) at the end of the 6 and 11 o’clock news was only formed by seeing how well Bob, Doug and Topper, etc could do it (First of many Jim Vance shout-outs on this blog, probably a top-3 local new personality of all time. I finally got to meet Vance last year at the National’s Kosher Stand. That’s right, Vance digs kosher dogs),.
So let’s focus on those who fed the dream and helped create Scooter (my nickname, in case you were wondering) and his Technicolor Doppler: Bob Ryan, Doug Hill and Topper Shutt.
If you’re talking weather and you’re talking D.C., you’re talking Bob Ryan - now at ABC7. The man, now shockingly 68 years old, is a National Capital Area institution. For thirty years (1980-2010) he did weather for NBC4. For us millenials, Ryan is all we’ve ever known. He is the sole reason that myself and so many of my peers in D.C. became enthralled by the weather at such an early age.
Ryan reported the weather with a child-like exuberance – his passion for a fast moving system that could dump 3-6 inches in the north and west suburbs could be felt through your 24-inch screen.
Besides the stump speeches and baby kissing, Ryan had the genius, intuition, and foresight to create special NBC4 Weather Stations and chose lucky area schools to have them installed. These weather stations - with thermometers, wind gauges and other instruments – provide an amazing teaching tool for local science teachers, are a perfect mechanism to get kids stoked about the weather, and are still used to report temps around the beltway for NBC4. How cool is that? Talk about creating a long-term ratings boost and increasing viewer loyalty.
But Ryan’s marketing machine wasn’t done yet. He also published and distributed (with his good friends at Giant Food – they really did care about us) the annual Bob Ryan NBC4 weather almanac. What D.C. area kid didn’t slip that circular in amongst mom’s produce while waiting in line at the grocery store? The thing was packed with great weather stats (avg. yearly rainfall and snowfall totals, winter predictions, etc.)
Ryan’s branding campaign moved him from the ranks of generic local weatherman to D.C. A-list celebrity (if not hero). Growing up in our area, there definitely wasn’t a lot of good (people or sports) to root for – Ryan gave us all a respectable role model.
Unfortunately, the Ryan saga takes a sad turn. In third grade (circa 1991), it was announced on a fateful day in late autumn that Ryan’s tour was making a stop at our local orthodox hebrew day school. This was a momentous occasion. Cherish it, kids. Cherish it.
Our biggest speakers in those days were Rabbis who came into tell us about how to properly slaughter a kosher animal. Ryan was a serious upgrade. The second it was announced, my little yiddisher kop started chugging. The dream was ignited.
I was going to use Ryan’s Hebrew Academy appearance to wow the pants off of him. The crowd, and Ryan, would be dumbfounded by the depth of my weather knowledge during Q&A. What nine year old could converse with Ryan on the El Nino effect, farmers almanac predictions, and the dangers of a low-pressure and high-pressure convergence on a mid-summer evening? The reverberations from my showing would be instantaneous: an offer for multiple summer internships, my first on-air report by 13, drop out of school and a full-time gig on Ryan’s NBC4 weather team by 16. I was going to be the Doogie Howser of local weather.
Of course, like at many other times in my life, my immune system undermined this dream. On the morning of I woke up to a medium-grade fever. I didn’t make it to school for my fortuitous meeting with Ryan. No Q&A. No autograph in my almanac. No internship. No dream-come-true. Instead, Ryan came and went without much fanfare (clearly he was underwhelmed by my lower school’s weather acumen), no weather center was built my school (it actually went to our rival Jewish Day School), and Ryan never stepped foot in 2010 Linden Lane again.
I still have not met the man to this day.
It’s hard to follow up Bob Ryan. Not a good spot to be in. But Doug Dougie Hill can tell the weather. Whether with WUSA-9, where I grew to know him or now at WJLA and WTOP (on the radio), Hill gets it right. He’s sharp, he’s accurate and he stays with you as weather patterns change.
A quick anecdote about Hill:
Hill reported live from the opening of the then MCI Center on December 2, 1997. I was in attendance that night to see the Wizards and my childhood idol Calbert (Cheaney) face the Seattle Supersonics (as was Bill Clinton, btw). I actually arrived three hours early to see Calbert take shoot around from the front row. What a fun day.
Anyway, in my explorations of the MCI concourse that afternoon during pre-game, I happened to come across Hill and his cameraman, who were about to do his live shot from MCI. I, being the star-struck media whore I was then (and am still today), lingered sheepishly around Hill until he took notice of me and asked if I’d do an interview with him during his live shot.
Cha. Ching. Batabing. The live shot went great. No stutters or hiccups. I was smooth in front of the camera lights boasting on about the modern amenities of MCI and the chivalrous work Abe Pollin did revitalizing downtown D.C.
Gotta love Topper Shutt. Just everyone’s loveable weather nerd. So funny, so cute. I assume Topper is probably a really cool dude, but just likes playing it a little geeky on the air. I was really pleased when Hill moved over to WJLA, paving the way for Shutt to become Chief Meteorologist at WUSA9. It just felt right.
Something about Shutt makes the viewer comfortable. Whether it’s that nerdy streak or his self-effacing nature, you just can’t help but like that guy.
Here’s the other thing about Shutt. He is Steve Carell. I’m sure I wasn’t the first Washingtonian to make this call, but I was sure proud to recognize it without having someone point it out to me. It’s uncanny.
Entry 4: Weather Fraud?
I’ve been getting all sorts of push-back about the legitimacy of my weather dream.
Tell people you have a dream to become a weatherman? Nuh-uh. No way. Completely unbelievable. It either doesn’t make sense, doesn’t line up with your persona or personal history, your passions or in my case, obsessions. It’s no problem telling people that you dreamed you were playing a professional baseball game that got broken up by a bunch of mountain lions (a recent dream of mine), but tell them you dream of being the next Doug Hill and they larf you out of the room.
Being a weatherman is one of my many dreams. There are others which I’ll admit rank much higher on the dreams list. There are definitely those that, if I had a choice, I would choose over being the local weatherguy (sorry Bob Ryan – I hope I’m not disappointing you). But should that delegitimize the power of this dream? I think not.
Let me first eliminate those dreams that come ahead of weatherman but are not executable because of my physical make-up or general lack of talent: any professional athlete. So although I’d rank Redskins wide receiver, Orioles shortstop, Indiana U. point guard or PGA tour pro ahead of channel 4 weatherman, none of those are happening.
I would also, of course, have to rank my sports front office aspirations ahead of becoming a weatherman. Being the next Theo Epstein would be sweet (I even recently emailed Orioles GM Andy McPhail about the biz – he ignored me), but unfortunately, I don’t have any breakthrough sports theories (like the boys in Moneyball did), I’m not a big numbers guy (lord knows how I got my MBA) and I don’t have any kind of connections into the four major sports
Coaching would be nice. I would say my number one dream at present time is to go work for my beloved Calbert (Cheaney) at Indiana University (IU). Can you imagine sitting on the same bench coaching with your childhood idol? And working together to lead Indiana back to the college promised land? Would make for a great movie. I think I’ll stick with annoying him for the occasional complimentary IU ticket and some nice new apparel.
Now let’s shift our focus to journalism. I’ve been told/asked that I’m much more suited to pursue my dream of becoming a sports broadcaster (let’s just lump sports writer in there too). I love sports. I love writing about sports. I’d probably love talking about sports on TV too. I actually did a summer internship at FoxNews in 1999 in Washington DC.
In college, the dream lived on as I spent three semesters writing for the Columbia University Spectator sports section (I did the Track and Field beat). I think I lost interest when I realized I could spend my time skipping class and sunbathing on Columbia’s Low Library steps (we’ll dig deeper on that in my next post).
Since the college days, I even did some freelance work (I got to go to NFL training camp) and did a sports blog on The Washington Redskins. So the dream was somewhat pursued.
Here was my beef with that whole pursuit though – does the world really need another sports journalist and talking head? I think I decided to hang up the Sports Typewriter because everyone else was/is doing it. I don’t want to be one of a million people trying to be the next Craig Kilborn or breakthrough writer on DeadSpin or Grantland (I mean I do but those million others have made it so much less cool).
Who needs another cutesy sports blogger with outlandish opinions looking to grab some attention? It’s enough already. I’m out of the game.
And that left me with the next dream on my list: becoming a weatherman. The weatherman dream blog lets me do a couple of things that those other dreams don’t.
1) It gives me a way to actually pursue the profession in a very unorthodox way – learning, blogging and marketing weather is my only choice if I actually want to get into the weather game at such a late stage
2) It allows me to write again – something I thoroughly enjoy and cherish (I would sell out the weatherman dream in a heartbeat if offered a book deal).
3) The Kicker – It is a unique dream (at least a unique blog) – know anyone else blogging about the weather and their pursuit of local weather stardom?
I think I am the one and only.