The stage was set. It was December 1983 and the Weather Channel was finally ready to air an event outside of the broadcast studio.
A lunar eclipse was occurring that evening and the sky was crystal clear. A camera was attached to a telescope situated on top of the roof and with the flip of a switch, the nation would see the moon gradually be eclipsed. What could possibly go wrong?
After over a year and a half on the air, several of us at TWC were getting a bit antsy. All of our segments had been broadcast live from our studio. Our vice president of human resources (a staff of one at the time), Hugh Eaton, set up a “good suggestion” box on the wall in our meteorological laboratory. Several of us had discussed the possibility of broadcasting from the field for active weather events. There was really no room in our budget for such endeavors, but we placed suggestions in the box anyway.
A lunar eclipse was coming up and it was decided that showing this event in real-time would be interesting to the viewers and there was really no cost to it. One of our technical directors owned both a telescope and a small camera that could be attached. Just climb up to the roof, set everything up and we would be ready to go. We were pleased our suggestion was being addressed.
Several meteorologists, including myself, were on duty that evening and were excited about the eclipse. Our wise-cracking lead forecaster, Al Lipson, would often keep us laughing during a shift with witty comments often interrupted by pauses, for maximum effect.
A couple of hours before the event our technical director climbed up the narrow steps to the roof with telescope and camera in hand. We thought nothing more about it as we continued with our work. There was a large monitor in the room where we could see our live broadcast and we would soon watch the upcoming event with others who tuned to TWC.
The time had come and the on-camera meteorologist in the studio said “and we will now take you to see the lunar eclipse up close.”
Master control switched to the camera on the telescope and there was total black. Oops!
The technical director bolted out of the control room. He blurted out: “I set up the telescope and camera and pointed it at the moon.” We told him that the moon had moved over the past 2 hours and that someone should have been up on the roof to adjust the telescope. He frantically raced up the steps and reached the roof. Our eyes were peeled on the monitor and we could see movement, as he was hastily swinging the telescope to and fro until he found something to focus on.
I should point out that not far from the TWC building at the time was a Gulf gas station. It was located next to Interstate 285. Gas stations near interstates often have the logo extending quite high so travelers can see it. The Gulf logo stood prominently in the air a short distance away from TWC, which was located in an elevated area.
The frantic technical director, searching for the lunar eclipse, stopped moving the telescope when he saw a bright orange disc. We were all watching and Al Lipson blurts out: “Hey look [pause]! There’s a Gulf station [pause] on the MOON!” We all burst out in a loud round of laughter.
As the years progressed, live reports of significant weather events increased in frequency on TWC. In fact, they set the standard as other cable networks and local TV stations began to cover live events much more often. This first, albeit primitive, stab at it missed the mark but it did lead to a funny story.
(The author, Tom Moore, spent 33 years as a lead forecaster and on-camera meteorologist at the Weather Channel.)
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