The Weathermen, Underground
Nick Kosir's big break as a TV weatherman was pure happenstance. While working in 2009 as a reporter for KBTV in Beaumont, Tex., his producer sat him down for a heart-to-heart. The weathercaster for Good Day, KBTV's morning show, had just quit, and Kosir had been tapped for the job. "I was a terrible reporter," he recalls. "I could screw up a cat show story. My boss was like, 'Either you start doing the weather or you're gone.' "Kosir accepted the challenge and soon had an epiphany: To distinguish himself from the horde of genial, generically attractive forecasters, he wouldn't merely read the weather—he would rap it. After nine months on the job, he began his daily report, "I'm a weatherman, I talk weather a lot, but I'm going to rhyme now, whether you're ready or not!"
It took a year for Kosir's segments to become viral sensations. "The Rapping Weatherman" was featured on The O'Reilly Factor and Inside Edition; Ellen DeGeneres and Ryan Seacrest tweeted about his forecasts. He parlayed the fame into a job at KRON, an NBC affiliate in San Francisco. However, after a disagreement with his new boss during his first week, Kosir found himself yet another unemployed weatherman in a tanking economy. These days he's trying to rehabilitate his career as the forecaster for KMVT's Rise and Shine in Twin Falls, Idaho. And while Idaho lacks the glamour of the Bay Area, Kosir, 27, remains hopeful of returning to Big Weather. "It's still a dream," he says. "I still hope to someday get there."
Kosir isn't the only weatherman down on his luck. The economy and the Internet are conspiring to diminish the position. The National Weather Assn., an organization of professional meteorologists, has seen a downturn in membership renewals over the past few years, from approximately 3,000 in 2006 to about 2,700 in 2010, according to NWA Executive Director Stephen W. Harned. "TV meteor-ologists have really felt the impact of the recession," says Harned. It's particularly troubling since 2010 was characterized by extreme weather events, and the first weeks of 2011 have been just as severe. On New Year's weekend alone, 40 tornadoes touched down in the U.S., killing seven and wreaking some of the worst atmospheric carnage in 50 years. Earlier this month a Midwestern snowstorm competed for national headlines with the protests in Egypt—and even the Super Bowl. The boon was absorbed by The Weather Channel, the 29-year-old climate behemoth, which saw its ratings jump as much as 62 percent in mid-January. Says Harned: "Anywhere from a third to half of people who graduate with degrees in meteorology this year won't be able to find a job."
It's a far cry from the glory days. "The TV weatherman has always been one of the best, most secure jobs," says Willard Scott, who presented the weather on The Today Show from 1980 to 1996. "They change anchors, they change the set, producers come and go. But the weather person hangs on forever!" Alas, these days, smartphones, widgets, and in-elevator TVs displaying the forecast have decreased the need for weathermen. According to a 2010 poll by media consulting firm Frank N. Magid Associates, while the majority of weather watchers check local forecasts on TV, 87 percent also seek updates on the Internet—a number likely to rise in the coming years.
This change has made it easier for networks to part with their forecasters. In 2008 and early 2009 several major networks—including NBC, CBS (CBS), and The Weather Channel—initiated significant layoffs in their news divisions. Dozens of weather anchors across the country, from major network affiliates in New York, Chicago, and San Francisco to smaller stations in Denver and Birmingham, Ala., lost their jobs. "In the blink of an eye, the entire model has changed," says Paul Douglas, 52, who spent more than a decade as the weathercaster for WCCO, a CBS affiliate in Minneapolis. In April 2008, Douglas was let go for, he says, "making too much money at a time when TV stations were panicking during the depths of the recession." Yet Douglas insists this was a blessing: "a wake-up call for everybody in this business."
The time has come, Douglas believes, for weathercasters to reinvent themselves. A month after he was fired he co-founded WeatherNation, which he describes as an "outsourcing weather company" that provides Internet-powered content—with broadcasts read by an anchor—for TV stations that can't afford a weatherman. So far, clients include the Gannett (GCI) media group and select Fox (NWS) networks. In a poetic twist, Douglas's company now supplies weather reports for KARE 11 in the Twin Cities—placing him head-to-head with his former employer.
Yet Douglas's second act may end up being a blow to the weathercasting profession. The typical cost for WeatherNation's services—including radar and satellite imagery, interactive maps, mobile application data, and on-air talent—starts at $12,000 per year. The average annual salary of a weatherman, according to the Radio Television Digital News Assn., is $62,300. And they don't come to work with their own interactive maps. "We grew revenue by 56 percent last year," says Douglas, who expects to turn a profit in 2011 and expand his staff of eight full-time anchors. Douglas is positioning his business to cash in on what he sees as the future of the industry: personalized weather. Soon, he claims, people will want weather information "tailored for our GPS locations, lifestyles, calendars, anticipating our needs in advance"—all without ever turning on the TV.
Joe Bastardi agrees. As a senior forecaster for State College (Pa.)-based AccuWeather, he occasionally discusses the weather on networks such as CNN and Fox News. Yet TV, Bastardi confesses, is merely a platform to cultivate his own burgeoning weather enterprise. His main occupation, he says, is providing personalized forecasts for corporate clients, none of which he'll name. "The good Lord made me to forecast the weather," Bastardi explains, "he didn't make me to be a TV star." It's a media strategy he says he learned from Bruce Springsteen. "When Springsteen first put his music out there, he didn't want it on TV," he says. "And then he figured, maybe I can use this medium to share my message with more people. It's the same way with me."
Paul Douglas knows it isn't always as easy as the Boss makes it seem. Last May, in a partnership with Dish Network, he launched The Weather Cast to challenge The Weather Channel's monopoly. It lasted four days, making it one of the shortest-lived networks in TV history. "I want to believe meteorologists are up there with bar owners and morticians," says Douglas. "There will always be a need for what we do." Sam Champion, the weatherman on ABC's (DIS) Good Morning America, isn't sweating, though. He has a theory. "There are 50,000 places to get cupcakes," he explains, "but you probably have your favorite. We provide a certain kind of cupcake."
Best (Mostly Real) Weatherman Names
When he was hired by WCTI-TV in New Bern, N.C., in 1982, the general manager "held a 'Name the New Meteorologist' contest," he remembers.
"My honest-to-goodness real name," says the weather anchor at WCNC in Charlotte.
The retired WWOR weather legend was named by his meteorologist dad.
The former Fox 21 News meteorologist in Duluth, Minn., says one boss "wanted me to change my name every 90 days."