I was born and raised in rural Northwest, Iowa. We didn't live on a farm but since the town I grew up in (Smithland, IA) had a population of only about 350 and since my father was a grain and livestock trucker for our little valley, I certainly spent a lot of time on the farm(s). At first just tagging along with dad, but then as I got older, I started to help him.
Growing up in the 50's in a small-town America didn't give a person much of an idea of what was going on in the world outside our little valley. So, I was going to take over dad's business when he retired.
Trouble was as I was working my way through my teenage years, we discovered his business was probably not going to outlast him. Seemed as if every year another farmer would buy his own truck and not need to hire my dad.
Now, I began driving for/with my dad when I was fifteen. And when we realized his business was not going to last, we went about deciding what I was going to do with my life. Dad reasoned that I could drive and he would observe these certain professional drivers, wearing clean uniforms, working regular hours, making good money. So dad decided I was going to be a Greyhound Bus driver. He was pretty good at these things, so I said……OK.
Everything was going along according to plan until the last few months of my senior year in high school. I truly respect the hard work and professionalism of the Greyhound Bus drivers but as I approached graduation I realized that was not the direction I wanted to go. Trouble was, I didn't have any idea of what I wanted to do.
Higher education (anything more than high school) was pretty rare in my family. But God love 'em, when I told my mom and dad I didn't want to be a driver, they pushed me toward North Platte Junior College in North Platte, Nebraska. I had an uncle (Uncle Curt) who lived in North Platte and I think my folks thought he could keep a good eye on me while I found my way.
Two months after I moved to Nebraska, my folks decided that my uncle wasn't such a good influence after all. In a nutshell, here's why. Uncle Curt owned a Honda Motorcycle dealership and I fell in love with motorcycles. I sold a perfectly good 1957 Ford (two-door hardtop, V8) for a Honda motorcycle.
You probably know the winters get pretty cold in Nebraska and when dad found out I had sold my car for a motorcycle, he loudly questioned if I was absorbing any of this "higher education".
After this minor crisis, I continued my studies at North Platte J.C. and in the next few months, I began visiting a school friend who worked part time at the local radio station. The more I stopped by, the more I became interested and intrigued with the process of radio. And with the encouragement of my friend, I applied for a job and low-and-behold, two months later, the radio station actually hired me for a part-time job.
That's when things really started to get fun! Working radio was the first thing I ever had done that I really enjoyed. They were paying me for 20 hours a week and I was spending 80 hours there. Down the road, I eventually got a chance to try a part-time television job. And that was even a bigger kick than radio.
Finally, I landed my first full time TV weather job in Sioux City, Iowa, about 30 miles from where I grew up. I never thought I would be nervous but about an hour before I went on the air for my first time, I began to think of all my family and friends that would be watching me. So when I started the weather that first day, my voice was quivering so much I sounded like a 9-year-old scared out of my wits (which I was)! I sounded like this for the first three days (it's a wonder the station didn't fire me).
Finally on the fourth day I began to calm down and things started to get easier.
I worked four years at that first station. In subsequent years, I have worked in Miami, Oklahoma City, Dallas, back to Oklahoma City, Los Angeles, back to Oklahoma City and then finally here to Tampa. You may detect I had a fondness for Oklahoma City. It's hard country but some of the best people in the world live there!
Probably the biggest thing that has happened to this small town Iowa boy is getting to go up to New York and fill in for Spencer Christian, doing the weather on Good Morning America. The first time the show's producer called, I thought it was one of my friends playing a joke on me. I told the caller just that and almost hung up before he convinced me he was on the level. Spencer Christian was taking six days of vacation at Christmas time and would I like to fill in for him. After hesitating for ½ a second, I said yes!!!!
It was a lot of fun. Everyone at ABC was very friendly and helpful and my first day there all I had to do was to 'shadow' Spencer to see what his duties were. My real test
would come the next day (Christmas Day 1987), my first day on.
Good Morning America employed a separate meteorologist who arrived in the middle of the night and actually put most of the forecast together so Spencer didn't have to show up until 5 a.m. On my first day, I arrived at 4:45 a.m. and no meteorologist was there, but I figured he must have been somewhere else in the building . . . 5 a.m., still no meteorologist but I didn't realize anything was wrong yet . . . 5:10 a.m., got a call from the show's producer wanting to know where the meteorologist is, I don't know, the producer hangs up.
Three minutes later, the producer calls back saying words I cannot repeat here. Seems the meteorologist went to a Christmas party the night before and overslept. On top of that he lived way out on Long Island and it was snowing like crazy. Now I'm getting a little nervous. The producer asks if I can put the first hour of the show together until sleepyhead could get in. I said sure!
Fortunately there was a weather chart machine in the office and with that I was able to put together a couple forecast maps but I needed some numbers, forecast highs and lows for the next 24 hours around the country. No problem I thought. The day before I had seen them pulling those numbers out of the weather computer in the office. So I sit down at the computer, turn it on and the first thing it asks me for is the password.
Don't know the password and we are down to 30 minutes to show time. I needed to get the forecast temperatures for all around the country and I needed to get them to the graphic artist in the next 10 minutes.
In a flash of brilliance, I sent an assistant out on the street for a copy of the New York Times. We took the forecast temperatures from the paper and that's what got me through the first hour of Good Morning America until party boy showed up. Maybe it was good it happened that way…didn't give me time to get nervous, or at least I thought.
At the end of my first weather report that morning, I was supposed to say, "Back to you Joan and Charlie". Well, with everything going on and trying to remember all the physical moves and finishing on time, my ending statement came out, "Back to you Joan and……." I had drawn a total blank on Charlie Gibson's name. Although it felt like eternity, I'm sure it was only a couple seconds when just as I remembered and started to say Charlie's name, he says, "Charlie", kind of chuckling as he said it.
I thought after that day, Good Morning America would never ask me back but they did, one week in August '88 and Christmas week '88 again. It was a lot of fun but I have always preferred the evening shift over the pre-dawn shift.
I feel very comfortable in the Tampa Bay area and with ABC Action News. And I know I won't forget Wendy's and Brendan's names!
On playing golf:
“Everyone has to have a vice, and mine is golf. I didn’t pick up a club until I was in my twenties but really fell in love with the game. It’s just you and the course and you rise or fall by your own accomplishments with no one else to blame. I’ve been lucky enough to play all over the country, Mexico and Ireland but that elusive hole in one has, so far, avoided me!
Email me at email@example.com