20 years ago, right about now, I started my television career in Portland. I figured at the time that I’d do it for 5 or 10 years and then “get a real job”. Well…I just kept signing one contract after another and here it is 20 years later. Here’s a look back
A little history:
I had wanted to be a “weatherman” since about 7th grade, the other choice was farming. I lived in Chehalis, Washington in high school, so the UW Atmospheric Sciences program was an obvious choice for a degree. To save A TON of money, I went to Centralia Community College the first two years to get the physics and math done, then transferred to the UW. While in college, I just assumed I would go into the National Weather Service or work for some private company. Then during my senior year up there, I saw that KIRO-TV had an internship for their weather department. I thought it might be fun so I applied and was accepted (there probably weren’t any other applicants). I found I liked the TV stuff, making graphics and the buzz of the newsroom. So after making an “audition tape” which is the first part of the video above, I started applying for jobs in small television markets where the weather was exciting. Fargo, North Platte, Wichita, Iowa, Mississippi etc…
No one would hire me because I looked like, well, a little kid, and I gulped and looked scared on the tape, as you see. Because of that, I ended up taking a job at Micro-Forecasts, a private company that forecast wind conditions in the Gorge. I really liked that job, we moved the office to Hood River (even better!), and I hoped I would just stay with them. The next video you see on the tape was a brief stint at Columbia Cable in Vancouver doing a couple of hours a day while working at Micro Forecasts
Then one day the boss asked me something like “how much of this month’s paycheck do you really need?”. Wow. Not a good sign. Things went downhill after that and the company fell apart. Lucky for me, at the same time both Heidi Sonnen and Bob Shaw (morning and weekend weather) were leaving KOIN-TV; thus KOIN was desperate. I remember coming in for an interview, and Randy Querin who had been working 6-7 day weeks said “I don’t care if we hire a monkey, I’m tired of this”. Apparently I was just barely good enough; I had a real TV job! I don’t have video of my very first day, but Ken Boddie just before the first hit said “don’t worry dude, there are only about 70,000 people watching” , then laughed. Wasn’t funny at that time. The first KOIN video was about 2 weeks into the job and the first time I was on a big weekday show…scary. That’s Marcia Coffey and Mark Hendricks. By the way, working weekends for about 4 years with Ken Boddie was the best, he showed me what I should and should NOT wear. I was a small town kid with no fashion sense. And, Saturday nights the weather center had the only real nice TV for watching Star Trek The Next Generation…good times.
The following two clips are about 6 months into the first job and then almost 2 years after I started. Check out those ties? Who allowed me to wear those? The last one was in the summer when I used to windsurf a lot. Looks like I had a lot of sun and the hair was getting a bit brighter.
I worked at KOIN-TV through summer 2000 and left to be the first meteorologist at KPDX-TV’s 10pm newscast. KOIN had produced that for 8-10 years, then KPDX built the building we are currently in and started their own news department. It was a good time to leave KOIN because immediately after that things went downhill quickly. Several different owners in the last 13 years and all sorts of layoffs, downsizing etc…
Then in the summer of 2002, KPDX’s corporation (Meredith) bought/swapped KPTV for another station in Orlando, so both stations are now owned by Meredith. Lots of layoffs that time too, but somehow I survived. Rod Hill and I were briefly co-chief meteorologists for about 9 months before he left to take a job at KATU when Rob Marciano left. That was good, because we both figured at some point one of us wouldn’t be needed.
So how do you survive 20 years in this business? It sure isn’t because I’m beautiful!
Part is luck, part is timing, being in the right position at the right time. Part might be making sure you’re not so highly paid you’re a target to dump when times get tough…I’m not sure.
Several things that I feel do help out:
1. Be FLEXIBLE. Don’t let yourself get steamrolled, but choose your battles carefully! Remember, it’s not brain-surgery, it’s television. Is it really worth ruining a career just because you don’t want to put labels on the high temp map??? Just an example.
2. Treat others well. Don’t make enemies for absolutely no reason. If you’re cranky or unhappy, no need to drag everyone else into it.
3. Be willing to learn and adapt. I’m pretty sure I would have been dumped at one specific point if I wouldn’t have simplified my presentation a bit. That doesn’t mean dumb it down, but be willing to give a little.
4. Don’t burn bridges! It’s tempting to do that if you leave a job, but don’t. Someone who produced weekend newscasts at KOIN ended up being my current boss! Glad I didn’t act like a jerk back then.
The big question…do I still like my job and how long will I keep doing it? Yes, most of the time I like my job. I’m getting tired of the late night shift (to bed at 1am). I am a morning person so I have trouble sleeping past 8 nowadays. But I’ve had a lot of fun and it’s paid the bills. Plus I get paid to do my hobby…what’s better than that? I have no idea how much longer I’ll be doing this; but there are no plans on my end to change anything.
Chief Meteorologist Mark Nelsen