6pm Sunday Evening…
25 years ago this week I started my television career in Portland. It was my first real TV job and I was lucky to start (and still be in) my home television market. 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 25 years later; somehow I’ve survived in this tough business. Yes, I have aged. Check out a collection of pics during that time with the dates on the bottom. Actually the first one is from my internship tape at KIRO-TV while at the UW in 1990. I call that the “I’m scared…help me mommy” look. I was 21 years old.
I had wanted to be a “weatherman” since about 7th grade, the other choice was farming. I grew up mainly near Monitor (Mt. Angel) in Marion County, but then moved to Chehalis, WA for 8th grade. Since I lived in Chehalis, Washington in high school 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 weather 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…
That was a problem…
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 in that first pic above. As a result 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 for a long time. The 2nd pic above was a brief stint at Columbia Cable in Vancouver doing a couple of hours a day while working at Micro Forecasts. Here’s a pic from 1992. Was it ever okay to wear shorts like that with a shirt tucked in???
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 and I hope you get the job”. Apparently I was just barely good enough; I had a real TV job and I was only 24! I don’t have video of my very first day, but anchor 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. 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. Ken was one of MANY coworkers I’ve been fortunate enough to spend time with over this quarter century.
I worked at KOIN-TV for 7 years, then late in summer 2000 I left to be the first meteorologist at KPDX-TV’s 10pm newscast. KOIN had produced that newscast 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 soon after things changed. Many owners in the following 15 years included all sorts of layoffs, downsizing etc. I’ve been in the right place with great managers.
Then in the summer of 2002, KPDX’s corporation (Meredith) bought/swapped KPTV for another station in Orlando, so both stations were now (and continue to be) 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 25 years in this business?
It sure isn’t because I’m beautiful!
Part luck, part timing. Being in the right position/place at the right time…many factors play into it. I have seen LOTS of on-air anchors and meteorologists come and go for many different reasons.
There are several factors I feel do help out and probably apply to many jobs. Listen up kids!
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 a real-world example.
2. Treat others well. I’m no angel, but I try to treat others fairly. Don’t make enemies for absolutely no reason. If you’re cranky or unhappy, there is 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 (well, maybe a little), but be willing to give a little when a boss comes to you with a new idea. A few times I’ve been approached with what I think is the dumbest new concept. Most of the time I’ve played along. Within a short period of time others discover it’s ridiculous and it goes away. No reason to immediately freak out.
4. Don’t burn bridges! It’s tempting to do that if you leave a job, but don’t. A coworker who produced weekend newscasts at KOIN ended up as my current boss! Glad I didn’t act like a jerk back then. Although she is aware I should never get on a sugar-low and then come in for a meeting…
The big questions…
- Do I still like my job?
- How long will I keep doing it?
Yes, most of the time I like my job. I get tired of the late evening shift (to bed at 1am), it’s always been obvious to me that I’m a morning person. My kids (now 17 & 18) grew up without seeing me 4 days a week, but I tried to make up for that by never doing things on my own weekends and avoiding work commitments on my days off.
I still come in most days and stare that the maps/models just like I did 10, 15, or 20 years ago. Each day is new in this business (both TV news & meteorology).
Busy winters (like two years back) are very stressful in this business, but anticipating our slow summers with vacation time gets me through those years. That’s what I always tell my wife when I run out of the house an hour after waking up…because 2″ of snow is about to fall on Portland.
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?
So I have no plans to leave this odd television news business or FOX12 for that matter. Will it be 30 years? Or 35? We’ll see!
Chief Meteorologist Mark Nelsen