Sunday, January 12, 2014

Some Thoughts on The Weather Channel and Why You Don't Need It -OR- You Can't Go Back

Bruce Edwards and Andre Bernier at the very debut of The Weather Channel on May 2, 1982, a minute or so after the late Frank Batten flipped the switch to "turn on" the cable channel that he birthed. (Batten was the Chairman and CEO of Landmark Communications and co-founded The Weather Channel with John Coleman.)

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A few thoughts on the on-going battle between The Weather Channel and DirecTV over the latter's plans to drop the former from its line-up. First, read this Capital Weather Gang entry (link embedded): Weather Channel urging viewers to pressure DirecTV not to drop network by Jason Samenow. Also read the comments (yes, I have one in there -- part of which I am repeating in this entry).

The Weather Channel animated logo at its very debut -- seconds after Mr. Batten flipped that switch.

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For starters, let's establish that this is just two American corporate behemoths fighting for money and power. It is purely amoral. There is no public interest here in any way, although it's gratifying to hear DirecTV call out The Weather Channel for being 40 percent reality show programming (I would have thought the percentage was even higher).

Perhaps Pitty Shil -- a.k.a., Wall-P -- whose professional life is telecom law -- thinks there is something wonderful going on here, but there isn't. Equating money and power with real value is not the answer, but Wall-P can do no other.

"Eh. Eh. Ehehehe. This proves yet again that all value flows from contract law. Gotta go, Staff is on the line."

The truth is, and in true corporate oligarchical capitalist style, both companies offer nothing of value to the public interest but instead its pure commercial consumer fetishistic-driven entertainment by a company with oligopolical power (DirecTV) and by a purveyor of LCD enviro-porn (The Weather Channel).

Bruce Edwards standing in front of a projection of the very first satellite picture of North America shown at the very debut of The Weather Channel, May 2, 1982.

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Both are symptom and cause of the characteristics of the times in which we live. Symptom is obvious (profit-driven information / entertainment bubbles fraying the social fabric). But I also say "cause" because it is precisely the ever-metastasizing for-profit media/entertainment complex that is the driver of so much of the destruction of our social fabric.

Ha ha

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As such, observing what both companies are -- especially what The Weather Channel has become -- is so revealing and instructive of the general social collapse of America and its increasing oligarchical economic barbarism and atavistic game show politics.

I guess the only thing missing is to have Cantore performing this charade from some bar in Owsley County, Kentucky.


The first hour of The Weather Channel. It features a half hour of introduction remarks and talk -- the above screen shot is of John Coleman, the man who served as the CEO and President of The Weather Channel in its early years -- and then the first half hour of the actual Weather Channel maiden broadcast. Batten flips the switch and the channel is launched around 29:30.

As for Coleman, he has long since turned into a dyspeptic, old rightwinger and Fox News-featured global climate change denier, though he has no background whatsoever in the field of climate science. He's just a corporate executive and TV weathercaster personality.

The original logo of The Weather Channel.

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Anyway, to reflect on The Weather Channel way back when, I have fond memories of it right back to its scrappy beginning in 1982 (fall '82 or about four or five months after it launched). I was living in Glen Burnie, Md., at the time.

Bruce Edwards in front of the first U.S. weather map on the maiden broadcast of The Weather Channel, May 2, 1982. The "midnight" therefore must mean May 3, 1983 (probably Eastern time).

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From the beginning, I loved The Weather Channel. It was wonderful to watch, and watch it I did. I even remember its little jingle back then:

"You need us, The Weather Channel / For everything you do!"

I recall watching it so much in 1983 and 1984 when I was in New Jersey at the Jersey Shore in Long Branch and Sea Bright with my grandparents. Then back to Maryland with my mom and the school year. I watched it regularly through about 1994. For me, this corresponds to its decade-long heyday.

You could keep The Weather Channel on for hours as just background music, and I did. And speaking of music, it played wonderful music during the local forecast segments. I recall a time when it would show -- in the wee hours -- just the West Coast forecast. Even in the summer time.

The original Weather Channel on-air cast including Gay Dawson, Bruce Edwards, Vicki Griffin, John Hope, Vince Miller, Dennis Smith, Bill Schubert, and Charlie Welsh, among others.

There was Rick Griffin, who was Vicki Griffin's husband, at least at the time. He left TWC for a number of years and then returned for a period.

Finally, there was Ray Ban (though I don't see him in that picture). He was once spoke to me at length on the phone in 2003 about The Weather Channel's then-new forecast system Executive Vice President of Programming, Operations and Meteorology. That was for that stupid Bad Weather book for John Wiley & Sons that I was going to write that never came to fruition.)

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U.S. weather map for September 12, 1999 on The Weather Channel. I'm pretty sure that's a thermal low over the northern Gulf of California Sea of Cortez / Imperial Valley.

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The on-air meteorologists would talk for hours about giant high pressure stretching from Seattle to San Diego with the biggest deal being some marine stratocumulus clouds off Cape Mendocino and the Channel Islands. Oh, and maybe some sprinkles on the Olympic Peninsula. And I can't forget the "thermal low" that was always over the hottest part of southwestern Arizona. Then cue the local forecast and Brian Eno music. It was wonderful.

Then it all changed.

Slowly, steadily, irrevocably ... a one way journey into this monstrous thing that it is today.

And Jim Cantore through the change, the de facto spokes-person, not to mention the Crocodile Dundee wannabe of this American Southern GOP-leaning corporate operation.

As an aside, I have had two interactions with Cantore over the years including once when he called me out of the blue early on a weekend morning circa 1996 (waking me up) when I was in a dorm at the Univ. of Maryland, College Park. This was after I had written him a letter. I guess that was nice of him to call me like that.  

Jim Cantore in Washington, D.C., during the painful and ridiculous "Snowquester" bust last March. What a clown.

The Weather Channel -- part of its deeply unhelpful and out-of-context winter storm naming convention that no one else follows - called the storm "Saturn."

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However, the brief conversation didn't go so well, if only because I was groggy (I am so not a morning person). And I had to pee like crazy, but I had one of those ridiculous land-line phones so I couldn't move from the phone. I had a better interaction with him when he was in D.C. once for a snow event maybe 4 years later with Gary and Chester and/or Kevin.)

Screenshot of The Weather Channel from August 14, 1987 showing Jim Cantore back when he had hair.

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As for The Weather Channel and what went wrong, there is certainly a market failure here -- what happens when the profit motive dictates the science and public interest. We get that. Still, it has been dreadful to watch what happened to it. I haven't watched TWC in years now, and I miss it.

Or what it used to be. It's true, though: you can't go back.

--Regulus

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