The more I see the Weather Channel, the more I realize these people do a really good job. This is not some cut-rate operation (like the one that inexplicably replaced it on DirecTV). It does its job well ... and sometimes entertainingly. Now it makes its big morning push Monday (March 17). Here's the story I sent to papers:
By MIKE HUGHES
As a new week begins – mixing Monday gloom with St. Patrick’s
Day frenzy – the Weather Channel makes its big push.
That’s a morning show that David Clark, the channel’s
president, calls “the most ambitious programming initiative in our history.” He
figures the channel is ready for such things: “We have 220 meteorologists and
climatologists on staff and … we’re all pretty much weather geeks.”
Then there’s the irony: Almost everyone there is a
meteorologist … except the show’s anchor.
“I’m just a guy who started in this business 30 years ago,
when my family couldn’t afford to send us to a school that had lots of degrees,”
said Sam Champion, 52. “I worked my way up through this business.”
He went from his home-town station in Paducah, Ky., to New
York City – WABC in 1988, “Good Morning America” in 2006. Now he’s moves to
Atlanta, leading a key day:
“Wake Up With Al” remains at 5:30 a.m. from New
York, with Al Roker and Stephanie Abrams. At 7, Roker moves to NBC’s “Today,”
with Abrams sometimes doing Weather Channel reports. On Monday, she’ll be at
the morning show’s premiere party on Times Square.
“AMHQ with Sam Champion” is 7-10 a.m. In the
Atlanta studio. Champion will be with Mike Bettes, Maria LaRosa and Anaridis
Field reports will be taped (Alexandra Cousteau
starts a five-day report on the Colorado River) and live. The opener eyes St.
Patrick’s Day in New York, Chicago, Savannah and Hot Springs, Ark.
All of that glitz will be nudged aside, Clark said, when there’s
fierce weather to report. “(We have) boxes and boxes of letters from families …
who say, ‘You saved our lives.’” During those times, the channel is back to basics
– climatologists surrounded by charts, field reporters surrounded by fury.
Champion has been in those storms, under circumstances that
were civilized – when Hurricane Sandy belted New York in 2012, “all of my
friends had evacuated the downtown area and had moved to my apartment, which is
on the Upper West Side, where they had power and wine” – and not.
Back in 2008, he said, Hurricane Dolly far exceeded
expectations. “I’m laying in the tub in the bathroom in the (Texas) hotel that
is being shredded. Broken glass and insulation and everything are flying under
the door …. And I’m like, ‘This is not supposed to be happening with a storm of
Sandy caused an estimated $68 billion in damage; Dolly did
about $1 billion in the South, his home turf.
Champion was born in Paducah, the son of a Vietnam-veteran
Marine who became a lieutenant colonel. After finishing high school in
Virginia, he went to Eastern Kentucky University. Like Roker, he majored in
broadcasting, not meteorology, but soon immersed himself.
“Learning weather along the way,” he said, “I took it
seriously …. I basically lay out everybody’s forecast and do my own. I want to
see why they agree, why they disagree, and I want to tell the audience that.”
Now, for three hours each weekday, he has a national
audience to talk to.