Happy 30th Birthday to The Weather Channel! [Kicking Back with Jersey Joe]
Thanks to The Weather Channel, nobody ever has to wait for their forecast ever again! The cable TV channel revolutionized the way weather forecasts are presented on television. Last week, they celebrated their 30th anniversary.
The Weather Channel launched in the United States on basic cable television on May 2, 1982. Founded by weathercaster John Coleman and newspaper mogul Frank Batten, the duo designed the 24 hour channel to provide round the clock forecasts and breaking weather stories across the United States.
Currently on The Weather Channel, a lower third of the screen shows a graphic which gives viewers the current temperatures and local forecasts for their local area, during news and regular programming. Every 8 minutes past the hour, the channel presents an automated weather report for the viewing area all to the tune of a smooth jazz background, known as Weather on the 8’s.
Before the cable channel launched in 1982, viewers had to wait until 6 or 11pm for the local news or tune into a live radio station for the forecast. During a weather emergency such as a severe thunderstorm, tornado or blizzard, the local news would have to break into regular programming, but would get off the air as soon as possible. When The Weather Channel took to the air, they immediately focused on atmospheric trouble spots. The station tracked storms across the country live, long before they become a threat and alerted viewers when to take action. TWC would then follow up after the storm with damage and flooding reports.
The automated Weather on the 8’s are provided by a special computer device known as the IntelliStar, which is installed at the local cable company. The computer receives a signal embedded in the channel’s video that tells the computer when to take control. Once activated, the program overtakes current programming with preset screens of weather radar, forecasts, and maps. A synthetic computer generated voiceover, known as Vocal Local, with the voice of announcer Allen Jackson, reads the more important content on the screen.
In addition to displaying forecasts, the device can also present additional information such as Heat Safety Tips, Air Quality Forecast, Marine and Ocean conditions, and some even offer current traffic maps! During a weather emergency, the system can take control of the channel and display vital information either full screen or on a lower third over the network programming.
IntelliStar is the fifth generation automation program that was created for use on the channel. It runs on a Unix based computer operating system off of a standard PC. Before 1995, the automated weather breaks appeared at various times during the hour.
As technology progressed forward, so did the weather forecasting on the channel. In addition to fancier graphics, more live shots appeared on-air from either traffic cameras, web cameras, or live reporters embedded in the middle of a serious weather event.
The channel also revolutionized the way important weather events are covered. They are the first to send teams on location in preparation for a major storm. When a hurricane approaches the coast, a team of reporters broadcast live as long as conditions are safe. Many of these reporters have barely been able to stand up from the high winds and soaking rains, but it makes for great television! These embedded reporters are often first on the scene to cover the damage immediately after the event passes.
During severe weather coverage, station promos and reporters will often use their classic tagline “keeping you ahead of the storm.”
Technology has also changed the way we get our weather. While the channel still provides a vital 24-7 service with the forecasts, anyone can now simply log onto the internet or their smart phone to see what’s going on. The information is immediately available to anyone and, as a result, the channel has had to make changes to its programming.
Their current show, Weather Center, is the only original program still remaining on the air from the channel’s launch. Weather Center underwent a major overhaul a few years ago making it much less of a news program and is only a shadow of the original format.
Since 2000, the channel has shifted to add more weather oriented entertainment and documentary programming. The first such show was Atmospheres, which was a news/weather entertainment hybrid. One of the more popular shows launched in 2003, Storm Stories, chronicles weather events using archive footage and interviews. The channel produces a great deal of original programming such as It Could Happen Tomorrow, which looks how catastrophic storms could affect the planet and When Weather Changed History, which looks at how weather affected important moments in history.
In 2008, The Weather Channel was purchased by NBC/Universal. NBC began to use the channel’s reporters on the NBC network and vice-versa. Today Show weatherman Al Roker now has a morning show, Wake Up with Al. Weather Channel reporters and meteorologists are also frequent contributors on The NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams.
At the time of the acquisition, NBC had owned a computer generated TV sub-channel known as NBC Weather Plus which was a rotating loop of maps and forecasts for the local stations. The service was shut down three months after the merger, leaving most local TV stations to scramble to find additional programming.
In 2008, a high definition version debuted and is branded The Weather Channel HD.
For a short time in 2010, management dabbled with airing weather related movies on Friday nights. This was met with major criticism and came to a head on April 30th as they presented the 1992 film Wind. While the movie was airing, a large tornado system was moving into Missouri and Arkansas. The automated computer did not switch from the movie to the tornado warning system, leaving viewers in the area clueless as to what was coming. After a large amount of additional complaints, the movies were soon dropped from the schedule.
In 2010, Dish Network satellite service announced they would drop the channel in favor of their own called, The Weather Cast. Dish complained about the high costs the channel was charging per subscriber (Executives wanted a raise from 11 cents to 12 cents per subscriber per month.) The Weather Channel was removed, but a new contract was struck only four days later, officially killing The Weather Castand giving it the record for being the shortest cable channel ever in existence.
There are also a few international versions that have launched over the years and have been met with mixed success. An Australian version began in 1999 and a Canadian version went on the air in 2003. A United Kingdom version launched in 1996, but went off the air after two years. A Latin American version lasted from 1996 – 2002 and was shut down due to cost cutting.
In addition to cable television, The Weather Channel also provides forecasts on the World Wide Web, to various radio stations, and in many local newspapers.
The station was also featured heavily in the 2004 film, The Day After Tomorrow.
Weather Channel main headquarters are located just outside of Atlanta, Georgia.
Name: The Weather Channel
What: 24/7 cable channel devoted to weather forecasts and weather entertainment programming
Launch date: (US) May 2, 1982
JERSEY JOE RECOMMENDS: The Weather Channel is trying to stay afloat, despite becoming a victim of time. There is no longer a need to wait for their forecasts on the 8’s of every hour as this information is readily available to anyone on their computers or smart phones.
I am not a major viewer, but some of their weather documentaries are quite fascinating. I usually only tune to the channel when a large weather event is striking, as I know they have embedded reporters, and are among the first to have the video.
At least The Weather Channel proves that there is always something on television. It drives me nuts when my family complains there’s nothing on. Well, put a weather documentary on then!
They have weather presentation down to a science (yes, pun intended) and can make the forecast exciting, even when nothing is going on. So, the next time you’re bored in front of the tube, flick on the channel and see what’s up. Where will you turn when severe weather strikes?
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