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Don Paul: Farewell to ties and TV weathercasting ... for now

Don Paul

When I got home late Sunday night after my final weathercast at WKBW, with a lovely sendoff from the staff, I read one comment on their Facebook page that was almost inevitable. Amid many kind and warm comments came: “How many retirements can one guy have?” He went on to imply I’d retired as often as Larry King married.

The fact is, I never retired. I revealed last summer I’d gone along with the “retirement” story on Channel 4 to keep the farewell upbeat. (To avoid confusion, that departure had ZERO to do with the current owner and management of WIVB). And this new departure is not a retirement, either. I’ve been treated well at WKBW. I’m not a businessman with budgetary responsibilities, but I do know stations and owners have to build for the future. I would guess building on someone who isn’t a heck of a lot younger than Dave Letterman is an unlikely path to follow.

Either way, I’m not retired. I continue to frequently and regularly contribute to The Buffalo News, which, hopefully, will keep my cerebrum from crystallizing. As for TV weather, I have had a very long and good run in this business and have nothing to be bitter about. I was able to do what I love for 42 years (34 in Buffalo), make a decent living, and get a longer run with good acceptance than most get the chance to enjoy. I have not been frenetically beating the bushes for another weather gig. If the right opportunity came along, that might be nice. If it turns out I’ve done my last TV weathercast, that’s OK, too.

I’ve had a lot of good bosses and a few in the past who were unnecessarily surly or just made bad decisions. The latter have been in the minority. I know in all those cases, the rest of the staff at the stations I’ve worked at felt the same negative thoughts I felt, so it wasn’t just me. On the whole, I’ve been treated well and had a much better career than I would have thought possible when I was in college.

Speaking of which, despite four years in college radio at Rutgers, TV weather seemed like too exotic a way to make a living. I didn’t dip my toe into TV until my late 20s, working as an industry science writer, a radio science feature producer for the EPA Office of Public Affairs, and doing my luckily noncombatant stint as an infantry officer at Fort Benning, Ga. (Sidebar: New Jersey plates on a Beetle did not go over well with Georgia cops back then, except for the post MPs, who tended to be a little more worldly about Yankees.)

One of the great blessings I’ve had through my career in Bangor, Maine; Wichita, Kan.; Tampa; Detroit; and Buffalo, is I never really had a boss or a consultant who tried to turn me into somebody different. It’s much easier on air when you’re allowed to be something akin to your real self off air. With me, the main difference is I probably am more energized on air than when I’m chatting in Wegmans. My daughters used to giggle when they’d hear me recording Channel 4 Weatherline because I was a little more broadcast-y than I was when I talked to them about Pee Wee Herman. Diction, Leah and Leslie! I can’t sound like a New York cabbie when I’m broadcasting, girls.

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That Joisey accent, though, does tend to sneak back in when I’m getting sleepy. Rs start to fall off the ends of words, like there. Growing up just north of Jersey City, “over there” can come out “ovuh dere.”

One facet of weathercasting that most weather people enjoy about the job is the lack of scripting. Unlike news and sports, we are unscripted. We see ourselves and our graphics at the green wall, but we are all ad libbing, meteorologist or not. We have some ideas about what we are going to talk about, but we never really know what we’re going to utter out loud. It’s amazing more station licenses aren’t lost.

Winging it is fun, if you have that ability. It keeps your mind more agile and keeps every weathercast different from the next, unless one starts phoning it in. I have not reached that tired stage. Barring a stick of butter getting lodged in my corroded artery, I doubt I ever would. It’s still fun and fresh, except for lengthy subsidence inversions (inside weather joke for meteorologists: dull weather).

Blowing forecasts still stinks, though there are fewer of them these days. I was beginning to reflect with a smug attitude that some of my most accurate seven-day forecasts of my career have come since I began working only Sunday nights. Most weeks, the forecast held up well through the following week better than five years ago. Then, it dawned on me much of the improvement has come from more reliable computer models looking further out in time.

So, it hasn’t really been a case, after all, of “you’re not getting older, you’re getting better!” Drat. Thank the better tools — although lots of good pattern recognition, which comes with 42 years of forecasting, is a big help as well.

Hey, I’ve also enjoyed not having to wear a tie most days of the week these last two and a half years. Maybe I’ll be switching to completely tie-less! But what the heck am I going to do with all the leftover makeup I have? Anyone craving a good winter tan with no UV?

Happy holidays, everyone!

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