It took me long enough, but here is the second of three installments about my weather forecasting vacation I took last week.
Tuesday was family day. I went with my dad, mom, and nephew Jacob to Boone, North Carolina, a fun little road trip. There was nothing much interesting weather wise, as it was a beautiful day all the way through Elizabethton, up through Newland, NC, then to Boone. We stopped at Mast General Store there, and bought a bunch of stuff, namely a toy gun, $35 in a bucket of candy, and some Coke glasses for my dad. Fun stuff, and it was great to get my mom up to Boone, if only for a little while.
Wednesday was rest day. After driving to Charlotte and back Monday and to Boone and back Tuesday, Day 3 was involved in only driving to town once. A very nice change. Lots of TV watching!
Also, there were a lot of nerves. Every time I take a really long trip, I get butterflies the day before I depart. I knew I would be driving a lot on this last leg of the trip, and I’ve had road troubles in previous long road trips, and I hoped to not have any this time!
Thursday morning was spent packing. The plan was to leave at 10:30 or thereabouts, and try to get to my hotel in Hoover (just south of Birmingham) by 4 to check in, rest a bit, and change clothes so I could go across the street to visit James Spann.
If you’ve read my story about the tornado outbreaks last year, you know at least a little of the regard I hold for James. He’s been in Birmingham for most of his career, and he knows every little hangout and restaurant and school in his market. So every time severe storms come, he tells people where the storms are going, in terms of places they know. Besides all of that, he does a lot of things in the community, from teaching youth at his church (including lots of Bible School fun) to holding a position on the board at a local hospital. All of that plus his TV duties, speeches and weather programs at schools, daily weather videos as well as the WeatherBrains show he hosts with all the new technological challenges it provides every Monday night. The man does more in 24 hours than most of us do in a month, and I’ve been known to say that if I accomplish 10% of what James has in his entire life, I’ll be perfectly happy with my time here on Earth.
Needless to say, I was looking forward to this visit to chat with a pretty legendary person. The drive down was eventful, as there were scattered thunderstorms off and on all the way down the road. There were a few rough spots, especially on I-59, which might be the worst Interstate highway in the country. At least this time there wasn’t too long of a one-lane path before Gadsden. Back in October, it felt like about 45 miles. This year, only 17.
Despite a few stops along the way, I arrived at just the right time. I can’t get much credit for that, because in the whole process I forgot to factor in the change to central time. No problem! I took the time to rest a bit and watch a little TV once I figured out how to make the TV work.
My goal was to get there a bit before 5, despite the meeting time at 5:30, to try to meet a couple people I didn’t get to see last October. That didn’t happen, and I arrived at about 10 minutes after at the front door. That also meant that nobody was at the front desk when I hit the call button. Thankfully, some nice station employee held the door for me. I took a left at the door and found the lobby, and sat there, watching the news.
In the process I chatted with the lady who was cleaning the building, tweeted James that I had arrived, and generally continued relaxing. Shortly after the news ended at 5:30, the man himself came around the corner and offered a handshake. I started to get up, and he said for me to keep my seat. Apparently James had never been out to that part of the building, at least not in a while. We chatted there for a few minutes, stopped for a bit in the news room, and went through that back to the sports anchors’ office.
While I don’t get to watch every night, I do try to catch ABC 33/40’s news when I’m at home in the evenings. I like to watch a few different meteorologists to see how they tell the story of the weather during their three minutes. It’s fun to pick up some of their mannerisms and even some funny phrases and incorporate them into my blog and the on-air forecasts I do. James does a pretty funny “song of the night” segment on the live stream, and it’s hilarious. They play a song from the 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s and James will ask the others at the desk what they think of the song. It’s a fun little bit.
I bring that up because one of my favorites at their station is a sports anchor named Sara Jane Harris. When James and I reached the sports office, there she was, sitting there working on things. For once when it comes to Alabama, I had good timing this time! We chatted for a bit, and somehow or the other I got myself into a situation where I now have to send her baked goods. How that happened, I’ll never know, but in true WeatherBrains tradition, I’ll just say that James is to blame for it. (LOL)
At any rate, the station tour went as station tours go, and I got to see the where the producers and audio people work along with lots of the edit bays and stuff like that. I enjoy seeing those and comparing them to other stations. I have determined at this point that news rooms all pretty much look the same. I may be wrong on that, though!
That was a quick half-hour. Before I knew it, James and I were off to the TV studio to start the 6pm news. That studio is a lot smaller than it looks! That is the case most of the time, except for that vast expanse Brad Panovich and his co-workers get to play with in Charlotte. In the process I got to meet their news anchors, Dave Baird and Brenda Ladun. I like them both, and it’s generally hilarious when James and Dave pick on each other. Brenda’s usually the referee. Once the countdown happens, lips are sealed unless you’re reporting!
Speaking of quick half-hours, that was another one. James Spann, in his awesomeness, decided to record all his radio stuff early so we’d have time to get lunch and chat between the 6 and 10 shows. That required him to go back to his office and record them while I watched the newscast. The best part of it was that I was quite talkative during commercials. It was a lot of fun, I guess because it felt like I knew everyone. I even threatened to trip James on his way from the desk at the weather center to the key wall. He said, “Go ahead! That will just make things more interesting!” That and the “Spann army” catching Dave at a concert the night before made the show a lot of fun to see in person. Oh, and Sara Jane waved at me, too. (Sorry…had to add the unprofessional fanboy moment in there!)
Once the show ended, Dave walked over and shook my hand, which was pretty cool. After that was a moment that happens where I work all the time. James and I went to his office to figure out where to eat. I told him I would generally have anything that isn’t Chinese food, but specifically burgers or barbecue would be fine with me. We hashed out a few places, and landed at Five Guys. James told me he hadn’t been there in a while, and their burgers are good, so that’s what we picked.
And about that office…it’s very tiny. James calls it a broom closet, and he’s not far off! There’s enough room to get to his little fridge in the corner, and from the door to the chair at his desk, and that is it! The camera on the WeatherBrains show makes it look twice as big as it really is. I was absolutely amazed.
True to form on this trip, paying for his lunch didn’t happen. We ordered our burgers and I reached into my wallet, and James said I needed to put that back, he’s got this. That was awesome of him for sure, even though I have always felt like I should be getting his lunch!
The conversation that night at Five Guys was decidedly not weather related, more career based. James told me his story and asked me a few questions about what I want to do in life. He gave me a lot of fantastic advice through the course of the meal. Basically, I need to focus on where I want to eventually get in the field of meteorology and get there. That’s one of the things I’ll have to chew on for a little while.
It was a lot of fun to see a couple folks walk up to our table and start talking to James because they watch him on TV all the time. One was a college age girl who was so nervous she sent her mom to say hello and was standing around the corner! That might just be the cutest thing ever. She eventually peeked out and got a picture with him. The other was a man with his three kids. James is great with kids, and he talked with them about as much as he talked with their dad. Even though we did technically get interrupted by this, I enjoyed watching it.
There was very little forecasting talk that night. I’m okay with that, because we did hit some topics that I don’t really tell most people. We sat in his office for quite a while and he gave me so much great advice my mind couldn’t store it all. It’s really awesome that he took the time out to talk about life things even when we were supposed to be talking about weather stuff. I’m very thankful for those few minutes we talked in his office.
Eventually, time came up to head back to the studio. Sometime during the evening James played with some of the fun software that he has, and he showed me where the various station transmitters are and played around with the topographic maps he doesn’t typically use much when that software is on the air. Along with being able to visit parts of the office he hadn’t in a while, he also learned new things about the computer program he’s worked with for some time. I felt quite happy that my presence helped him discover some things that night.
The weather things we did talk about that night were basically James showing me all of the things he has at his disposal. There’s a chat room with his spotters, the other that most meteorologists have with the various NWS offices, and all of the skycams from all over the South. It’s an impressive setup to be sure.
Just before 10pm, everyone started to go back into the studio. There are really only 6 people at once in the studio during a show. One runs the teleprompter, then there’s the floor manager, and the rest are on-air. All the cameras are operated from the control room, and that’s very interesting to watch, especially when it zips around from the key wall back to the anchor desk, and vice versa. The full shot of the whole desk is interesting, because the camera has to go a long way back to shoot the whole thing!
I will have to defer to James, who will probably read this eventually, as to what the Song of the Night happened to be, because it is lost to my memory. Sara Jane picked it, and it was a great song. I even meant to write it down, too!
Before long, the 10pm news was history, and most of us filed out. The prompter girl and floor manager stayed, because the sport segments for the morning needed to be recorded. That meant I had to merely wave at Sara Jane on the way out the studio door back to the office for the final time.
As usual, there are a lot of things that happened or we talked about that are either lost to history, or really don’t belong here, so they’re left out. As a matter of fact, there are probably a few things I included that maybe shouldn’t be here! I had to catch myself a couple times while typing to keep from giving away too much information.
That said, I’m really thankful that James shuffled his schedule around for me last Thursday night. The conversations about “life stuff” were really beneficial to me, as well as the fun stuff that happened along the way. James Spann is a salt of the earth man who puts others before himself in lots of different ways. As I said before, if I can grow up to be 10% the man he is, I will consider this life a success.
Most of what you see here ran through my mind when I was sitting in the hotel that night, as well as the following morning before I headed to Huntsville. It was a spiritually filled type of feeling, and that’s something that I haven’t been able to say all that much here recently.
That’s the end of Day 4, the second TV station day during my vacation. Tomorrow (or later today, as it goes…wow, 2:30am!!), I’ll finish off the story by telling about my first visit to Huntsville since seventh grade. In the process I would be visiting another man who has stacked up a lot of accomplishments in his career in television weather, Jason Simpson. His is a name also forever etched in my memory from April of 2011.
More on that tomorrow…thanks for reading part 2 of my summer vacation report!