Sunday, March 29, 2015

He Loved His Job

The genesis of this post is an e-mail my wife sent me last week, with a link to an obituary for Dr. George Fischbeck, long-time southern California TV weather man. I was not only saddened to hear of Dr. George’s passing; but shocked that my wife would even know who Dr. George was. Later, she explained to me that when we first met in 1988 – when I’d just moved from Los Angeles to Madison and we were colleagues at a Madison radio station – she recalled the great stories I’d told her (and anyone else in the newsroom at the time) about Dr. George and his famous KABC-TV forecasts.

My favorite memory of watching Dr. George Fischbeck do the weather on KABC-TV 7 in Los Angeles was the time he got all wound up explaining something in the weather that caught his interest – I can’t even remember what it was – but several million other viewers and I were captivated, as usual, by his enthusiasm for whatever it was. Suddenly, he looked away from the camera, paused a second (no doubt the producer of the newscast was talking to him through his earpiece – or, IFB, as the TV folks call it) when he said “oh, darn it, I’m already out of time and I didn’t ever get to the forecast. Oh, they’re going to be mad at me upstairs! Well, this is southern California; the weather’s usually nice, there’s nothing to worry about right now, and the next few days will be just fine”.


It was clear to anyone who watched Dr. George that he loved what he was doing. His enthusiasm was contagious. He would talk about stuff that perhaps only marginally related to the weather forecast for southern California and have you fascinated by it. I remember another time when he started out giving the actual forecast, and said it was going to be foggy the next few mornings because of a deep marine layer.


I had heard the term before; sometimes in southern California they call it the “May Gray” or “June Gloom”, when the mornings are foggy until the sun gets high enough in the sky to evaporate the fog. But on this particular day, Dr. George decided to explain what a marine layer is, how it develops, and how a marine layer doesn’t always mean it’s going to be foggy or cloudy.

That was a long time ago; nearly three decades since I watched him give an explanation of what a marine layer is, but - I still remember it, and could explain it to you if you asked, because Dr. George was a fabulous communicator.

Dr. George went to his eternal reward last week at the age of 92. He retired from KABC-TV shortly after I moved to Madison, but then a few years later did some work with KCBS-TV for a couple years.


He was actually trained as a geologist and archaeologist, and was a teacher – no doubt an excellent teacher – for some time before he became a TV weather man. He always said what he knew about the weather came from his days with the National Guard during the Korean War, which ignited his passion for understanding why the weather does what it does.  Somebody saw him doing a children’s science show on a PBS station and he wound up sharing his passion for weather with the huge audience of KABC-TV.


I have hours of videotape of Dr. George squirrelled away in my huge media archive at home. He worked with a couple people I have always considered the best TV news anchors in the business – the late Jerry Dunphy and Ann Martin. Dunphy was born in Milwaukee and passed away in L A in 2002. His signature opening to the KABC-TV 7 news was the often-quoted “From the desert to the sea to all of southern California, a good evening from KABC-TV News”. You’ve probably seen him on a lot of movies, as a news anchor, and didn’t even realize it.


Ann Martin was the TV news anchor I admired and respected the most, mainly because she spoke in plain language, never ever EVER hyped any story, and had that rare gift of making you think she was actually talking just to you – not to a mass audience of millions of viewers. That’s the concept they teach you in news anchor school – imagine that you are talking to one person – but so few anchors are actually able to pull it off. They communicate AT us, not with us.


Jerry Dunphy was the archetypal old-school news anchor, who delivered with authority and commanding presence; he told you the news in formal tones, speaking as if he were in an auditorium giving a lecture. But he was DAMN good at it. It was the epitome of old-school news anchoring. Ann Miller’s style was vastly different. She was, at the time, a real pioneer in the concept of talking TO people, not AT people. She was like the old friend who’d dropped by your house for a glass of lemonade after a hot day and chatted with you about what was going on.


And Dr. George was like that great professor you had in college, the one with the bow tie and dark-rimmed glasses, who you knew just loved his subject, and couldn’t wait for his chance to tell you exciting things about his particular field of expertise.


As a bonus, during that time, the main sports guy on KABC-TV was Jim Hill – a former Packers player who learned the TV sports business after his playing days at Channel 2 in Green Bay, one of the stations I watched growing up in the Fox Valley.  He was a “homey” from my home-town TV station.


They were my crew. My favorite TV news peeps during my last stint as a southern Californian. That was 27 years ago – and, the scary part is, it seems like only yesterday.

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