Sunday, June 03, 2012
The Robin Reed effect: Weatherman celebrates 30 years at WDBJ [with cut-out mustache]
The WDBJ weatherman celebrates 30 years as the hometown forecaster who regularly raises temperatures as Roanoke's hottest male celebrity.
Jeanna Duerscherl | The Roanoke Times
WDBJ-TV Chief Meteorologist Robin Reed shares a laugh with news anchor Jean Jadhon at the end of a newscast. In 30 years, Reed has seen weathercasting evolve to include computer forecasting models, interactive radar and round-the-clock coverage through digital media.
Jeanna Duerscherl | The Roanoke Times
Robin Reed, who has worked for WDBJ for 30 years, waits to begin the weather forecast.
Jeanna Duerscherl | The Roanoke Times
On his 30-year milestone, Reed says, "I've spent a long time in this job and in this community, so I'll probably do this for the foreseeable future."
The Roanoke Times | FIle
Channel 7's veteran weatherman Hal Grant (left) personally selected Reed as his successor. In the early 1980s, weather forecasters stood in front of a map and hand-wrote temperatures on it with a marker.
Mustachio thyself: Want to know what it looks like to be Robin Reed? Cut out this mustache, put it on your face and take a photo! Then share the photo on The Roanoke Times Facebook page (facebook.com/roanoketimes) or email it to email@example.com. We may publish some!
If the regular weathercaster at a Harrisonburg television station had not skipped work more than three decades ago, Robin Reed might never have been a weatherman.
In the early 1980s, Reed was the sports anchor and a reporter at WHSV-TV. One evening, minutes before the start of the 6 p.m. newscast, the woman who was the primary weather person had not arrived. She moonlighted as a real estate agent, and she was stuck at a closing.
"One day, the weather girl doesn't show up," Reed said. "The news anchor says, 'I'm not going to do it.' And I said, 'Well, I can't do it.' I lost that argument. I stood in front of the map and pointed at Montana, Texas and Virginia. That made me qualified to be a weatherman at WHSV."
Coincidentally, that pinch-hit broadcast was spotted by veteran Roanoke weatherman Hal Grant, who happened to be in Harrisonburg for an Amway meeting. (Weathercasters must have really needed extra paychecks back in those days.)
Grant, who was ready to retire, went back to Roanoke and told his bosses at WDBJ-TV (Channel 7) that he had found the guy who could succeed him. His bosses asked if the kid was any good.
"Not really," Grant reportedly replied. "But I think we can get him cheap."
That's how Robin Reed got to Roanoke, 30 years ago.
[ Storify: See readers wearing Robin Reed mustaches ]
From novice to 'sexy'
Reed, 56, has been a familiar presence on Channel 7 and in Southwest Virginia ever since. He has been chief meteorologist at the Roanoke-Lynchburg station, forecasting everything from blizzards to heat waves with a calm, easygoing style that typified WDBJ's top-rated newscasts for years.
"Robin Reed is the person you see on television," said Jeff Marks, WDBJ's president and general manager. "He is genuine, hardworking, a scientist and he is an engaging on-air personality. He's a wonderful person and is part of the fabric of this community."
Reed has seen the nature of weathercasting change phenomenally in 30 years, going from the days of standing in front of a map on which he hand-wrote temperatures with a marker to the digital age of computer forecasting models, interactive radars and round-the-clock coverage through Facebook and Twitter.
"Back when I started, all they wanted was a smooth presentation that was somewhat accurate," Reed said with a chuckle as he sat in the "First Alert" weather center off to the side of the Channel 7 studio.
"The bar was pretty low. 'Have a good voice. Don't embarrass the station.'"
He quickly became a local celebrity in a city where television anchors surpass even politicians as the most recognizable public figures. Readers of The Roanoker magazine voted him as Roanoke's top male sex symbol numerous times, often befuddling the tall, mustached weather guy.
Back in the 1990s, during a media all-star baseball game at the old Salem Municipal Field, he asked Roanoker editor Kurt Rheinheimer how he was racking up all these sexy titles.
"Kurt told me something along the lines of, 'You'd be surprised how few votes it takes to win this thing,'" Reed said, emulating Rheinheimer's deadpan, dugout delivery. "Then, I got it. Everybody was voting for their boyfriend, so it didn't take a lot of votes."
Still, the nickname "Sexiest Man in Roanoke" has stuck, even as he has gotten older and his mustache has grayed. His wife, Teresa, however, remains nonplussed.
Whenever the "best of" edition of The Roanoker would come out, she would tell him, "That's nice. Where do you want me to put it? Do you want me to hang it in the bathroom?"
He cooks, makes wine
The Reeds live in a remodeled 1920s farmhouse on 11 acres in Botetourt County. They moved there just a few years ago after residing for years in the Oak Grove section of southwest Roanoke County, where their sons, Patrick, 29, and Daniel, 26, grew up and attended Cave Spring High School.
The property includes a pond stocked with bass and bluegills, and provides "a couple of days of recharging ... and a lot of mowing," Reed said.
At home, Reed engages in hobbies that few of his most faithful fans know about, which include cooking, music and winemaking. His wife said that he makes a terrific pinot gris, and that his strawberry and peach wines are very good.
The Roanoke Times even published Reed's recipe for grilled pork tenderloin last year.
"He's a wonderful cook," Teresa said. "I cook during the week and he gives me the weekends off."
Teresa said that they are a musical couple, who enjoy playing guitars and singing on the front porch. They are big Beatles fan who have seen Paul McCartney in concert several times.
Teresa, an artist who has illustrated a children's book, long ago got used to being married to a local celebrity, but sometimes the public attention still strikes her as odd.
"Here's a good story," she said. "Robin had to have his appendix taken out about 10 years ago. He was at [Carilion] Roanoke Memorial on the 12th floor. People would get up with their IVs and walk down the hall just to look in his room. They had just had surgery and they'd hold their gowns closed with one hand and hold their IV poles with the other. Just to get a glimpse of him."
A Nationals fan
Robin Reed grew up in Fairfax County, where he became a huge sports fan and played baseball at James Madison High School (this has led to confusion that he played baseball for James Madison University, where he went to college, but he actually broadcast ballgames while in college).
He watched Washington Senators baseball games and Washington Redskins football games in the old RFK Stadium. After years of pulling for the New York Yankees, he now roots for the Washington Nationals.
Sports, in fact, got him into the broadcasting business. He worked at an AM radio station in Amherst, then landed the sports anchor gig at WHSV, where he met Teresa, who worked as everything from camera operator to assistant to the station manager. The couple married in 1981 and celebrated their 31st anniversary two weeks ago.
After the WHSV weather gal missed that fateful broadcast that got him spotted, Reed started working as the station's 11 p.m. sports and weather anchor. He was offered the weekend weather job at WDBJ, which a year earlier had hired its first full-time meteorologist, Bruce Edwards.
The TV weather game was starting to change. For a generation, local weathermen included the likes of Grant, Irving Sharp, George Bassett and other professional broadcasters who sounded great, could drop the funny quip occasionally, but were not meteorologists.
"You had these guys with real strong personalities who did the weather as part of their on-air responsibilities," said Jim Shaver, who oversaw WDBJ's news department and was the guy who hired Reed.
"We had just started the weather department. We were the first to get radar. People were saying, 'That's just another weather gimmick.'"
Learning on the job
The day that Reed started at WDBJ, March 13, 1982, the lightning bolt of fate struck again. Edwards, Channel 7's first meteorologist, quit. He had landed a job at some obscure startup cable channel - something called The Weather Channel.
Reed, who had come to town to work weekends, found himself handling the 6 and 11 p.m. newscasts. A few hours before his first broadcast, he broke the weather map, which was raised and lowered by a system of pulleys. Fortunately, the station engineers fixed it.
"I got a six-month tryout," Reed said. "Six months passed and they forgot they extended the offer. Thirty years later, nobody noticed."
Doing the weather was a breeze. Then came the tragic flood of 1985.
Teresa had called her husband several times that Nov. 4 morning to inform him that the Roanoke River was rising rapidly near their home, which was close to Wasena Park. He assured her that everything would be all right. A few hours later, Teresa had to be rescued from the house, which had water coming in the first floor.
The flood "was an event that made me understand that this is a job to be taken seriously," Reed said. The drenching remnants of Tropical Storm Juan eventually killed 10 people and caused millions of dollars in damage.
Over the next few years, he took meteorology classes from seven different schools. He passed more than 30 exams to become a licensed meteorologist. These days, a person needs a bachelor's degree in meteorology and several years of broadcast experience before breaking into the Roanoke market.
Reed leads a team of four meteorologists - Brent Watts, Leo Hirsbrunner and Jay Webb - four younger men who have "set their standards higher and are talented and quicker than I am," Reed said. "All four of us hold everything together. But I wonder if they wouldn't mind if the old man would just go away."
Kidding aside, Reed has no plans for retirement anytime soon.
"Thirty years was a cool milestone," he said, "but I am still pretty young and even though the thought of doing something else sounds promising, I just don't know what else I would do. I've spent a long time in this job and in this community, so I'll probably do this for the foreseeable future. I have no plans to do anything else."
Watts, 35, remembers Reed visiting his science club at Buchanan Elementary School in the late 1980s. He said the younger guys do joke with Reed about retirement.
"We say, 'When Robin retires, we'll be able to do this or do that,'" Watts said. "But, honestly, it's something we don't like to talk about. He knows so much, there's nothing he hasn't seen. There's so much weather information out there these days, it's good to have a person you trust to walk you through it and help you interpret it. His knowledge is priceless."
Recently, Reed and Watts prepared a forecast for the 5 p.m. newscast - which didn't exist when Reed started at WDBJ.
Both men stare into computer screens, sitting in chairs with their backs turned to each other. They get computer-generated forecasts from the National Weather Service, which the meteorologists then fine-tune based on their own experience and hunches.
"Brent, I'm going to go with 79 and clouds," Reed said. "Hold Saturday at 89 and go ahead and push Sunday to 90."
Then it's time for him to go on air at 6.
Reed, who keeps a cup of coffee on his desk and pops a breath mint before the newscast, assures viewers that the Memorial Day weekend looks good (turns out he was right).
About that mustach
Robin Reed may look all calm and collected on the outside, but he admits that he has two recurring nightmares.
The first is that he walks down an endless hallway and can't get to the set in time for his broadcast.
The second ...
" ... is that I cut off half my mustache," he said.
The mustache. It's as much a part of his image as forecasts and sexiest man awards. Like most men who have mustaches, he is surprised by how much attention it gets.
"I grew it in college and forgot to shave it," he said, sounding like he wishes he had a better story. "I don't know. It's a look."
Unlike most guys with facial hair, Reed can't just decide on a whim to shave it off.
"If I wake up some morning and think it should go, a bunch of billboards will have to be replaced," he said.
Besides, he promised the K92 radio crew that if he ever decides to shave it, he'll do it with them.
Roanoke viewers might have seen a lot of changes in weather forecasts over the years, but Robin Reed without a mustache is one they're probably not ready for.
"This community has been kind to me," he said. "One thing that hasn't changed is the relationship with the audience. They trust you or they don't trust you. They like you or they don't like you. They forgive you or they don't forgive you. The human element hasn't changed one bit.
"I meet people who tell me I spoke to their kindergarten class and now they're a mother of four, which blows my mind. People have grown up with me now. If you stay long enough in a kind town like this, they tend to get used to you. It's good to be the weatherman."