History of The Weather Channel
The Weather Channel is an American basic cable and satellite television channel that focuses on national and international weather information, along with entertainment-based programs related to weather. The history of The Weather Channel, dates back to around 1980.
- 1 Prelaunch
- 2 The early years: May 1982–March 1986
- 3 You Need Us: March 1986–January 1991
- 4 Weather You Can Always Turn To: March 1991–October 1996
- 5 Major modernization: October 1996–March 1998
- 6 The second wave of change: March 1998–June 2001
- 7 The "Live By It" era: June 2001–August 2005
- 8 Bringing weather to life: August 2005–June 2008
- 9 Becoming an NBC-owned channel and transition to high-definition: June 2008–November 2013
- 10 It's Amazing Out There: November 2013–present
- 11 References
- 12 See also
Prior to the channel's launch, the original concept for providing continuous weather reports to the public over television stations stretched as far back as the late 1950s and early 1960s on the varying incarnations of CATV. In those systems, which typically brought in up to a dozen stations to the viewer from across the region, twelve slots on a cable dial would often leave a few vacancies.
Early cable providers then devised a system where a single black and white camera, often one that was formerly used for local news after an upgrade, would be placed on a rotating pedestal, capturing various dials and gauges on different stations to which it would pan automatically and stay for a few seconds before moving on. The different stations featured the time, temperature, barometer, wind speed, wind direction, and wind chill factor. Slides with the day's complete forecast, brief news headlines and community events often drawn up by the station's art department rounded out the package. This was the same system as that used by the early Devotional Channels and for the Stations of the Cross during the Christmas season.
The Weather Channel itself was the brainchild of former WLS-TV Chicago chief meteorologist and Good Morning America forecaster John Coleman, who took his idea to Landmark's then-chief Frank Batten. A major part of the plan for the new network was that it would be able to provide localized weather information to its viewers. This was done through WeatherStar units located at each cable company's headend. These WeatherStars were able to insert local conditions, forecasts, and warnings over the national feed.
The early years: May 1982–March 1986
The Weather Channel began broadcasting on May 2, 1982. The channel reported the weather and other meteorological information for the United States as well as other countries and regions of the world. TWC originally gathered its national region forecasts from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and its local forecasts from the National Weather Service's Weather Forecast Offices around the country.
The original Weather Star I model often interfered with the channel 2 signal at the cable headend; this was fixed with the upgrade to the Weather Star II in January 1984. The Weather Star III upgrade, which took place in early 1986, improved the hardware even more, and also added several extra forecast and observation features.
You Need Us: March 1986–January 1991
In 1986, The Weather Channel unveiled its first major image campaign and slogan, "You Need Us For Everything You Do". A full one-minute lyrical theme was created, but rarely aired – the shorter version was more commonly seen; 1989 saw the introduction of a remix to the theme. Also in 1989, Prime Time Tonight, a three-minute video cable guide that appeared eight times daily from 7:57 to 11:27 p.m. was introduced.
1990 saw the introduction of the first Weather Star 4000 models in a text-based system similar to the Weather Star III. In-STAR radar was introduced in June of that year, and graphical backgrounds were introduced in July, making TWC history by being the first STARs to generate graphics and the first to feature the TWC logo in the forecast. Also in 1990, The Weather Channel included snow condition reports at five minutes after the hour.
Weather You Can Always Turn To: March 1991–October 1996
Largely considered the height of the classic TWC by enthusiasts, The Weather Channel underwent a major graphical revamp with the introduction of a new slogan, "Weather You Can Always Turn To", on March 6, 1991. Graphic elements included heavy use of gradients and the Caxton typeface. July 3 brought The Weather Channel Connection, a 1-900 service for obtaining weather information. Originally 1-900-288-8800, it moved to 1-900-WEATHER (or 1-900-932-8437) in 1992 and used its phone number as its name. On November 1, The Weather Channel filed for a trademark on TWC, a common shortening of the name that was even seen on air.
By 1993, 90% of cable households received The Weather Channel. On January 10, 1994, TWC placed an order for 1,000 Weather Star Jr units with Wegener Communications, which builds equipment for cable headends. The Star Jr. is a budget model in the Weather Star line.
1995 brought a variety of changes to TWC, setting the stage for more changes in 1996. Minor graphical tweaks were made. The Short Term Forecasts from the National Weather Service were introduced to Local Forecasts as the "Local Update" (which in turn destabilized flavor lineups and caused the discontinuation of narration). The 30-Day Outlook was discontinued by the National Weather Service (which required TWC to discontinue the product). New programs included the introductions of WeatherScope (top/bottom of the hour weather discussion) and a special on how weather affected Pearl Harbor on December 7. The music of Trammell Starks, used on Weatherscan and emergency cases since 2000, premiered at the end of the year. The Weather Channel ended the use of Trammell Starks music in early 2012.
Major modernization: October 1996–March 1998
In two years, The Weather Channel changed dramatically. The first wave of change came in October 1996. A new slogan was introduced, "No Place on Earth Has Better Weather", heralded with a trio of humorous spots promoting the accuracy of TWC's weather coverage. Months later, The Weather Channel received its biggest overhaul since 1991. A newer, flatter logo, new graphics featuring rotating globes and compass points, and new music made for a total modernization of TWC's presentation. 1996 also saw the launch of weather.com, The Weather Channel's website. "Local on the 8s", a concept in which local forecasts aired at :08, :18, :28, :38, :48 and :58 after the hour, also made its debut. The first iteration of "Local on the 8s" was somewhat short-lived, only lasting until early 1998. However, the concept was revived in December 2001, and is still used by TWC to this day.
On May 22, 1996, Landmark Communications purchased a building at 300 Interstate North near the junction of Interstates 75 and 285 in Atlanta to house The Weather Channel's operations. TWC had been looking for new studios, and requirements included 18-foot ceilings. Improvements were made to bring the building up to code before TWC moved into its new headquarters at the end of 1996 (but it did not begin broadcasting from the facility until early 1997).
On October 30, the first use in commerce of the name Weather Star XL was marked; two years later, the XL would make its debut, the catalyst for top-to-bottom modernization of the local forecast segment. Throughout this time period, The Weather Channel would end up with their old logo on segments, and some specialty segments retained their Dan Chandler narration and/or old TWC logo into late 1997. By 1996, The Weather Channel reached 63 million homes, with 130,000 watching at one time.
On March 31, 1997, a new schedule was introduced in the form of a news wheel format. On August 25, 1997, the channel debuted a memorable advertising campaign, The Front, created by ad agency TBWA Chiat/Day. The setting was something akin to a sports bar, but the major difference was that weather was the central focus. The slogan used with The Front was Weather Fans, You're Not Alone. The 1997 World Series was the first that TWC covered with live reporters. New title bars were introduced for national segments on January 6, 1998.
The second wave of change: March 1998–June 2001
In March 1998, TWC refreshed again, with extended variants of Akzidenz-Grotesk and footage of clouds at the core of the new identity. For the first time in the channel's history, there was no slogan or unifying theme. WeatherScope was replaced with the Weather Center brand, which essentially comprised The Weather Channel's entire 24-hour daily programming schedule at the time. There were three variations of Weather Center: "Weather Center AM" in the morning, "Weather Center PM" during the evening hours, and a generic version simply known as "Weather Center" in the afternoon. April 1998 saw updates to The Front image campaign. One of the new advertisements specifically mentioned the 36-hour text forecasts (which, at the time, were still supplied by the National Weather Service), but heralded new Local Forecast graphics; the machine that produced those graphics, the IRIX-based Weather Star XL, came out later that year as the first new mainline STAR in eight years. Its capabilities were significantly more advanced than the 4000, with animated, high-quality output consistent with TWC's national graphics and new scalable icons; the icons would be used for eight years on TWC, but still remain on the Weather Star XLs still in service and on certain downloadable web widgets.
1999 brought the removal of the unpredictable-length Local Update on the Weather Star 4000, which stabilized flavor lineups. Also in 1999, Weatherscan Local, originally exclusive to Comcast systems, was launched. Weatherscan runs continuous weather information 24 hours a day. Cable operators could add optional packages featuring expanded weather information or specialty forecasts (such as golf, boat and beach, or marine weather) to their Weatherscan systems. That year featured the premiere of Sky on Fire, a documentary on lightning, and the appointment of a new network president, Decker Anstrom. By 1999, The Weather Channel reached 70 million homes, or 98% of all cable households. It also provided radio forecasts to more than 250 radio stations and weather information to 52 newspapers. Between 1999 and 2000, TWC aired conditions reports from Mount Everest using battery-powered sensors.
In 2000, the channel introduced Vocal Local, which uses narration to read local forecast data, to its XL systems; while most cable operators added the Vocal Local feature, some did not employ it on their Weather Star XL units. Music was switched from quarterly to monthly playlists; as such, 2000 is considered the split between the "classic" TWC and "modern" TWC by several websites. Atmospheres, a newsmagazine-style program, premiered on August 23 of that year. Also in 2000, The Weather Channel starting moving away from showing Weather Center 24 hours a day with the introduction of two morning programs: Your Weather Today and First Outlook. Your Weather Today replaced Weather Center AM on weekdays, however Weather Center AM continued to air on weekends until early 2001.
In 2001, a major change occurred on Weatherscan. Local forecasts generated for each county by the National Weather Service were removed and replaced with TWC products. While the NWS forecasts were of high quality, the new TWC forecasts were generated for areas, beneficial to multi-county viewing zones served by one STAR. In May 2001, TWC launched "Rays Awareness", an initiative focused on sun safety, in conjunction with the Centers for Disease Control and American Academy of Dermatology.
The "Live By It" era: June 2001–August 2005
On June 25, 2001, The Weather Channel had its first relaunch in over three years. The local forecast and program intros were completely redesigned. In addition, a new slogan, "Live By It," was introduced. The slogan was heard on channel IDs and intros to programs. With the discontinuation of Weather Center AM and PM, Weather Center was now a single general program rather than existing in three separate versions specific to the time of day, having been significantly pared down with the introduction of new programs such as Evening Edition and Weekend Now.
The Weather Star XL received a refresh for the first time in September 2001. Changes included different colors on text boxes, a new cloud background, improved regional forecast and radar maps, and new title bars and fonts that, just like the previous version, matched the on-air graphics that were used by TWC at the time.
In April 2002, the TWC-compiled local forecasts introduced the previous year on Weatherscan replaced the National Weather Service forecasts on the WeatherStar systems. As NWS bulletins/warnings were included in the old forecasts, a Weather Bulletins page displays the applicable watches, warnings and advisories (on the 4000, The Weather Channel does send National Weather Service bulletins to appear in the text-based local forecast, as the 4000 does not feature the Weather Bulletins slide). TWC celebrated its 20th anniversary in May 2002; in honor of the event, the channel premiered a retrospective special, and a book was published by Harvard Business Press, The Weather Channel: The Improbable Rise of a Media Phenomenon (ISBN 978-1-57851-559-2), written by TWC founder Frank Batten and Jeffrey L. Cruikshank.
The first long-form programs debuted on The Weather Channel at the beginning of 2003, with Storm Stories being the first program that was not weather or a documentary-type special. Also in 2003, the "Live By It" campaign was refreshed slightly. Weatherscan received a new design in February and moved to a modern STAR platform, known as the IntelliStar. The FreeBSD-based IntelliStar is more flexible than the IRIX-based Star XL for updates. Plans to revive "The Front" as a weather discussion board were proposed and scrapped that year.
STAR systems were introduced and decommissioned during 2004. The IntelliStar systems were rolled out to The Weather Channel. The Weather Star III was also discontinued from service as it did not meet DTMF tone and weather warning regulations. In October 2004, the United States Postal Service and TWC teamed up to create stamps depicting clouds and an accompanying "Cloudscapes" educational campaign – aimed at kids in grades 3 through 5 – about reading clouds to tell of pending weather conditions sent to 200,000 educators around the U.S., unveiled at Boston, Massachusetts' Blue Hill Observatory.
In early 2005, The Weather Channel announced a major refresh – with its first new logo in nine years, a new slogan, and other new elements – would occur in August. The relaunch was part of a long-running effort aimed at reducing the network's dependence on "commodity" viewers (those looking for forecast information) and attracting what then-TWC president Patrick Scott calls "vitalists" (those with an active interest in weather) and "planners" using the channel to plan the week.
Bringing weather to life: August 2005–June 2008
On August 15, 2005 at 5 a.m. Eastern Time, The Weather Channel underwent a total rel long-form programs, such as the climate-focused The Climate Code with Dr. Heidi Cullen (later renamed Forecast Earth) and It Could Happen Tomorrow.
In May 2007, The Weather Channel celebrated 25 years on the air, the festivities included airing select past Weather Channel promotional campaigns and the inclusion of a special 25th anniversary logo during commercial breaks. On June 17 of that year, TWC entered into a content partnership with MSNBC that made the channel the exclusive weather content provider for its website, msnbc.com. On September 26, the channel launched a high-definition simulcast feed; it also introduced a major refresh for the IntelliStar, with new titles and backgrounds on October 23.
2008 started with uncertainty, as reports surfaced about on-camera meteorologist Bob Stokes sexually harassing fellow TWC meteorologist Hillary Andrews. Andrews filed a lawsuit in Cobb County district court against The Weather Channel alleging the abuse by Stokes (which included statements like "Will you lick my swizzle stick" and saying that TWC "covered it up"). In May, Andrews won the lawsuit and was awarded an undisclosed amount of money. During the proceedings, it was revealed that Stokes' co-anchor before Andrews, Melissa Barrington, was also harassed. At the same time, Landmark Communications announced it was selling most of its assets, including broadcast television stations, newspapers, The Weather Channel, and data center facilities.
Becoming an NBC-owned channel and transition to high-definition: June 2008–November 2013
On June 2, 2008, The Weather Channel unveiled its first major modernization since 2005. New graphics and opening titles for every TWC program, a new IntelliStar lower display line with tabs (another first), and a full thrust into the channel's new studios were the results of a massive move to high definition. By August 12, the channel had stopped broadcasting its forecast programming from its old standard definition studios, which would eventually be converted into offices.
One month later, NBC Universal purchased the channel, weather.com, Weather Services International, a 30% stake in Canadian company Pelmorex, and miscellaneous other assets for $3.5 billion along with private equity firms The Blackstone Group and Bain Capital, from the family-owned Landmark Communications. Later, Landmark announced it was halting the sales of most of the other properties except for one newspaper; The Weather Channel was the only property sold by Landmark.
In November, like all NBC Universal properties, it joined the "Green is Universal" campaign for environmental awareness. The logo was turned green (normally done from master control on other networks) by sending an update to the IntelliStar to change the logo. Ironically, in the middle of "Green Week" (on November 20), The Weather Channel made major layoffs, described as cost synergies – three active on-camera meteorologists and one former one, the marketing department, the Road Crew (originally including Jeff Mielcarz, although Mielcarz later appeared on some weather.com video forecasts in December 2008), significant portions of the TWC Radio Network, and the Forecast Earth/environmental unit (however, certain portions of the Forecast Earth unit remain with TWC). The layoffs took effect on November 30 (The Weather Channel later stated it would air other environmental programs). With the shutdown of former competitor NBC Weather Plus, certain assets from Weather Plus (meteorologists and technology, specifically) have been rebranded as TWC assets with TWC-branded graphics. The NBC Weather Plus meteorologists continued to be based from NBC Universal headquarters at Rockefeller Center in Manhattan, New York and appeared often on MSNBC until the 2009 closure of the entire division. TWC personalities and on-camera meteorologists, such as Jim Cantore and Mike Seidel, have appeared on NBC and MSNBC properties since the sale. One of the motives for the cuts was in order to aid a $500 billion budget cut at NBC Universal parent company General Electric; NBC Universal and CNBC also made cuts.
February 2009 started with layoffs of four OCMs at the channel; midway through the month, it was discovered by members to a TWC fan forum and a leak on the TWC media kit that The Weather Channel was shaking up the schedule radically, including canceling Evening Edition, Abrams & Bettes: Beyond the Forecast, Forecast Earth and Weekend Outlook, dramatically changing Weather Center and turning sections of it over to Abrams & Bettes – all between February 21 and March 1. It had already been announced that Storm Stories was to return as part of "Tornado Week", a seven-day event devoted to programs relating to tornadoes. The program changes were some of the most far-reaching since 2003, which saw the creation of programs such as Day Planner and PM Edition. In March 2009, TWC personalities and programs dramatically ramped up use of Twitter – at the same time, other NBC Universal properties (especially MSNBC) did the same; programs now regularly feature viewer tweets.
On March 5, 2009, Geoffrey Darby was named Executive Vice President of Programming and Production. Under Darby, Abrams and Bettes were moved to Your Weather Today; First Outlook was shortened by one hour to make way for a new show Wake Up With Al featuring Al Roker; and the longstanding jazz music featured during the channel's local forecasts was removed and replaced with instrumental rock music at Darby's request; it was even confirmed by Chris Geith, the only remaining jazz artist in the playlists, that TWC had sent out a request for proposal to create production music branded with a common signature for the channel. TWC began showing weekly movies related to weather on Friday nights, beginning October 30, 2009; this caused criticism from many viewers and those in the media, who have criticized The Weather Channel for deviating from its format of running weather information 24 hours a day. The first film seen on TWC was The Perfect Storm; other films included March of the Penguins and Misery. Showing movies on TWC was a move that was planned for some time, even before the acquisition by NBC. After December 2009, these weekly movies were discontinued for the time being in favor of running Weather Center, which already aired throughout primetime during the rest of the work week. Despite the controversy, the channel relaunched the Friday night film block on March 26, 2010 with Into Thin Air, only to drop films permanently in May 2010, due to viewer criticism that stemmed from both the broadcast of movies on a news and information channel and an incident during an April 2010 tornado outbreak in which a scheduled broadcast of the movie Wind aired instead of wall-to-wall severe weather coverage.
Since the acquisition by NBC, live programming such as Your Weather Today has featured live video from NBC-owned or affiliated stations, as well as live or videotaped field reports from news correspondents employed by the local NBC affiliate serving the area being covered.
In January 2011, TWC announced that Australian-born landscape photographer Peter Lik would be starring in a new half-hour action-adventure nature reality series titled From the Edge with Peter Lik, which debuted on March 31. The program is produced by NBC's in-house production unit, Peacock Productions. Lik also serves as a special contributor for TWC, providing segments from his frequent travels to weather-impacted locales.
Later in 2011, the Intellistar 2, a high definition counterpart to the Intellistar, began to be gradually rolled out to cable providers across the country. The Intellistar 2 is shown on top of the high definition national feed during "Local on the 8s" segments; the original Intellistar is still utilized to provide weather information on The Weather Channel's standard definition feed.
It's Amazing Out There: November 2013–present
On November 12, 2013, The Weather Channel implemented a new graphics package on the Intellistar and IntelliStar 2 that closely resembles the graphical display of a mobile app. The LDL's display was also extended to commercial breaks (except for those locally inserted by cable providers) and long-form programming. In addition, Weather Center Live replaced First Forecast, Day Planner, Weekend View and Weekend Now. The 10 p.m. and 1 a.m. weekday, as well as the 4 p.m., 7 p.m., 10 p.m. and 1 a.m. Eastern Time weekend editions of Weather Center Live were eliminated and replaced by additional long-form programming. A new set also debuted, replacing the high-definition capable set introduced in 2008. The Weather Channel also debuted two new slogans: "It's Amazing Out There" and "Weather All The Time".
On December 2, 2013, The Weather Channel announced that Good Morning America weather anchor Sam Champion would be joining the network. His show America's Morning Headquarters premiered on March 17, 2014.
On January 14, 2014, DirecTV removed The Weather Channel from its lineup after the two parties were unable to come to terms on a new carriage agreement; as a result, DirecTV became the first major pay television provider to drop the channel in its history. Two weeks before the channel's carriage agreement was set to expire on December 31 (after which the deadline for a new carriage deal was extended by two weeks), the satellite provider began carrying WeatherNation TV (the successor to The WeatherCast) on channel 361 on December 16, 2013 – placing the channel next to The Weather Channel's slot on channel 362; WeatherNation replaced The Weather Channel on channel 362 (while still being carried on channel 361) when the latter channel was pulled. Representatives for DirecTV stated that it added WeatherNation TV in response to subscriber complaints regarding the amount of reality programs on The Weather Channel, which it estimated had amounted to 40% of its daily schedule.
On April 8, 2014, The Weather Channel and DirecTV both settled on a new agreement (the TWC decided to alter its programming lineup by trimming half of its reality programming during the weekdays in response to DirecTV subscribers' complaints), with TWC returning to DirecTV on channel 362 the following day.
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