The role of the TV weatherman has changed drastically in the last 25 years. I’ve seen three distinct stages:
In the early 70’s the weatherman (and they were men then) were nerdy-looking scientists with meteorological degrees who studied the National Weather Service isobars and frontal systems, then made a practical application of it all to the local situation. They were scientists and proud of it. They insisted on displaying the seal of the American Meteorological Society so you’d know their scientific background. The other puff-haired anchors might be vacuous dingbats, but the weathermen could be trusted as solid scientists who knew things we didn’t understand. And they were always trying to educate us—explaining how fronts worked or what happened when a high pressure system slid over a low one. They were the on-location local scholars—the experts who helped us by the application of their specialized knowledge to our local situation. They only had one problem—they were boring
2. The “communicator”
Being boring is the mortal sin of TV. (Perhaps of modern life?) So gradually these solid scientists were replaced by weather “communicators.” These great communicators still gave the forecast, but job #1 was to be interesting. What good is an accurate forecast if people don’t listen? So the weather communicators got giant projected maps behind them and started doing choreography to communicate the weather. Then one put on a silly hat, and they noted the ratings went up. In the movie Up Close and Personal, Michelle Pfeiffer twirled an umbrella in a yellow rain slicker, and the ratings zoomed! Redford knew the ratings weren’t based on information, but communication. These second-generation weather people still claimed to get their message across, but increasingly being interesting replaced being informative as the goal of the “spot.” The old fashioned scholar-weatherman were gradually replaced by Ken or Barbie weather persons better known for their hair-do than their meteorological knowledge. Nationally this all came together in the lovable mold of Willard Scott—a “weather entertainer.” The weather still was there, but it wasn’t central. I sometimes listened to Willard Scott’s forecast, and when my wife asked me ten seconds later for the forecast, I couldn’t remember. I remembered the 100 year old lady’s birthday or something about the Brussel Sprouts Festival in Oblong, Illinois, or what was written on the giant tee-shirt the lady just held up behind Willard Scott, but I missed the weather report
3. The weather clown.
So how do I tell my wife what the weather really is now? Al Roker seldom helps, so I switch to the Weather Channel—and there I get continuous raw weather data in a format designed to supply my needs. Or, better yet, I tap a few keys, access the Internet and see fresh satellite photos of my town taken from space just an hour ago. Perhaps like me, your computer turns on every morning and gives you more personalized weather information than you ever could have gotten from TV or even the Weather Channel. (For instance, I’m headed to next week so I’ve been starting out the day the last few weeks by glancing out my [computer] window to check on the weather in Thessalonica and Corinth, places Al Roker seldom mentions.) I’ve stripped out the middleman in getting weather information.
Of course, my local and national weather people know this, so they are now free to take their “communicator” style a step further—becoming a weather clown, providing simple comic relief to the morning news. Face it, you wouldn’t really need meteorological training to do what they do. The weathermen are no longer primarily about weather, but about entertainment.
Enough about weather persons. Obviously I wouldn’t have wasted all these words on weather people if it didn’t somehow connect to ministry. So, that’s my question. Has preaching changed, too, over the last 25 years? How? For the better? Worse? How has preaching changed?
© Keith Drury, 2005.
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Keith Drury served The Wesleyan Church headquarters in Christian Education and Youth leadership for 24 years before becoming a professor of religion at Indiana Wesleyan University. He is the author of more than a dozen books of practical spirituality, including Holiness for Ordinary People, Common Ground and Ageless Faith. Keith Drury wrote the Tuesday Column for 17 years (1995-2012), and many articles can be found on his blog “Drury Writing.”
Keith Drury retired from full time teaching in 2012. Keith is married to Sharon and has two adult sons and several grandchildren. He is retired in Florida with Sharon and enjoys cycling.