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Commentary : COME RAIN OR SHINE, THE WEATHER CHANNEL CONNECTS US ALL

August 14, 1994|FRAZIER MOORE | ASSOCIATED PRESS

ATLANTA — Sometimes "Ya think it's gonna rain?" becomes a life-or-death question.

"In the Southeastern part of the country," the Weather Channel's Declan Cannon was saying not that long ago, "you can see scattered thunderstorms on the map, and that's certainly a problem."

You could and it was, and flooding continued.

But a weathercast does more than frame calamity. It's a way to make sense of a world that makes little sense once you factor in people--and a way for you to feel connected to those people, every one of whom, like you, happens to be subject to the weather's whims.

A weathercast helps you put away the past, focus on the present, and prepare for--sometimes yield to--an ever-uncertain future.

And since weather just goes on and on, when the weathercast does too, you've got nothing less than a play-by-play account of the game of life.

"Good evening, America! A nonstop weather telethon has begun," meteorologist Bruce Edwards greeted a small and probably skeptical audience when the Weather Channel signed on May 2, 1982.

"We haven't stopped since," says Edwards, who with some 65 fellow meteorologists reaches 55.6 million households across the United States today. An average 185,000 homes are tuned in at any given moment.

Headquartered in an office park in northwest Atlanta, the Weather Channel is a ceaseless procession of oracles and isobars, delivered in fast-moving but easygoing fashion. "Weather you can always turn to," you are reminded incessantly. "Accurate and dependable."

In most respects, it doesn't vary much from the weather segment on your local news. But there's one big difference: Weather Channel weathercasters are spared the burden of serving as an anchor's comic foil or masquerading as the viewer's best friend. No Willards are in sight, no small talk is heard. No hippy-dippy weather allowed.

Rather than entertainers, these are explainers who, despite their smiles and good posture, seem imbued with a devout, even dweebish sense of mission. They never upstage the weather.

"We're all business," says Weather Channel chief Michael Eckert. "We want to give good information and satisfy a variety of consumer segment needs."

He ticks off a few of the many faces a Weather Channel viewer might wear: the vacationer, business traveler, weekend athlete, aviator, farmer, boating enthusiast, construction worker.

"We have viewers who tune in for periods of severe weather only," he says, "and people who are interested in seeing what conditions are like where their loved ones live.

"There are people who are fascinated with the weather and watch for two hours at a time, and people who will watch us for 15 seconds just to get a local hit and then move on."

The Weather Channel even counts among its viewership the gambler, Eckert adds: "After all, here's a guy who's wondering, will it rain on that racetrack or that football field?"

But not satisfied just to be a cable TV resource, the Weather Channel aims to merchandise its weather information in a manner reminiscent of how Disney peddles its rodents and ducks.

Already a Weather Channel radio service can be heard on about 220 stations, and you can dial a 900 phone number for "the Weather Channel Connection" at 95 cents a minute. After airing on the Weather Channel, a series of half-hour documentaries (a recent one was "D-Day: Forecast for Victory") has found brisk home-video sales.

A companion Weather Channel providing nonstop local information is being tested in a dozen cities. At the other end of the scale, spinoff Weather Channels in the future may serve countries around the globe.

And with Weather Channel data already flowing into your cable box, you can look forward to interactive weather information on demand. Log in what you plan to do and where you plan to be, and download a customized weathercast.

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