Weather Producing in Boston – Tim Studebaker, Graphics Ninja

Tim Studebaker has my dream job. He is a weather producer in Boston. Tim graduated from Lyndon State College in 2010 and has worked the morning weather producer spot at WHDH for the past two years. Not many stations have a weather producer, but the lucky ones that do get to work with a  front row seat to the biggest local stations in the country. I had the chance to talk to Tim about what it’s like to be a weather producer and what his job is like as a master of weather graphics.

How did you end up as a weather producer in Boston?

After graduation, I continued my ongoing job search. I maintained a membership with a job listing website specific to the broadcasting job market. Like others from my graduating class, I was looking for an on-camera meteorologist position. However, a few months after graduation, I spotted a Weather Producer job in Boston. I hadn’t really thought of the idea of producing before this.  Seeing as I am from the Boston area, and was living here again after college, I decided to apply.  It seemed like a great opportunity to stay local and work on my broadcasting skills off-camera.

What is your day like? What kinds of things do you do?

I typically produce for the morning meteorologist. Occasionally, during winter storms or severe weather, I will produce during additional shifts so more on-air meteorologists are available for coverage. On a typical day, I will arrive at the station between 3am and 4am. (Earlier if it’s going to be a busy weather day or the show is starting early.) First, I will take care of any operational items that need to be addressed. Then, I’ll spend some time looking at current/forecast data and start building graphics. The on-air meteorologist will build a complete forecast, as well as a rundown of the graphics she would like to use. Around 4:30am, I will review the rundown, and begin producing graphics off that list. At 5:00am, we go on the air. The rest of the shift is basically spent trying to keep ahead of the rundown. I usually try to have graphics for each hit completed by the end of the previous hit. In other words, graphics for 5:45am should be done by the time the on-air met is completing her 5:30am hit…or earlier. In between producing graphics, I’m basically responsible for making sure the show runs smoothly, such as reviewing the upcoming hit for accuracy.

Is it hard to do forecasting and graphics for someone else?

It can be a challenge until you develop a pattern and learn the forecasting style of the person you’re working with. I found that I can build graphics off my own forecast, then make small adjustments, if needed, once I see the met’s forecast. Generally, graphics like a surface analysis or a jet stream will agree between different forecasters, while the details listed on the graphic can easily be adjusted (cloudy vs. mostly cloudy, for example). I usually build graphics we use every day, like the surface analysis, off my own forecast and then tweak them based on her forecast. Graphics that require more specific data are usually built after I see her rundown and her forecast.

What do you like best about your job?

WHDH is an open studio, which means the newsroom staff, and many of the technicians, are in the studio with the anchors, reporters, and meteorologists (as opposed to the studio being separate from the newsroom). As a result, I’ve been able to experience a lot of the inner workings of a big market newsroom, studio, and weather center all from my desk. I’ve also been able to learn the ins and outs of being on air, without the trial by fire of getting an on-camera job straight out of college.

I’ve found producing to be a great opportunity to learn how to tell the weather story by helping someone else tell it every day. When I was in college, I needed to work a lot, and I didn’t have the chance to come in on weekends or evenings to experiment with the graphics system or practice wall work. True, I received excellent training in college, but it helps to come in on your own and practice. Producing has offered me the chance to work on my graphic abilities, as well as affording me the opportunity to practice wall work during my down time. It’s a challenging job, but it’s a great way to learn about the TV news business as well as how to tell the weather story. And, of course, Boston being my hometown, I love working with the same meteorologists I used to watch from home before I got the job!

How did your experience at Lyndon State College help you with the job you are working in today?

Besides the strong meteorological education I received at Lyndon, I learned a lot of skills important specifically to the broadcast meteorology field.  Having been given the opportunity to work with a weather graphics system, as well as the chance to tell the weather story on camera, I came into this job with a good working knowledge of the field as well as the tools I needed to succeed. First, my experience at Lyndon helped me to get the job in the first place, because I was able to talk about my understanding of the television weather product in my interview. Once I had the job, I found that the education I received at Lyndon helped guide me through the training process. Having had experience with one graphics system at Lyndon, I was able to learn a new system quickly and get quality graphics to air on time.  By having on-air experiences at Lyndon, I was able to decide what might be the best course of action when producing for on-air talent at my current station.

Thank you Tim, for giving us an inside look into weather producing. As stations continue to add newscasts and engage in social media, the demand for weather producers will grow. Like Tim mentioned, getting weather graphics experience in college was essential to his success after graduation. It’s also one things to know how to use the software, but it’s a completely different thing to know how to make those graphics really shine. Tim has a knack for solid forecasting and can bring out the best in a weather computer. I know he’ll go far, either behind the camera, or someday in front of one.

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