• The Hitchhike to Boston – Climbing the Market Ladder

    I was getting on the Interstate in Burlington, Vermont yesterday and saw a hitchhiker with a sign that said ‘Boston’. With Boston being about three and a half hours away, I had to think that the chance of someone coming by, picking him up and taking him to Boston had to be pretty slim. He was going to have to be either really lucky, or really good at hitchhiking. I think the same goes for starting out in broadcast meteorology.

    Maybe instead of trying to hitchhike to Boston, this guy could have had a sign that said ‘Montpelier’. Its on the way to Boston, but only about thirty minutes away. Chances are probably a lot better that he’d make it there. After that, he could try for Lebanon, NH, then Manchester, then finally it would be a much more hitch-able ride into Boston. It would probably take more time and work than getting one ride from Burlington to Boston, but the chances of getting there would be a whole lot higher.

    Its usually the same path for broadcast meteorologists. Television markets in the United States are ranked by size from number one (New York City) to 210 (Glendive, Montana). A new broadcast meteorologist will likely start out in a bottom one hundred market, somewhere from Evansville, Indiana to Glendive. You’ll usually spend two or three years there, and then move on to a 50 to 100 station, possibly from Buffalo to Charleston. Finally if you keep at it, and have the skill and ability, you can land in a top fifty market. You’ve managed to hitchhike to Boston.

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  • You Can’t Please Every Viewer, But You Still Need To Try

    The weather has been pretty nice here in Vermont lately. Summers are short and we need to soak in all the sun we can before winter returns all too soon. Quiet weather generally means accurate forecasts, which usually means happy viewers, but its not always the case. I got an email from a viewer yesterday who was furious I was standing in the middle of the screen. He said a lot of mean things, but I wrote him back anyway. I hadn’t realized I was hogging the chroma-key, but apparently it was very clear to him.

    These things will happen. They happen to everyone no matter how long you’ve been doing this or how good you think you might be. There are always things we can do better, but sometimes you just need to realize that there are people who are just having a bad day. Here are a couple of suggestions for your first few nasty-grams.

    You take the bad weather with the good – You might get undeserved blame when the weather is bad, but you’ll also get a lot of undeserved credit when the weather is good. Just roll with it. Viewers are usually just giving you a little hard time. Its not a big deal.

    Almost all viewers are great – In my experience 99.9% of all viewers I meet in public are nothing but kind and respectful. I try to give them that same courtesy in return, regardless of where I am or who I’m with. It comes with the territory. Where you’ll usually get complaints is through email, which are easier to consider a tactful response, and send out a prompt reply.

    Angry viewers are usually just frustrated – When viewers get upset over the phone or an email, its usually because they’ve got some financial or personal stake in the weather. People make plans around the weather, and when the weather doesn’t go the way it was supposed to, people loose time and money. Listen to them and be polite, even if you don’t feel like you are getting the same in return. I’ve found that you can settle down most people and reason with them, but others will refuse to come around. If you get to a point where you are just getting berated, just thank them for the feedback and move on. Always remember that its not personal.

    Viewers are just neighbors whose names you don’t know. They see you every night and listen to what you say. When when they get the chance to meet you in public, you both should walk away with a positive experience. Without viewers, we’d just be talking to ourselves, and that would be kind of weird.

    Have you ever had any crazy encounters with your viewers?

  • On Vacation – How Getting Away From Work Makes You A Better Employee

    Next week, I’m on vacation from my station. I honestly can’t remember the last time I had a full week off from work, but my guess is probably around ten or eleven months. I love my job, and I’m not exactly planning anything too exciting with my family next week, but I’m looking forward to the break.

    When you are starting out in broadcast meteorology, it might be hard to get in that first week’s vacation. Not only are you limited to time off in your first year or two, chances are that you are spending your summer filling in for everyone else (thanks, Ian). It can be a little stressful, especially around the summer holidays when it seems like the rest of the world is headed to the family gathering or vacation destination, and you are stuck cooking in the weather office. I’ve been there.

    But everyone deserves a break, and I think that by the time you come back, you’re actually a better employee by having that time. Here are a couple of reasons why:

    Time off refuels your creativity. The best way to figure out a problem at work is to give it a little space. Sometimes by not thinking about it, and spending some time doing something else, the answer will come. Coming back from a week off will give you a fresh perceptive on your weather office to-do list. Believe me, it will still be there when you get back.

    You give yourself time for different projects. Even if you are going somewhere on vacation, new experiences will change the way you think about things, and work will always feel a little different when you return. If you don’t plan on going very far in your week away, there are likely all sorts of little projects, books and blogs you’ve been meaning to get to. You finally have the time for that, and having those opportunities will open you up to discover new things.

    You’ll be happy to get back. This might be debatable, but I’ll argue that by the end of the vacation, you’ll be ready to get back to work. We do what we do because we love it, and there is a lot of sacrifice that goes in to it. A little time away might give you a better appreciation of the work you do when you get back to work on Monday.

    Time away will give you more ideas, more focus, and a better outlook when you return. My plan is to stay off the work email, Facebook and Twitter next week. I might check it once or twice so it doesn’t take me an entire day to clean out the inbox when I get back. I’d still like to update the blog, but I’ll see what I get inspired to do. I hope everyone gets a chance this summer to get a little free time. If we run with our heads down for too long, we might look up and wonder where we are.

  • Have Degree, Will Travel: Being Flexible When Looking For Your First Job

    Every broadcast meteorologist has a dream job. Its a position in a market that they’ve either grown up in, or always wanted to work in. What comes as a surprise to many graduating mets is the reality that getting to that dream job can be a long journey, that usually begins with a job in a small market television station. Many mets might be reluctant to work at a tiny station, or move hundreds of miles away from home, but those that do find themselves one step closer to where they ultimately would like to be.

    Plan on starting in a bottom 100 market. Those are markets in the 100 to 200 range. You can find the whole list here. The bottom hundred is filled with smaller towns all over the country, which usually pays smaller wages, and more likely to hire mets just out of college. If you can start in the top 100, great. I’ve had several students at Lyndon who have done it, but if you set your sights too high at the start of your search, you might miss out on some opportunities.

    Be willing to travel, perhaps far from home. The more flexible you are on where you are willing to go, the more likely you’ll be to spend your summer working on-air, rather than at Home Depot and living with your parents. The sooner you get started, the quicker you’ll be moving on to your next gig, closer to that dream job.

    Be ready to stay a while. Most entry-level job opening will likely to have you sign a two year contract. They are going to spend some time training you and promoting you, so they’ll want you to hang around for them to make worth their time. Contracts are binding, and something you should take seriously, so make sure you know what you are getting into.

    After a few years working in the industry, you might find that the job you thought you wanted, isn’t where you want to be today. Life changes, and so will your goals for the future. Don’t stress out so much about where you want to be, and try and spend more time thinking about what you want to do today.

    Where is your dream job?

  • Weekend Warriors

    Ah summer.. some parts of the country wait all year for these few months. Its time to get out with friends and family, and enjoy concerts, weddings and parties.

    That is, unless you are working weekends. Most broadcast meteorologists starting out get stuck with working the weekend shift, and it can be a frustrating time of year if you are used to getting out and being social with the rest of the world. You’ll find that with everybody else off on Saturday and Sunday, most summer events are scheduled for those days, and getting any time off to be there can be a bit of a challenge.

    Here are a few tips for mets who need help surviving the weekends:

    • Bond with you coworkers – New reporters, photogs and producers are in the same boat you are, and probably closer in age and interests than a lot of the veterans. Get to know them outside of the office.
    • Take advantage of the weekdays – While everyone else is working, life can be a lot less crowded. Hang out with people with similar schedules and enjoy restaurants, beaches, and golf courses without the weekend rush.
    • The long lunch – Evening breaks between the 6pm and 11pm shows can be useful in popping into quick social events to keep contact with your workweek friends. You’ll want to avoid the alcohol, and its never easy going back to work in the middle of the fun, but at least you can make an appearance.
    Believe me, it doesn’t get any easier. One thing you need to know is that there are no good shifts in local television news. From weekends, you might move up to mornings, where you’ll get up at 3am (or earlier). After that, there is the prime time shift that runs evenings and nights past the 11pm news. So weekends might not be all that bad. Things are usually a little less formal around the office on Saturday and Sunday with fewer people in the building. And you still can go out and enjoy happy hour.. it just starts at midnight.
  • Station Scientists: You Are The Know-It-All

    Several years ago, I was in bed on a Saturday morning when the room began to shake. It wasn’t anything major, but it was noticeable and unusual for Vermont. Five minutes later the phone rang and I was being summoned to the TV station.

    It was a 5.5 earthquake, and just about everyone had felt it and was concerned. But in a pinch that morning, it was the broadcast meteorologists that had to go on live television and provide the viewers with Earthquakes 101 while the rest of the news team was out getting video of cracks in people’s driveways.

    You will likely not cover plate tectonics in your core meteorology curriculum, but you’d be surprised how often you are called on to be the expert on anything remotely connected to science. I get calls to the station weekly about that big, bright light in the sky, or that latest rumbling of the ground. The internet is your friend and you can usually pull up a quick star chart or USGS earthquake map to help the caller out.

    Most meteorologists have a natural cursorily for everything, so we don’t have any problem with this. But if you are just starting out, and you get that phone call from a viewer or a reporter with a random question, you might not be prepared. Keep in mind that people trust you for information. Sure it might be a mouse-click away these days, but people rely on you. Your best bet is to help them out as quickly and politely as possible, and then also provide them with the resource so that they can help themselves next time.

    TV mets: What is the most unusual non-weather event you were called to be an expert on?