Remembering John Coleman #JusJoJan

Dar, over at Dar’s Words, supplied the prompt for today’s entry in Linda Hill’s Just Jot It January.

PREDICTION

When I was a kid growing up in Chicago, as I’ve mentioned countless times before, I got interested in the weather and the whole business of weather forecasting (or, of you will, prediction) from a weather forecaster named PJ Hoff.

Ad for the WBBM 10:00 PM News, with Fahey Flynn (left) and P.J. Hoff, circa 1965

One of P.J.’s assistants in those days was a guy named John Coleman. P.J. retired in 1968 and the station bypassed Coleman for another John, John Coughlin. A year later both Fahey Flynn and John Coleman were part of The Eyewitness News Team over at WLS-TV, with Flynn as co-anchor and Coleman the on-air weatherman.

WLS Eyewitness News Team, 1972. L-R: John Coleman, John Drury, Fahey Flynn, Joel Daly, Bill Frink. By WLS-TV, Chicago. (eBay item photo front photo back) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Coleman went national in 1975 as the weatherman on ABC’s Good Morning America, a job he held until 1982. In 1982, he started The Weather Channel and acted as the station’s CEO until he was forced out a year later. He then worked at WCBS-TV in New York and WMAQ-TV in Chicago until 1994, when he went to work at KUSI-TV in San Diego until 2014. He and his wife moved to Sun City shortly thereafter, and he passed away this past Saturday in Las Vegas, Nevada.

17 thoughts on “Remembering John Coleman #JusJoJan

  1. I actually got teary when I heard that John passed away. I loved him! I watched their news every day. I even wrote a letter to this news team when I was maybe 13-14. They sent me an autographed picture of them, with personal comments to me. I loved them.

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    1. They weren’t just talking heads back then, were they? They were friends, people you looked forward to seeing day after day. I remember when Fahey Flynn spent some time in the hospital, people were beside themselves worried about him. People who had never met him wanted to know “is he OK? Is he coming back?”

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        1. I guess Bill Kurtis and Walter Jacobson are back doing the 10:00 news on Channel 2 nowadays. They’re the only ones from the old days doing the news anymore, but there were some amazing newspeople in the Sixties and Seventies. Like old friends…

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  2. I’d not heard of John Coleman, but it’s likely I’d watched him on GMA since we’ve watched that show forever. I’m always interested in weather and I’m happy he started the Weather Channel, as it’s a favorite to keep me updated.

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    1. Mary and I always think about some of the conversations that must have happened when he started the Weather Channel: “My God, the guy’s nuts! A TV station that just broadcasts the weather all day?” He was at GMA from ’75 to ’82, so if you were watching it during that period, you’ve definitely seen him.

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  3. My mom knew Willa Frink back in the day (Bill Frink’s wife). Seeing the B&W of the channel 7 news team brought back “Oh, yeah, I remember them” memories.

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    1. When I was working at Field’s at Christmas (Water Tower Place, Food and Liquor, late ’76), I sold Bill Frink a bunch of plum puddings. I guess he was shopping for his staff. That was the fun of working retail: you ran into a lot of local celebs. Amazing how far the technology available to TV stations has come for their news broadcasts: Coleman and PJ Hoff did all their stuff on paper…

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  4. John Coleman still remains my favorite TV meteorologist. I’m sad to hear about his passing.

    Do you remember the night he did the weather standing on his head? He had said that if he got a certain forecast wrong, he would do the next night standing on his head. And he was wrong. 🙂 He was using a rotating cube-like board for his graphics at that time, and all of the panels were upside-down so he could read them. It was hilarious! But I also remember how serious and professional he was during tornadic weather.

    I agree with you and the other commenters about news teams back then being more than just ghosts on a screen. The WLS (ABC) team was my local favorite, but Chet Huntley and David Brinkley were the family choice for network news on NBC/WMAQ. Whenever I hear or read the names of southeast Asian cities, I hear their voices.

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    1. He was a lot of fun. Remember when channel 7 moved their antenna from the top of Marina City to the top of the Hancock (maybe the Sears Tower), and he was in the commercials dancing on the roof (supposedly; I’m sure it was a Chromakey thing where he was in the studio dancing around in front of a green screen) singing “You can see clearly now, the shadow’s gone…” From what I gather, he was the first weatherman to use the Chromakey.

      Weather people were always sort of the goofy member of the news team (with a possible exception being Harry Volkman), but you didn’t want them messing around when the weather was bad, and they never did. Amazing how calmly they could tell you “okay, time to get in the southeast corner of your basement, or in an interior room away from windows.” Now I think they get a little too excited about their technology and how well they can show you how many lightning strikes have taken place.

      We weren’t a big network news family. I think, if we watched, it was Walter Cronkite. Do you remember when Frank Reynolds was a local newsman in Chicago on channel 7? It was before the Eyewitness News days. I always got the network news from the “American Contemporary Radio” team on WLS, guys like Don Gardner, Dick Chapman, Alex Dreier in Chicago etc. I’m using the news sounder from those broadcasts as my ringtone…

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      1. I don’t remember the antenna move. If it was after September of 1973, I would have missed it; my family left Chicagoland for Maryland then. I do remember him starting to use the Chromakey; he had a lot of fun with it, as I recall, but the memories are vague.

        If Wikipedia is to be believed, I was only 2 or 3 when Reynolds went national. I absorbed a lot going on around me, even when pretty young, so I might have seen him on WLS. There was always something special about seeing a local newsperson go national.

        I remember Harry Volkman; maybe his routine seriousness is why he wasn’t my favorite. 🙂 But they all got serious when the weather did. I remember the first time John Coleman showed NWS radar live on the air during some tornado thing or another. It wasn’t Doppler at that time, but he showed the hook echo and where it was heading. That was probably a turning point, from waiting until the town siren went off to having a bit of time to prepare.

        For radio news, I always liked the all-news stations, like WBBM in Chicago and WTOP in DC. I don’t know if there are many (or any) left with that format now. But I could listen to them for hours, especially when I was in bed sick…I think it was my connection to the outside world, and my assurance that things were still moving along as normal.

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        1. I think most radio news stations have gone news-talk, which is kind of a bummer. There was always something to be said for nothing but news all the time. CNN tried that with Headline News (remember “The World in 30 minutes”?), but the TV news channels are too little news and too much opinion and talk. I’d just as soon the news be nothing more than someone reading the, for lack of a better term, “tear sheets.”

          For all his clowning around, Coleman did his best to learn as much meteorology as he could and to understand what the radar was telling him, and he knew that there was a limit to joking around. When he said to get in the basement, you got in the basement.

          There was a lot to be said for Harry Volkman’s all-business approach to the weather. He also spent a lot of time going to schools and talking to kids about weather and listening to them, and was good about giving them a shout-out on the evening broadcasts, wearing the at times hideous buttonnieres they would make him. Kids like that kind of stuff.

          Reynolds was in Chicago when Kennedy was assassinated. Here’s a clipfrom that:

          You probably would have just missed Coleman on the Sears Tower. It wasn’t finished until ’74….

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  5. There were some memorable weather forecasters around here. I do remember John Coleman when he was on Channel 5, and both John Coughlin and Harry Volkman came to my grade school when they were Channel 2 powerhouses. Just last week, another Chicago weather staple Jerry Taft retired from Channel 7 after 40 something years on the air. Mom always liked him. Jim Ramsey also retired a few weeks ago from WGN after decades of Chicago weather forecasting. Also, sorry for the lapse in commenting recently!

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    1. No problem, Pat! Glad you’re back!

      I saw about Jerry Taft, but not about Jim Ramsey. Tom Skilling is still at WGN, I know; I just saw where he had passed 40 years. Is Roger Triemstra still doing the weather anywhere in Chicago?

      I have to ask: did you guys make Harry Volkman a buttonniere when he came? That was always a big deal. I think he’d try to make two schools a day, and wear one at 6 and another at 10. Harry was around forever, it seemed.

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      1. Roger Triemstra…remember the name but without cheating, couldn’t tell you if he’s around anywhere. I can tell you I haven’t heard the name in years.

        As for the buttonniere, we did indeed give Harry one and waited eagerly to see him wear it on that evening’s news! As I recall, he passes away not too long ago and his son Eddie Volkman did a nice tribute to him. Eddie is best known for being half of the “Eddie and Jobo” morning drive show in the ’90’s on B96 (WBBM-FM) and he’s still on the air somewhere on the dial here.

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        1. I saw the tribute to Harry by Eddie, or read about it. It was quite nice. It makes you realize he touched the lives of so many who grew up in Chicago, and I can imagine that would be what he felt was his greatest accomplishment.

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