Sunny and Mild: Getting to Know Our Fair-Weather Friends of Local News | News | Los Angeles | Los Angeles News and Events | LA Weekly

Sunny and Mild: Getting to Know Our Fair-Weather Friends of Local News 

Or, how Ted Turner saved Dallas Raines from network hell

Wednesday, Jun 4 2008

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“He was kinda geeky,” Raines recalls, “but he had tremendous passion for it. By the end, his presentation looked like chicken scratch. Watching that guy, you learned how the weather moved.”

Speaking of school, Raines is reminded of a 100-question American Meteorological Society written exam he recently took (and aced) to upgrade the station’s weather credentials. “What’s all on that test?” he says cheerfully, trying to remember, the swingy vowels of the South sliding into his voice. Climate change, astronomy, black-hole questions, thermodynamics, dynamic meteorology, someone in the room says. You get the sense that Raines took the test mainly for fun. “Do you have time to hear my Ted Turner story?” he says.

Story No. 2; Dallas’ Ted Turner Story, or, How Dallas Came to Be a Weathercaster in Los Angeles: Raines was 26 at the time, doing the weather under contract for CNN. He was a young hotshot with offers right and left, and Good Morning America calling, wanting to hire him away. “When a network calls you, generally the stations let you go,” says Raines. “It’s not a big deal. But Ted wasn’t like that. He said, ‘We’re a network.’” So Raines was summoned to Turner’s huge, colonial Tara-like office. Its giant electronic doors swung open, revealing five Asian men, who stood up in front of Turner’s desk. “I have to stop the meeting because Dallas is here,” Turner said, as Raines slunk into the office, peering at Turner’s massive collection of Confederate Civil War memorabilia and the heads of various lions mounted on the walls. Turner pulled out a big saber. “Dallas, come on in here,” he said, while whipping the saber around. “I hate the networks. They think they can come in and take our people. Do you hate them?”

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He pointed at Raines with the saber. Let’s just say Raines stayed with CNN. When his contract came up, the network put him in a station in L.A.

Though he’s come to love L.A.’s microclimates, extreme weather remains Raines’ favorite. Which brings us to Story No. 3, or, What Dallas Did Last Summer: Last May, the station sent Raines out to Kansas to cover a devastating tornado outbreak. Driving around the countryside in a radar-equipped truck chasing the storm — locals would see them coming and head in the opposite direction — he and his camera crew found themselves within 50 miles of an F5. Raines saw the massive rotating supercell, a thunderstorm that extends 50,000 feet up into the atmosphere, one so big, commercial airliners won’t go through them, they go around them.

At night, the tornado hit. In the blackness, the lightning lit up the sky, and for just a few seconds, he’d catch glimpses of the whirling funnel. Raines asked his fellow tornado chasers if they could all go intercept it. “No,” they said, horrified, “we’re not gonna do that.” It was the most scared he’d ever been in his life. With the sirens going, and the wind blowing, “Wow,” he figured, “I’m really in it now.”


Getting Warmer: Fritz Coleman

Of the city’s top weathercasters, Fritz Coleman is the silver fox. The elegant white hair, the delicate glasses, the graceful carriage — all of this has sunk into L.A.’s collective consciousness after 25 years of his evening weathercasts. Coleman represents nothing less than the continuity of our lives. If gale-force winds are blowing and fires are raging, if it’s raining bloody murder onto your carpet, Coleman is the one you want reassuring you that everything will come out all right in the end. The Fritz effect isn’t an accident. It is the result of a carefully honed, time-tested delivery.

“My interest is in warm communication,” he says. “It’s not in informing people that they’re gonna lose their home in 15 minutes because there’s a tornado coming.”

A master of the perfectly turned-out sentence (his formal studies were in communications, after all), he would make a fabulous White House press secretary, or hostage-crisis negotiator. He is succinct, engaging and clever.

Since you might call weather the “palate cleanser” between tragedy and sports, figuring out how to tastefully fit it into a news presentation is an art, Coleman believes.

“You have to finesse an appropriate attitude. Your info may be benign and light, but what you’ve just come out of is death and destruction. You don’t want to have a tire-squealing transition and snap their necks coming out of tragedy to be Mr. Amusing. That would be counterproductive to say the least,” he says. “And job-threatening on another level.”

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