A Weather Channel? Really?

The Curmudgeon fancies himself something of a news junkie.  Daily, he reads two local newspapers, the Philadelphia Inquirer and Philadelphia Daily News; receives daily email headlines from the Washington Post, New York Times, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, Harrisburg Patriot-News, Tampa Bay Times, several regional business dailies, and about a dozen trade publications; his web browser opens to a newspaper web site; and he ends his workday with a few minutes with Google News.  Every weekend he reads the major Sunday newspapers – the New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Boston Globe, and a regular rotation of Sunday papers from about 20 different cities.  On a monthly basis he subscribes to about a half-dozen conventional magazines – mostly of the financial and left-wing variety – and receives electronic versions of another twenty or thirty magazines.

In addition, the radio in his bedroom is permanently tuned to a local news station that inexplicably offers constant weather forecasts – about six references to the weather every thirty minutes.  While he could survive with fewer forecasts, he appreciates knowing what the elements have in store for him in the coming hours and days:  he likes being dressed warmly when the weather’s cold, lightly when the temperatures are hot, and with his completely bald skull slathered with a sunscreen with an SPF factor of at least 105 when the sun is expected to shine.

But for the life of him, The Curmudgeon does not understand why anyone would be interested in the weather forecast for any part of the country other than where they expect to spend the next twenty-four to forty-eight hours.

It was in this context that The Curmudgeon recalls breaking out in laughter when visiting the west coast in the early 1980s, spending time in the home of someone who had cable television – cable was still a few years away from arriving in Philadelphia – and discovering, through the miracle of channel-surfing (this was also his first experience with that most remarkable of devices, the remote control), that there was an actual television station devoted entirely to the weather.

A weather channel – The Weather Channel!

What a ridiculous idea it seemed.  It reminded him more than a little of an old Saturday Night Live sketch in which Fred Willard and the late, great Gilda Radner play the proprietors of a mall store that sells only one product:  scotch tape.  John Belushi played their stock boy, and the highlight of the sketch was two teenagers coming into the store and one of them turning to the other and saying “You see?  I told you:  a tape store.”

That was my reaction:  a weather channel?  A WEATHER CHANNEL?

Yes, a weather channel – and it’s been around now for nearly thirty years, much to The Curmudgeon’s surprise.

And much to his surprise, it’s quite popular.  It seems that, contrary to The Curmudgeon’s assumption, there are more than a few people out there who really are interested in the weather forecast for parts of the country they have no plans to visit in the next few days and in which they know no one.  There are Philadelphians interested in the forecast for snowfall in Fargo, San Diegans curious about how much rain Seattle expects, and residents of Palo Alto dying to know whether the temperature in Palm Springs will hit triple figures.

Who would have guessed?

Now The Curmudgeon understands that there are times when the weather, regardless of the location, is news:  floods, hurricanes, tornadoes, blizzards, sweltering heat, and even the occasional nor’easter.  Similarly, people who are about to hit the road want to know what it will be like when they reach their destination.  But still:  sitting and watching a half-hour of The Weather Channel like you would an episode of NCIS or a rerun of Friends?

Yet people do:  The Curmudgeon often encounters people in his own circle of acquaintances who, during the course of everyday conversation, refer to something they saw on The Weather Channel.  Sometimes, that source is a little too close for comfort:  The Curmudgeon’s father lives in southern California, close enough to Disneyland to hear the fireworks that launch the parade that closes the park every night, and occasionally dad will call and announce “I understand you’re getting a foot of snow tomorrow” or ask “With all that rain, is your place still dry?”

The Curmudgeon can only shake his head and wonder.  He doesn’t get it, doesn’t get it at all, but he guesses that’s why he probably has no future in television programming.  The next thing you know, there’ll be channels devoted to other, similarly narrow subjects – like, say, cooking or fashion or, heaven forbid, golf.

A golf channel?  Now that will never happen.

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