We’ve heard of people attempting to walk on water, Bob Breck could walk on an entire continent — all within a few steps.
After 38 years, Breck retires this week as chief meteorologist (or was we used to say, “the weatherman”) for WVUE-TV, more commonly known as Fox 8.
In his early years, he relied heavily on visual gimmicks such as “Chroma Key,” which uses green background screens to cast layers of images. Thus, Breck could appear to walk across the states. It was technology he learned from an acquaintance at the Weather Channel. Other tricks included panels built into the green screens, which could be pulled out, as though from thin air, to show different images.
Many people were amazed by the new technology; some ware not, including a newspaper critic who complained that more attention should be paid to the weather and less to gadgetry. The critic sassily added that Breck should go step into Montana. (In fact he did, in a subsequent broadcast.)
What the critic did not understand is that Breck DID pay attention to the weather. He was very good at analyzing and explaining it. Nevertheless, no matter how good a forecaster is, “partly cloudy and mild with scattered afternoon thunder showers” is not compelling TV when repeated daily. Breck was trying to make an often mundane broadcast topic more interesting.
Last week, Breck recalled that some of the technology of his early days still had a long way to go. There was still not the computer programming to create images. Weather visuals still had to be drawn by hand, like making posters. Smocks were worn while preparing the charts so as not to get chalk dust on the ready for TV-clothes.
Over the years, special effects became so common in practically every phase of life that they were challenged for their novelty. Breck, however, could rely instead on his oratory gift to explain the weather, making it interesting and every so often adding a sound effect for emphasis.
He and WDSU’s Margaret Orr became the city’s senior forecasters. In all categories of broadcast TV, seniority probably counts more when the subject is weather especially when a big event is churning in the gulf. When matters become serious viewers want an experienced voice. To have become that is perhaps the best tribute to a broadcaster.
Breck’s last broadcast will be this Wednesday, March 2. After that, if ever we see him on the air again it could be a mixed blessing—he will be on standby whenever a hurricane approaches. For now, though, Breck is approaching retirement with the radiance of a cloudless day. Later this week he will be heading to a distant beach. He’ll likely fly there. Or, maybe he can just samba across the map.