Today, Jacobs Media consultant and long-time Chicago resident, Mike Stern, gives me a breather. While everyone was caught up in the solar eclipse last week, there was something especially fascinating happening on Chicago television. During an event where every media outlet was trying to get the edge over its competition, Mike has a story that will put all that media hype in perspective. – FJ
Tom Skilling has been a weatherman in Chicago since 1979. Often described as an evangelist for weather, his 38 years of passion and exuberance for the topic has enabled him to grow from a standard, disposable local weatherman to Chief Meteorologist at WGN-TV and one of the highest paid weatherman in the country.
More importantly, his passion for weather has led Skilling to become a beloved local celebrity. Despite being so well-known and on top of all things meteorological, his reaction while watching the recent total eclipse was completely unexpected by everyone – including Skilling himself.
Watching from the path of totality in Carbondale, Illinois, the 65-year-old threw his hands in the air, hugged several other spectators and was moved to tears, live on the air.
You can watch the video here:
Not surprisingly, the video went viral, spreading across the country and the world on social networks and websites. The reaction from people outside of Chicago ranged from “adorable” to other somewhat less flattering descriptions of a crying weatherman.
But in Chicago the headlines read like this:
“Tom Skilling’s solar eclipse sob is a joy to viewers”
“Tom Skilling cried during the Eclipse and we love him for it”
“Watching Tom Skilling Get Choked Up Over The Eclipse Is As Lovely & Inspiring As The Actual Eclipse”
Why did this go over so enthusiastically and emotionally here in the Windy City? Plain and simple, it’s because Chicago loves Tom Skilling and vice versa. Now, that relationship didn’t happen overnight.
Local radio personalities could learn a few things from Skilling’s approach to weather and media, and how to truly create a bridge with an audience. Here are 6 reasons why Skilling has made this great connection with his community:
1. He’s passionate about his content
Skilling isn’t just a local weatherman. He truly champions the weather and wants people to embrace and understand the wonders of meteorology. You “get” that when you watch him.
2. He’s consistent
Skilling hasn’t wavered. He hasn’t tried his hand at other jobs – like hosting game shows or doing celebrity interviews. He has stayed put and hasn’t moved to other markets. He’s the weatherman in Chicago.
3. He’s not just a TV guy
Skilling’s regular appearances on WGN Radio are a very popular segment on the talk station. He also writes a weather column for the Chicago Tribune. In addition, Skilling gives regular talks to the public about his favorite topic, including an annual seminar at the Fermi labs about the technology that helps track tornadoes.
4. He’s humble
Despite all of his popularity in Chicago, Skilling remains an approachable person. When asked about his reaction to the eclipse going viral, he replied, “If I ever thought I’d be the poster child for the 2017 solar eclipse, I would’ve told you, you were crazy!” In a Midwest market in particular, Skilling embodies the mindset. He’s a star, but he doesn’t act like one.
5. He laughs at himself
Some personalities might have tried to shut down an emotional video like this one. Not Skilling. He may be a little embarrassed, but he’s far from ashamed. In fact, he told the Today Show, “I haven’t been able to bring myself to watch it, but I don’t regret it. I’m kind of an emotional guy and it snuck up on me … I was overwhelmed by the enormity of it … it makes you realize we’re a very, very small part of a huge universe.”
That response just reinforces Skilling’s most important characteristic:
6. He’s genuine
In an era of manufactured emotions or putting your best face forward on social media even when times are bad, Tom Skilling is a real person who allows his true passions and emotions to show – something more talent should aspire to do.
And what’s the worst thing that could come from letting your guard down?
National media coverage and even more fan loyalty.
That’s nothing to cry over.
Three years with the company taught him a great deal about successful radio programming and helped him launch a career that included overseeing stations in Chicago, Detroit, Denver, Las Vegas, Milwaukee and Dayton. He primarily worked in Alternative and Active Rock, though he was also involved with Heritage and Classic Rock stations as well as Hot AC and the 80’s format.
After leaving his position as Vice President of Programming for Emmis Chicago, Mike began writing about the industry taking positions as News/Talk/Sports Editor for Radio & Records and Editor of Billboard’s Top 40 Update. During that same period, he also began consulting Arbitron’s Programming Services Team and helped launch their twice-weekly column Not Your Average Quarter Hour, which focuses on providing insights for programmers and helping them maximize the value they get from their ratings data.
Finding that he missed working with talent he also launched his own coaching business, Talent Mechanic, where he worked closely with hosts from across a wide range of formats and market sizes, as well as a large number of podcasters hosting shows about a wide range of topics. While looking for new ways to help hosts bring out their true personalities, Mike has taken classes in and performed both stand-up and Improv comedy where he discovered the differences between the two disciplines and how each applies to being on the air.
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