Thoughts on my 13 years at channel 7

By: Mike Breunling
By: Mike Breunling

Where does the time go?

     I am now beginning my 14th year as Chief Meteorologist at WSAW.  Click on the video player to the left to see one of my presentations from 1997!

     The time certainly has gone by rather quickly.  I am not one who likes to talk about myself much, but I hope you will enjoy the following comments as I reflect on the past 13 years.

     My first year at the station was the final one for Howard Gernetzke.  By the time I started here Howard had already returned to the Wausau area after an accomplished broadcasting stint in Milwaukee, which included the popular show Dialing for Dollars.  At WSAW Howard was providing the 5 and 6 pm weather broadcasts, as well as doing a morning show on WSAU radio.  My job was   to assist him in his "show-prep", which meant providing forecast analysis, as well as set-up the on-air graphics.  From the start Howard was polite, kind, and very willing to work with me--certainly a good introduction to professional broadcasting after I had just finished graduate school.  Howard was always good to work with--at all times a gentleman, and always treating others with dignity and respect.  To be honest, while I enjoyed the daily discussions of the weather, what was the most fun was listening to the interesting stories Howard shared of his career, and especially those related to the Dialing for Dollars show in Milwaukee.  The show included interview segments with many of the greats of entertainment, and Howard and wife Rosemary certainly had some interesting experiences!  I especially remember Howard talking about Zsa Zsa Gabor and Bob Hope.  Zsa Zsa was difficult to work with, and despite diligent efforts the make-up and studio lighting were just not right!  On the other hand, Howard described Bob Hope as a jewel--very personable and genuinely interested in providing a good interview.  In fact, Mr. Hope was one of the only stars who asked for a dossier of Howard and Rosemary, for the purpose of engaging in a better conversation.

     Things certainly have changed at the station over the years.  When I started, the Weather Office was in the basement, which meant the weather presentations had to be assembled there, with the main on-air presentation done upstairs in the studio.  On quiet weather days this was not too much of a burden, but there sure was plenty of running back and forth when severe weather occurred! Since then, the office has been moved to the studio, which makes it a lot easier to do the work and be ready to go on-air.  Of course the technology has changed significantly.  When I first began we had to obtain radar images one at a time via dial-up modem.  Today, our Titan system accesses the National Weather Service radar images in nearly real-time, which in combination with our live-local First Warn Doppler radar provides the best in weather coverage.  Adding the 24/7 Weather Channel has added to the quality weather coverage we strive to provide the area.

     From time to time I am asked which weather events during the years have been the most memorable.  There are certainly a few that come to mind.  First was the potential winter storm that occurred soon after I was hired.  As the storm approached, my forecast analysis indicated the impact was to be much less severe than what was expected by the National Weather Service.  I reviewed the situation with station management and Howard, and was encouraged to go with my forecast.  Fortunately I was right.  I also remember the significant flash flooding event that occurred during the overnight from a Friday into Saturday in June 2002.  Non-severe thunderstorms developed and dumped 5-10 inches of rain on portions of central Wisconsin in just a few hours.  The flash flooding that resulted did millions of dollars of damage to several counties in our broadcast area.  Our news and weather departments worked together well to check for damage and get the updates on-air as needed through the night and the following morning.  We even decided to air a somewhat rare noon newscast on Saturday--the only station in the market to provide the nearly wall-to-wall coverage of the event.  Finally there was the severe weather event in which a tornado warning was issued for Marathon County, including the Wausau area.  I was in the studio providing live coverage, when suddenly the News Director appeared,  mouthing the words, "go to the basement!"  My intial reaction was that he was telling me to remind the viewers of safety measures to take, but actually he was trying to tell me to leave the studio and get downstairs.  He had apparently just been outside, and was alarmed by the look of the storm as it approached.  As you would expect I continued the live coverage until the warning was cancelled, while most everyone else at the station was in the basement.  Needless to say we had a good laugh about the situation soon thereafter!

     The station has always encouraged all on-air personnel to be involved in the community.  One of the main outreaches I have done is provide presentations to school children throughout our bradcast area.  Over the years I have conducted nearly two hundred talks to kids of all ages, both during the school year and through the summer.  I have enjoyed each one.   One of the most challenging was the presentation before an entire elementary school, with over 300 kids from grades K-6 present.  Needless to say, it was an effort to come up with enough things to talk about to hold the interest of everyone involved.  I also very much enjoyed the opportunity of providing close-circuit weather presentations to classrooms in northern Wisconsin from the facilities of NTC.  Working with a distance learning administrator from Nicolet college, we were able to provide information about weather to locations too distant from Wausau to allow for reasonalbe travel.  The State of Wisconsin awarded us for being the first such program of its kind in the state, but what meant the most to me was the ability to help the kids learn about weather.

     I certainly have had my share of bloopers as well.  Two especially come to mind.  The first was a while ago, when the Weather Office was still in the basement.  During the commercial break before the main weather segment I was told one of the computers that we used for on-air graphics had locked, and needed to be re-set.  I knew what to do, but the question was whether I would have enough time to get downstairs and back to the studio before the end of the commercial break.  As it turned-out, I was able to complete the sprint up and down.  What I didn't take into consideration was that I would be out of breath...completely out of breath.  The commercial break ends; the camera operator gives me the cue that I'm on-air, and I just stand there and pant for air.  I was told it looked as though I was going into cardiac arrest.  So much for being a hero and getting that computer re-started!  The other really noteworthy blunder occurred one evening during the 5 pm newscast, which at the time was being anchored by Carrie Hutton.  During a commercial break, I left the studio for a reason I don't remember.  When I returned to the studio, the next news segment had already started, with Carrie on-camera.  For whatever reason, I decided to walk back to the Weather Office behind the main studio wall, which took a short-cut near the main news set.  I was so deep in thought that I didn't notice we were back on-air, and walked on camera right behind Carrie!  What makes this story even better is that Carrie was introducing a story about someome who had been brought back to life miraculously--just as I walked across the set behind her!  We couldn't have planned a better comedy bit if we had tried!

     I also certainly have enjoyed hosting all the station trips with Holiday Vacations, which has afforded the opportunity for our viewers to get to meet and know my wonderful wife.  We were initially asked to be hosts to continue the tradition of Howard and Rosemary Gernetzke.  In all, we have been on 10 trips to such interesting destinations as Alaska, Hawaii, the Canadian Rockies, and Austria. 

     I begin this 14th year at the station with the same enthusiasm I had when I started in 1997.  I am deeply grateful to those who decided to give me a chance-Glen Moberg and Scott Chorski-as well as the current station management who expect a lot from me, but at the same time give me the freedon to call it as I see it.  Most importantly, I thank you for watching! 



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