Advice for Becoming a Meteorologist from NBC5’s David Finfrock

meteorologist david finfrock nbc5 dallas

David Finfrock has been a trusted voice in Dallas weather at NBC5 for over 38 years

The life of a local TV personality is often tumultuous because career advancement usually requires picking up and moving to another market.

You may start out in Terre Haute, Indiana advance to Reno, Nevada and eventually settle in for a life in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. But chief meteorologist David Finfrock from NBC5 in Dallas chose a different path, he started…and he stayed, for 38 years and counting.

“I valued the stability of keeping my family in one place more than I did the thought of advancing my career by moving all over the country. But the other important factor was that I got into meteorology because I wanted to forecast the weather, not because I wanted to be on television,” says the Emmy winning meteorologist.

“The TV meteorologist job happened almost by accident.  I have never been one to value ‘face time’ on the air, and my ego wasn’t so large that I felt I had to move on after a couple of years to a bigger and better job.”

Advice for Becoming a Meteorologist from NBC5 David Finfrock #tvjobs Click To Tweet

Finfrock is a local icon in Dallas, a trusted voice in weather who takes the science behind his job very seriously. Gleaning tidbits from the experience he’s gained over his years is like taking a Masters class in success, not just in work, but in life.

Here’s more with NBC5 Chief Meteorologist David Finfrock:

You have a degree in meteorology so after graduating from Texas A&M you had the science part down – how did you learn to present on camera?

Finfrock: I was actually hired by Harold Taft, the Chief Meteorologist at NBC5, not by the News Director.  Harold had a contract with the station to provide all of the weather coverage 7 days a week, for a set monthly stipend.  So it was in his best interest to hire a meteorologist straight out of college, who would work cheap!

Harold wanted to make sure that anyone he hired knew the science.  He figured anyone who could talk clearly could learn the TV part.  So I learned all of that on the job, simply by coming to work each day.  But I had never been on the air before, so it took me a good six months before I felt really comfortable in front of the camera.

Did you have any mentors coming up in the industry and if so, what is some advice they gave you that still sticks with you today?

Finfrock: Harold Taft was, of course, my mentor.  He began his career at NBC5 in 1949, and worked here until his death in 1991.  He was a true pioneer of TV weather broadcasting.  He always took the weather seriously.  And while he had a great sense of humor, which he showed on the air, the weather itself was never a laughing matter.

Harold really looked down at those weathercasters who used gags, puppets, or other shtick to try to build ratings.

If you were in charge of hiring someone to be a meteorologist at your station, what would be the most important things you would be looking for?

david finfrock meteorologist nbc 5 dallas

Technology has changed the way forecasting is conducted, according to Finfrock (seated right)

Finfrock: Hiring today is a different matter than when I started in December 1975.  Today, there is no chance that an applicant would be considered for a Top Ten market, straight out of college, and with no previous on-air experience.

We have added a number of new meteorologists in recent years.  And while I don’t do the actual hiring myself, my News Director looks to me for advice and approval of any new hire.

Number one, of course, is the minimum requirement of a BS in meteorology.  At our station, we value that much more than any seal of approval.

After that, while appearance and glibness is valued in today’s TV world, the most important factor for me is hiring someone who is willing to be a real contributor as a member of a team.  I don’t want a “Me first” type, who is more interested in promoting his/her own career, as opposed to working together as a team.

One of our recent hires told me that our News Director worded it differently when he interviewed with her.  She bluntly told him, “David doesn’t want any a***oles”.  I laughed at that, but it is true.  Niceness goes a long way with me.

The minimum requirement for a job in weather: a BS in Meteorology #startthere Click To Tweet

Would you ever hire someone who didn’t have a degree in meteorology, but was great on camera and related well to the audience? Why or why not?

Finfrock: No. At NBC5, we have been on the air for 65 years. We have had only two Chief Meteorologists in all that time.  And every meteorologist we have hired has had a BS in meteorology.  Why?  Over a decade ago, one of our competitors who was not a meteorologist made a real blunder.

He was a great communicator, but he mistook the radar display of heavy rain and hail for the location of a tornado, which was actually several miles to the south.  He warned the wrong people to take cover.

A real meteorologist wouldn’t make that mistake.

Do you have mixed emotions when severe weather hits? It’s interesting, but it can also be tragic, how do you manage that?   

Finfrock: Obviously the adrenaline gets pumping when severe weather moves in.  It can indeed be exciting, but at the same time I take my job very seriously.  And during those major storm events I do my best to provide professional, up-to-date, detailed information on the storms to our viewers.  And I strive to do so in a calm, measured manner.

I don’t care much for the “screamers”.  I am one of a very small minority.  I still keep my jacket on during severe weather coverage.  I am, after all, in an air-conditioned studio, and don’t see that throwing off my jacket and rolling up my sleeves increases my credibility with viewers at all

You’ve worked in the broadcast media for over 35 years, what was forecasting weather like then vs. now?

david finfrock meteorologist old school weather map

This is the technology of the 1970’s – paper maps with colored chalk and markers!

Finfrock: When I started, we used paper maps, and drew rain and fronts on them with colored chalk and markers.   I would rip the latest temperatures off of the teletype machine, and then run into the studio and write the current Texas temperatures on the map, after the newscast had already begun.

The computer graphics revolution began in the early 80’s.  But for a week of celebration of our 65th anniversary this fall, we plan to do a retro newscast with paper maps again!

Has technology improved accuracy over the years or is it still an industry rooted in the science of meteorology and the technology is just the bells and whistles?

Finfrock: Technology, in the form of enhanced computer graphics, has tremendously improved our ability to show what is happening right now, particularly with satellite and radar imagery.  Instead of a green blob drawn in colored chalk, I can now show individual storms and zoom in to show their locations in reference to our viewers’ home towns.

But the advances in forecasting have also been huge.

Computer models, in their infancy in the 70’s, continue to improve every year, with better models, and faster computer processing.  When I started, we did two-day forecasts, which is about all that a human forecaster can reasonably do.  But due to improved models, we began a five day forecast in the early 90’s and expanded to a seven day forecast in the past decade.  Technological innovation has made that possible.

I notice you volunteer for Habitat for Humanity and Meals on Wheel in the Dallas area – how important is it for media members to become a part of the community they work in?

Finfrock: I live here.  And I have lived here for almost 38 years now.  So of course I am part of the community.  Just yesterday I participated in a blood drive.

I understand that if someone signs a two year deal and plans to move on to another location as soon as that contract ends, that they might not become so involved.  But I would advise anyone in television to become involved in their community.

There is much more to life than just work.

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About Brian Clapp

Brian Clapp has worked in the broadcast media for over 14 years as a writer, editor, producer & news director. After beginning his career in Atlanta at CNN/Sports Illustrated, he switched coasts to Seattle to work at Fox Sports Northwest. In 2010, Brian began pursuing a new found passion on the digital media side, launching a successful website and then taking on the role of Director of Content for WorkinSports.com & WorkinEntertainment.com.

Recently Brian has become addicted to Google+ and LinkedIn so add him to your circles and make him a contact. No seriously, you should.

Comments

  1. While all that Finfrock says is laudable, unfortunately his views on what it takes to be a broadcast meteorologist are not representative of what is actually important in major markets. Anyone who thinks their favorite TV weather guy or gal is actually a degreed meteorologist would be be well advised to check credentials. Most, at least here in Los Angeles and every other market I’ve experienced, are no more than self entitled posers and fill in personalities. With a masters in meteorology, I work temporary minimum wage menial jobs to survive while the young, personable, and photogenic infest every newscast. Don’t let anyone fool you kids, in terms of broadcasting, being “hot” is where its at.

    • Ben just a curious question coming from someone without any personal expertise in meteorology – I’d imagine there are other opportunities for someone with their Masters in meteorology outside of being on air right? Brian

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