May 01, 2006
Copyright © Las Vegas Review-Journal
UNDER THE WEATHER
Reporter makes ill attempt at shining example
click on photos to enlarge them...
weather report by Review-Journal reporter Corey Levitan greets
unwitting viewers of a recent edition of KVBC's noon
Photos by Ruben D.
Levitan has issues
with the green screen, on which weather maps are overlaid
using Chroma-Key technology. He confuses the image in the
monitor with a mirror image of himself, consistently moving in
the opposite direction he wants to.
3, news anchors Sue Manteris, left, and Mitch Truswell, right,
help Levitan achieve a presentable newscaster hairdo.
Smith looks on as Levitan waits with his dog, Sammie, for
their TV debut. Sammie came along because KVBC weathercaster
John Fredericks features his dog, Jordan, regularly during his
into the end of Levitan's segment, requiring a readjustment of
the camera frame upward.
This is how the
same scene appeared live in the
The screen behind me features no writing to read, just a hazy
view of Mount Charleston. I clicked my clicker but the graphic
wouldn't advance. I have no idea what to do.
Answering David Letterman's questions about my best-selling first
book was how I had hoped to make my first appearance on network TV.
Standing in front of hundreds of thousands of Las Vegans like a
flop-sweating nincompoop is how I actually did.
When John Fredericks accepted my offer to replace him as
weathercaster for a day on KVBC-TV, Channel 3's noon newscast, I was
psyched. This is the career that gave Letterman his start. But I
also was concerned that it might not be difficult enough for a Fear
and Loafing article.
"My job's very easy — two hours a day, basically reading
prompts," said Nicolas Cage's character in "The Weatherman." "I
receive a large reward for pretty much zero effort and
Add this to the growing list of entirely wrong ideas I walk into
these situations with.
"Just keep clicking," Fredericks interrupts my tap-dancing act to
inform me from the wings. After five seconds of Mount Charleston,
more graphics finally materialize for me to read.
Fredericks — who looks like Harrison Ford stretched taller and
thinner — is an old-school weatherman. He's conversational on the
air, yet always dignified and credible. I can't believe he agreed to
"Come on over to the other side," he adds, because I'm standing
in the wrong place again.
My biggest problem — among many close contenders for the title
— is the green screen, on which images are projected behind me. I
need to watch the monitor just below the camera lens to see what
those images are. Yet my monitor image is not my mirror image. It's
more like my adolescent-offspring image, doing the exact opposite of
what I want it to.
I walk left, he walks right. I straighten my tie, he messes his
up. I chill in Summerlin, he hits Green Valley.
Cage may not have been wrong about all weathermen. Some of the
most famous, including Al Roker and Fritz Coleman, get their
forecasts from other sources.
"Is there anything wrong with that?" Fredericks asked earlier
today. "No. But I was trained to figure the forecast out on my
Every morning, Fredericks — accredited as a meteorologist by the
National Weather Association — scours computer programs such as
Unisys, MagicTRAK and Global Forecast System. He reviews variables
such as vorticity, lift and spin. Then he extrapolates the raw data
to predict today's temperature, wind and chance of rain, personally
designing 20 animated slides to click through on the air.
"My name is on my forecast," Fredericks said. "Nobody's gonna
take any credit for me and I'm not gonna take credit for anybody
To squeeze all this extrapolating in before his 5:30 a.m. first
call, Fredericks arrives at the TV studio three hours early.
"I've always been a morning person," said the former Santa
Barbara, Calif., weatherman and Bakersfield, Calif., radio producer,
who joined KVBC in 1996.
Cage never mentioned anything about 2:30 a.m. And he didn't
mention that many more weathercasters earn $20,000 a year than $2
"I would put myself on the lower end of that range, too,"
Fredericks said. (The scale varies with market size. Although
growing quickly, Las Vegas is still the nation's 48th largest TV
"Right now, it's 80 degrees," I report. Unfortunately, that's
today's forecast high, not the current temperature.
And my search for a single correct place to stand has proven
fruitless, since different parts of my body cover different graphics
in each animation. (California has survived too many disasters
simply to get wiped out by my butt.)
Whenever graphics cover the entire frame, the solution is to step
entirely out of the frame. Unfortunately, I don't learn this until
after the current high temperatures are reported only by my left
half. (I can practically hear HDTV zoom buttons depressing across
I took a practice run on the green screen two days earlier, but
it was brief and unencumbered by the pressure of potentially being
viewed by half a million people. Everything changes once the
camera's red light glows. (Remember Cindy Brady on that game
Most of my prep time was spent lacquering my hair into newscaster
shape and trying to convince my fidgety wiener dog, Sammie, to stay
still beneath me. (Fredericks is famous for working his Labrador
retriever, Jordan, into his forecasts.)
"See the box there?" Fredericks interrupts again, referring to a
section of South Carolina and Georgia experiencing tornado watches.
"That's what you want to talk about."
There's no script to read, however, so Fredericks has just
exhausted all I can possibly say on the subject.
I had no idea how improvised weathercasts could be. Fredericks
looks at numbers on a map and instantly discerns a trend to discuss.
I have trouble even discerning which number is the largest.
"As you can see, each city has its own temperature," I joke (for
the second time, actually, even though no one in the studio laughed
the first time). And I'm pointing not at the screen, but the
monitor, so it appears to viewers as if I'm scolding them.
By the end of my four minutes, no one is informed that a 20
percent chance of showers exists for today and tomorrow. And I
actually walk off camera instead of waiting for the cut back to
anchors Sue Manteris and Mitch Truswell, suggesting an outtake from
a high-school A/V project.
"We all sucked when we started," Fredericks says. "There are no
naturally good broadcasters."
He smiles and adds, "Some people sucked less than others."
I predict a 100 percent chance that I won't be doing this
here to read more of Corey's adventures at his home page, FearandLoafing.com.