Sunday, March 25, 2007

Ed Brandon announces retirement on the mikemcguff blog

Weatherman Ed Brandon has decided to announce his retirement exclusively here on the mikemcguff blog. I consider it an honor he would choose this blog when he could easily go anywhere else (in full disclosure, I work with Ed).

The following is Ed's statement and after that will be an interview I conducted with him a month ago about his life in the television business:

March 25, 2007

Early this year, I decided to retire from KTRK-TV at the end of my current contract, March 31, 2007. Station management asked if, for scheduling reasons, I would extend my service until mid-April. I agreed. I am currently on vacation and will return to work my final two weeks on April 2.

For the past 35 years, the owners of Channel 13…first, Capitol Cities Communications; then ABC Television; now, The Disney Company…have paid me well to follow a career path I dreamed about when I was 8 years old. Hundreds of thousands on Houston viewers have watched and supported me through good times and bad. That makes me one of the world’s luckiest people.

My gratitude is limitless.

My absence from daily television does not imply that I am ending my career. I am looking forward to being an active member of the Houston communications community as long as I am able.

Ed Brandon

Mike McGuff: First of all, why are you leaving?

Ed Brandon: I'm leaving because it's just time to go. I have known, for several years that the station's goal is to have trained meteorologists doing all of the weathercasts. One of the poorly kept secrets of my career is that I am not a trained meteorologist. I got into broadcasting weather by starting on the radio and moving into television and then moving into weather. I am not, and never have pretended to be, a meteorologist; I'm a weather man.

The business of broadcasting weather has changed incredibly since I started, in 1972. And it has come to the point at where television stations want a trained forecaster and radar technician, and all of those other things that you get with a degree in meteorology to present the weather.

That's why Tim Heller was brought in as chief meteorologist. When he was brought in, they could easily have said, "Thanks Ed, goodbye." They did not do that. They kept me; they kept me on the six o'clock newscast, which is where I started. They have been very nice to me. They have accommodated my health problems. So, for the past five or so years, or a little more than five years, that's been the situation.

There are two things that have come up now, however. Number one: I know that they want to make that change, to put Tim on the six o'clock weather; he's the main man now, and he ought to be on the six and ten o'clock news.

The other thing is my health; and that's a major factor, because in 2002 I had quadruple bypass surgery and within a year, two of the bypasses failed, which meant that my heart was significantly weakened.

The risk of going back in, opening my chest again, to repair those two bypasses was not worth the reward. There was no reason to believe it would be any more successful the second time than it had been the first.

The only surgical procedure that could help me at this point would be a heart transplant. I have a heart that was damaged by a heart attack and which has problems because of the failed bypasses. I take medication that makes me feel very, very good and makes me able to function very, very well. However, I'm on the transplant list at St. Luke's and, if worse came to worst and my condition deteriorated and a heart that matched me came up, I could get a heart transplant.

But until then, I have to deal with what I have, which is congestive heart failure, CHF, sometimes called chronic heart failure. Congestive heart failure affects the oxygen in your blood.

There was a time, five or six years ago, when I started having real problems: I would talk, and I would run out of breath halfway through a weathercast and I couldn't continue; it was very embarrassing and very frightening.

Melanie Lawson forced me to go to the emergency room a couple of times. They did all sorts of tests; and nobody ever put a finger on it. I was a smoker at the time. They checked my lungs, they checked all this stuff but the problem kept happening.

Then I had a heart attack and the bypass surgery, and it became obvious that my problem was in my heart.

In coping with this heart condition, I've become able to breathe in different places when I talk. I say a few words, and take a breath when most people don't, and usually it works. I'm not obviously gasping for breath or something like that.

However, when I'm doing the weathercast and having to talk rapidly under a small amount of stress, sometimes you can hear me sort of gasping for air, and sometimes I will run out of air before I run out of the words I plan to say. And that's very noticeable. I'm sure that other people notice it. I've gotten emails from people asking me why I'm out of breath all the time.

So that's been going on pretty seriously for a year and a half or two years. And that's not going to get any better. And I have always felt that I don't want to stay longer than I am useful; I don't want to be an invalid on the air.

So the health situation. I feel great; life has never been better. Unfortunately, given my current health, talking live on television is not easy to do.

I could probably do it on radio. Hint, hint: any program directors who are listening.
That is. That's basically it. Those two reasons.

MM: How long have you been at KTRK?

EB: Started in May of 1972.

MM: How is that going to be, when you're no longer there?

EB: It's going to be amazing. I'm very lucky, in that unlike some people I know, I'm going to leave Channel 13 under the circumstance that I will be welcome back in the building as far as I know, at this point. I know friends who have left the station under other circumstances, and who are not able to go back to the building. I'm lucky; I'm one of those that will be able to go back in.

But no matter what, after I leave, the next time I go back in after that, I'm a visitor. I know every nook and cranny of that building. You know, you tell me where your desk is and I'll tell you who was there 20 years ago and all that kind of stuff. It's just going to be different not to go into that place and feel as if it's part of my life.

MM: Talk about some of the times at the station. There must be some stories that stick out.

EB: One time, Mayor Louis Welch was in the television station, for some reason that I've forgotten. Our station manager, Ken Johnson, arranged as a surprise for me, for Louis Welch to stand on a ladder behind the weather set and at the point when I gave the forecast and said whatever the chance of rain was, the mayor poured a bucket of water down on me and said, "You never get that right. Let's face it: it's always 50 percent; either it's going to rain or it's not going to rain." And it was a big joke. But the manager of a television station did that; that was his idea.

There were other times when we would do interesting things. I'm sure that the bomb on back video will arise when I leave. And there are other gags we pulled.

Most of the time, Dave [Ward] and Bob [Allen] and I were able to make things look as if they were done on the spur of the moment even though they were planned usually in the commercial break before we did them.

But, at any rate, I'll remember all those things.

MM: I saw a clip, I think the forecast was wrong one day and you came back as, I think as Ted Brandon?

EB: Kevin.

MM: Kevin Brandon.

EB: His cousin Kevin.

MM: Talk about that one.

EB: For some reason, there was a wig, a very bad full hair wig in the studio. And it was one of those Mondays, I think, when the weekend had been totally different from what the forecast had indicated. It was probably a rainy weekend after it had been forecast to be a sunny weekend.

And Dave and Shara [Fryer] turned to me for the weather segment and, when the camera came on me, I was wearing the wig. And they said, "Ed, what's the weather?" and I said "Ed couldn't be here today; I'm his cousin Kevin", and I made up an excuse about why Ed couldn't be there. It got a good laugh, which was what it was all about.

I hate to talk about my past as being a Golden Age. But I consider myself incredibly fortunate to have lived, as a listener and a viewer, through the '60s and then, as a participant, through the '70s and '80s on television in Waco, television and radio in Houston. And those were some great times.

MM: There was a time associated with your career when there was a little controversy and you weren't at the station anymore.

EB: One of the big problems of my life was that I came from Austin. I graduated from high school in Austin in the '60s. I went to the University of Texas. At the University of Texas in the '60s in Austin, you drank and you smoked grass; that's the way you lived it was normal that was life especially in the circles I was in. And I did that too; and I did it socially, just like everybody else.

And then I came to Houston, and I started using cocaine. And I was one of the people who are not able to stop doing it once they start doing it. And I developed a really serious addiction to cocaine.

And, in late 1988, some of the things I was doing came up to bite me. And a little bit of my private life some of it true, some of it not became public knowledge and was speculated about.

First of all, I went into a hospital for drug treatment. I didn't tell them I was going in for drug treatment; I told them I was going in for, I don't know, just therapy.

At any rate, I was in this hospital, and all of the stuff that was going on about me while I was in the hospital reached a fever pitch. And the television station had no option at all but to dismiss me because everybody's talent contract with a television station is a personal services contract, and there's a morals clause. If you do anything, or are perceived to do anything, that insults or offends the public morals, they have a right to cancel the contract and they did.

So I was no longer associated with the TV station. At the time, it was the absolutely most painful, embarrassing and horrifying experience. In retrospect, it was the only thing that could happen to me that would make it possible for me to live life because once I lost everything, I started realizing that it was all because of me. I couldn't blame anybody else. I was the result of the very poor choices I had made for a very long time.

I stopped drinking and I stopped using drugs. Within about a year and a half after, I left the television station, a guy named Steve Olafson are you familiar with Steve? he was a reporter at the "Houston Post."

Every newspaper has a tickler file. You look and see what happened a year ago today. If it happened a year ago today, you go out and talk to the same people and say, here's what happened a year ago today. Steve Olafson noticed that on a particular day, that in the newspaper a year before had been news about my problem.

He called and asked me if he could interview me about what had happened to me after that. What had happened to me was Dan Patrick had given me a job on his small AM radio station, which has become quite successful. Anyway, Steve interviewed me and the interview ran in the "Houston Post". I still have a copy of it. On a Saturday.

He was very complimentary, and he talked about how well I was doing, how committed I was to recovery and all that kind of stuff. Shortly thereafter, the television station called and asked me if I would consider coming back to do that job again. I ended up doing it. So that's what happened.

MM: So I guess that was a blessing in disguise.

EB: It was an absolute blessing in disguise. I'm lucky. I'm one of the luckiest people around, because there are a lot of people around who use drugs to the same extent I did who did not survive at all, that died.

There were others who committed crimes and went to prison. There were others who went crazy.

For some reason, I got the opportunity to recover. It was a blessing. I also, at the time when I started reevaluating my life, one of the things I had to do was look at what I should be grateful for. I realized, and I still realize to this day, that as an adult, every day that I had gone to work at whatever job I had, I have gone to a job that I wanted to do since I was eight years old.

When I was eight years old, my parents took me to visit a friend who was a disc jockey in Waco. I saw him and that just fascinated me, and I wanted to be on the radio.

When I was in junior high school, a teacher took me and a group of other students to be on a TV program in Waco. At that point, not only did I want to be in broadcasting, I wanted to be in television too.

My goal became live broadcasting. I didn't want to go on and read a script. I was very specific. In my mind, I realize now my idols were people like Arthur Godfrey. You're too young to remember Arthur Godfrey, but Arthur Godfrey was on the radio first, and then they put his program on television and he literally sat in front of the CBS television camera wearing headphones because he was on the radio, talking into the camera. That just fascinated me. I loved it.

Art Linkletter, Garrick Moore, people like that, I wanted to be them. And it so happened that I became a disc jockey, and then I became a talk show host and a weatherman. And like I said, I've spent every day of my working life, every dollar I've earned as an adult has been doing something that I wanted to do when I was eight years old.

If the people I worked for ever knew how little I would have settled for to do those jobs, I would have nothing. Because the money was gravy, but the broadcasting, that's my life. I love it.

MM: How do you feel being in the public eye? I'm sure your story, from your recovery just to what you do every night, is an inspiration to a lot of people.

EB: Well, maybe so. In that way, it would be awfully easy for me to have a lot of regrets about the years of my life that I wasted. There were a lot of years that I did not progress. But it took that experience to get me where I am today. And who knows? If I didn't have that, would I have this?

The person who appreciates being on the top of the mountain the most is probably the one who's been in the deepest valley. Also, if I can show to somebody else that no matter where you are in life, it is possible to change. You can do it, and there are people who will help you do it. If I can use that example in my own life, just to help somebody else just get the hope that it's possible to change, and then I haven't wasted anything.

MM: What's it like going out there every night and doing the weather? Obviously only a few people understand that.

EB: You know the little eight year old boy inside me would never believe I would say this, but it's routine. It's life. It's what I do. It is home. It is as natural as getting up and brushing my teeth. It is as much fun and I get as much pleasure from it today as I did the first day I did it.

Being a daily television personality on the news is a life that everybody should experience and only a few of us are able to. But those of us who were on local news in the 70's and 80's, when you either watched one of the broadcast TV stations, or you didn't watch TV at all, there was nowhere you could go that people didn't recognize you. You could drive anywhere within 75 miles of Houston, and everybody knew your name. It's a little bit different now. There are a couple of generations of people who, if their parents didn't watch the news on TV, they don't know who I am.

But still, to be in the fourth largest city in the country, and to have a sizeable percentage of the population know you and feel like you're their friend, it doesn't suck, as Robin Williams would say. It's nice.

MM: What has made you so successful? What would be your secret?

EB: Well, unfortunately I'm not a good example of somebody to get into the weather business. These days, if you want to be a meteorologist on TV, you have to be a meteorologist on TV. You've got to get a strong background in science, you've got to study meteorology or at least go to an institution that trains you in broadcast meteorology.

That's what you have to do. As for me, a lot of it is being in the right place at the right time. When I was on that UHF station doing the weather in Austin, and I'll tell you how serious they were about doing the weather in Austin, this was 1969, 1970 I did the six o'clock weather live.

The station had two color cameras, two old Norelco color cameras. They had two black and white cameras, the original black and white cameras the studio did. They took the black and white cameras out on remotes. On occasion one of the color cameras would crap out and they would put one of the black and white cameras in service.

So, they would do the news with a color camera and a black and white camera. The color camera would shoot the talent; the black and white camera would shoot pictures. And when it came to the weather, the color camera would shoot me and the black and white camera would shoot the map with my hand drawing on it.

So, you would go from a color picture of my face to this black and white picture of my hand, like it's from an old science fiction movie, drawing on the map. That's how serious they were about the weather.

Plus they determined that since I was the disc jockey on the radio in the morning and I did the noon talk show and I did the six o'clock weather, they after the six o'clock news which ended at 6:30 they had me tape the weather cast for the ten o'clock news. So, that's how I started.

MM: So, you were on almost all day.

EB: Yes almost all day but everybody was back in those days. Doug Brown was doing the same thing in Waco. But anyway I've forgotten what the original question was but I started from there and lot of it is, like I said, being at the right place at the right time.

I consider a lot of it just incredibly good luck and I can't ignore the fact that I came to channel 13 at exactly the right time. They hired Marvin Zindler six months later. I started in May of '72, he started in January of '73. They hired Marvin, they brought Bob Allen in from KPRC radio to do the sports, we had a manager and a program director and a promotions manager and a production manager who were the absolute best and who built the station in to a power house.

As far as I know it's probably one of the most successful local television stations in the country. It just has to be it's a very big profit maker. And I was lucky enough to be a part of that and I think 15 years or so, after I started there, management and owners of the station began to realize that the other stations had a revolving door for on air talent.

Then familiar faces became an asset to the corporation. It became beneficial to keep Dave and me and Marvin and Shara and Bob and all of those people on the air. Because of that phenomenon when I screwed up they brought me back. If it hadn't been for that, I would never have come back.

MM: I understand that the day they brought you back to the station, you were kind of a surprise to everyone.

EB: I was.

MM: They had a meeting, called you in. What was that like?

EB: It was awesome. They had a staff meeting in what used to be called the "Dialing For Dollar" studio and everybody was asked. So, everybody went down to the studio and they had me come in the back door of the station. And Paul Buriss, who was General Manager said, "I have an announcement to make, we are bringing Ed Brandon back." And then I walked in and it was... I can't describe what it was like.

It was incredible. It was one of the great moments of my life. There was also a time back then, when nobody wants to disappoint your mother. I disappointed my mother. When I brought shame on the family and she stood by me but I know she was disappointed in me.

The night that I went over to Paul Buriss' house and met with him and the news director at channel 13, Tom Doerr, and they asked me if I'd come back to work and we agreed. I signed a contract and I got to go to my mother and say, "I got that job back." I'll never forget that.

She let out a sound that was surprise, and it was joy and it was shock and that moment is greater than the moment when I appeared back at the TV station but it was an awesome time.

MM: About the future, what would you like to do? Obviously you have a lot of free time.

EB: I don't know exactly what I want to do. I'm not going to quit doing anything. I'd go crazy if I didn't do something. I would love to do a little talk show stuff on radio if anybody was interested. I'm really interested in the blog business because I spend a lot of my time online and my home page is the Drudge Report because it links to everybody else.

I go to your blog and I go to blogHOUSTON and Lone Star Times. I go to right wing blogs, I go to left wing blogs. I'm fascinated by the Internet, that's why I wanted to talk about this on the blog instead. I'm not the kind of person that wants to put out a press release and say here's what I'm doing. It just seems a little egocentric.

I would be interested in participating in the blogosphere to some point. Maybe I don't know what I want to be. COMMENT: Click to leave your thoughts on this post here