35 years – THANK YOU!

November 5th, 2009 at 12:01 am by under Bill's Blog, Weather

Bill and Craig<–Bill Steffen and Craig James in 1975.  Thirty-five years ago today, I did my first television show in Grand Rapids.  I worked 6 days a week and made $175 a week or $9,100 a year.  My father sold me a car for a buck, which was about 50% of actual value.  We had the tan blazers that the “Eyewitness News Team” wore every night.  Notice us wearing the little balloon stickers from the “Eyewitness Balloon” (wonder if pilot Doug Mills is still out there?).  I was 23 with hair over my ears (ah…the 70s).  I had come from the Univ. of Wisconsin at Madison, where I was living in a sorority house with 53 girls (It was legal.  I was the houseboy at Delta Gamma).  This was my first TV job.  I had done a little sports on the radio on WNTH-FM in Winnetka, Illinois when I was in high school (I had this nice deep bass voice that sounded good on FM.  I had to read a long list of football scores and I remember looking in the dictionary to discover new verbs for what one team could do to another).  I had received a B.S. in Meteorology and Physical Geography while in Madison.  We had two large maps for TV…the state map and the national map.  We wrote on them with markers, and had a spray bottle and paper towels to clean them.  The forecast was just tomorrow and the next day.  Craig and I hand plotted surface maps several times a day and analyzed them with different color pencils (some were real works of art!).  The main news anchors were Cal Wierenga and Jim Rummel.  Henry Capogna (now sales manager for Clear Channel in G.R.) did sports.  I was on at Noon with News Director Jack Hogan (now a city councilman in Claremont, Florida) and Dick Richards, and I did radio on WZZM-FM…which had some decent numbers back then…not in Bruce Grant territory, but we did all right.   A high school kid named Rick Beckett had some air time back then…anyone remember…Bill Gamble or Lee DeYoung (or did he use the Dutch spelling, I don’t remember) or Dave Kent? Good Morning America started (as A.M. America – originally one hour) in Jan. 1975 with Bill Beutel and Stephanie Edwards.  I had the whole 5 minutes at 8:25 am to fill, minus a 30-second commercial and a 10-second open and close.  Bozo ran weekdays from 7:30 to 8 AM.  We ran the Lone Ranger (in beautiful black and white) from 7 am to 7:30.  I did a quick weather from “the booth” in between those shows with a slide that I would choose of me and Bozo ready for the days weather (I still have those slides).

Eventually, we brought in a 3rd weathercaster, Ted Gribas, who went on to teach at Forest Hills.  George Lessens came in (I believe) 1980.  You might remember Dave Whitford (still in G.R.) and Mark Massaro (in Cincinnati and out of broadcasting).  Back in 1974 we had reporters Alex Taylor, Sue (Bertke) Francis, Jim Riekse…Anne Doyle has done well for herself since leaving Grand Rapids.  The late George U. Lyons was the G.M. at the time.   We had full-time booth announcers (Dick Reid had “the voice”).

Thinking about it, I might be (or I might be close to) the longest on-air television talent in G.R. history (close to Dick Richards anyway?).  I’ve been on the air in G.R. longer than Craig James was (commercials don’t count).  I still hear Buck Matthews on Blue Lake Radio on rare occasion.  I think Juke Van Oss will keep the radio record for longevity forever.  He was on the air before I was born at WHTC in Holland.  Hey, leave a comment if you remember early broadcasting in G.R.  Let’s dust off a few memories……Bill S.

63 Responses to “35 years – THANK YOU!”

  1. Mike V says:

    Way to go Bill! Youshare this date Nov 5 with my folks
    who have a 50th Anniversary today.
    I grew up watching you and Craig all the time. My folks would always say,
    “We have to see what Bill says about the weather.”
    How about doing a retro forcast with the old markers and map just for
    old time sake??

  2. Chuck Huffman says:

    Congratulations Bill!

    I still have my “United States Weather – West Michigan Edition” book that I sent away for to WZZM with my own money when I was a kid. It was a proud moment when that showed up in my mailbox in Rockford. It had lots of great information inside both local and general.

    Thanks for all you do in the community and the excitement you bring to others when you discuss our weather.

    1. hmmmmm says:

      i still have that book too!!! it was sent to me after the floods of 1986 up in newaygo county (i was 7 at the time). they even sent me weather maps which were really cool.

  3. goneweat says:

    Bill I remember when TV 13 came on the air and went to school with Jim Rickse
    I was trying to think of the guys name that was at school, Ron ______ His dad was part of the group starting up channel 13 and had contacted my dad about being one of the investors
    Weathe has been beautiful out here in central Wy They’re sking and snowmobiling out here already

  4. Steve O says:

    Hey Bill, thank YOU. I remember when you started your career in GR. I was just 7 yrs old. Thanks for all of your work keeping us posted and prepared.

  5. Marti B. (Grandville) says:

    I too remember Bill and Craig on WZZM…..and George. Dad was the one who woke us all up in the mornings for school, and he always had the TV on for the weather, especially in winter time, because if it was snowing really hard or below 20 degrees, he would drive us to school. Otherwise we walked, about 8 1/2 blocks.

    I’ll go way, way back and, not sure which channel it was, but there was a weather man (NOT a meteorologist) whose last name was something like Slaymakers, can’t recall a first name. He would do the weather with markers and a felt board, with a felt sun, felt clouds, felt stars, felt lightning rods, etc.

    Lately I’ve been seeing Craig on commercials for a Hawaii vacation – he looks like a hippie with his goatee now, hee hee! Sure wish I could go to Hawaii and get away from the predicted snow coming, Ugh!

    Congratulations and take care, Bill!

    1. GRRobserver says:

      Frank Slaymaker was the WOOD-TV weather man up until 1961, when Buck Matthews took over.

  6. Opawsome says:

    Bill, I remember when they first brought out the Famous WZZM 13 Balloon. It came to the Edmore Potatoe Festival. They gave tethered rides for free for people who were interested. I got to take a ride up with you! What fun! Afterwards, just before you left, You came to my house and met my Family. To this day, when we have guests over and we tell them about all of the famous people who have been to the house, your name is always mentioned. Thanks for so many years of GREAT predicting.

  7. Chad says:

    I remember those days! (Gaaah!!! now I’ve given my age away!!!)

    Used to watch the Lone Ranger (Sorry Dick Richards, never got into Bozo much). Also listened to WZZR – The WiZZaRd of Rock! as they called it. Also, always wondered why my mother-in-law called GMA “AM America” – now I know.

    I also remember the blazers you mentioned and the Eyewitness Balloon. Thanks for the memories, Bill!

  8. Vincent(N.E.Kent CO) says:

    Hail to the Chief!! Congrats. What a way to spend your life doing something you really like to do. Plus to be in the same area the whole time. We’d be lost with out ya. BEST WISHES for you, and staying with us many more years.

  9. brian says:

    Hello Bill

    Brian here i just want to say thanks for all your years of service and dedication to West Michigan. It really says alot for what kind of pearson you are and how much you care for the West Michigan area and all of us that live hear.Thanks again

  10. Fred Ransom says:

    Hello Bill

    I remember getting up every morning for school,
    tuning in to watch whatever was on (1972….).
    I always enjoyed your weather reports (loved them actualy, you see, you
    and Craig made me want to become a meteorologist) and I would study the
    maps right along with you. I didn’t become a meteorologist but I still
    love weather and will always remember those days long since gone, great

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