Do local news teams from rival TV stations battle each other in their off time like in the movie “Anchorman?” What kind of skills do you need to be a TV broadcaster? To find out the answers to these questions I recently had a lighthearted chat with KRDO meteorologist Rachael Plath.
Gazette: We see local TV personalities all the time but don’t really know much about them. Tell me about your background. Where did you go to high school, what were you into as a teenager (sports, clubs, etc) and where did you go to college?
Rachael Plath: I was born in Florida, but grew up and completed all my grade school years (and acquired an accent) in Minnesota, or Minne-Snow-Ta, as we so lovingly refer to it. I was a total nerd in high school. I played volleyball and was in science, math and Spanish club as well as the National Honor Society. I was also a tutor for students who spoke English as their second language. I escaped the Minnesota winters and attended Arizona State University on an academic scholarship for 3 years. I then finished up my degree at the Metropolitan State College of Denver and worked two meteorology internships at the NBC and ABC affiliates in Denver. In college, I was a member of the American Meteorological Society Student Chapter and was a sponsored member of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics. I played intramural kickball too. I don’t know if that makes me even nerdier, or puts at least one point in the “cool” file. I played a mean second base!
Gazette: What made you want to be a meteorologist? How old were you when you made this decision and what inspired it?
Rachael: There were a couple of reasons. I think the big one is the fact that I grew up in a family where we’d turn on the news, watch the weather, and then click off the news. I thought the on-air mets were equivalent to the “great and powerful Oz,” as whatever they said would dictate whether I had a snow day (or so I thought), could wear flip flops or plan a weekend at the lake with friends. I was also terrified of tornadoes, which are quite common in Minnesota. I’m one of those people that copes with fear by reading as much as I possible can about “scary” topics. That’s why I am also a fountain of knowledge when it comes to bed bugs, spiders and the prevalence of plane crashes.
Anyways, I found myself seeking out the weather sections of my science textbooks, even if the material wasn’t assigned, and decided in high school that I wanted to make a career out of it. However, I was discouraged upon entering college that I would never find a job in meteorology, so in an effort to attain “stability,” I did about half a semester as an economics major. After my first accounting exam, I walked to my counselor’s office and changed my major to meteorology. I figured I can either hate it and go back to business or I could love it and never look back. Let’s just say I have never looked back.
Gazette: What’s the biggest misconception about being a meteorologist? My ideal weatherman is Brick Tamland from the movie “Anchorman,” so keep that in mind.
Rachael: Oh geez, the misconceptions about what we as meteorologists do are endless. For example, contrary to popular belief, we don’t have a dart board that makes our forecast for us depending on where the dart lands, despite the fact that I wish I could blame a “busted ‘cast” on something other than my own analysis!
Gazette: The Springs is a competitive market but how competitive are things really between the local meteorologists or news stations for that matter? Do you watch each other? Send nasty emails? Have fights with tridents in the parking lot of an abandoned factory (There’s that “Anchorman” thing again.)?
Rachael: Let’s just say I keep a sharpened trident in my purse at all times. I’m kidding! Or am I…? I actually consider myself lucky to work in a market where most of the mets get along. Yes, we’re competitors but at the end of the day, we’re all cut from the same cloth and are trying to make a living doing what we love. It would be foolish and highly hypocritical to point fingers and speak ill of my colleagues. Truth be told, there’s a lot of talent in this town when it comes to the meteorologists here and I’m lucky I get to call a few of these fine specimen friends.
Gazette: Out of all the news reporters/anchors/meteorologists in Colorado Springs, who do you most enjoy watching and why?
Rachael: I have two:
1) Matt Meister. He is not only one of the most talented forecasters I have ever had the privilege of working with and learning from but he can bring me to tears in a matter of nanoseconds. I mean, have you seen his impression of a falling raindrop? Unparalleled.
2) Jon Karroll. I’m lucky to get to share a desk with him in the morning, and to this day I am dumbfounded as to how anybody can be so quick-witted so early in the morning. His one-liners make the mornings (even Mondays) so enjoyable, not to mention he keeps my coffee cup filled during Good Morning Colorado.
Gazette: For the uninformed (like myself) what’s the difference between a weatherman/woman and a meteorologist?
Rachael: Typically, a meteorologist has a degree whereas a weatherman/woman does not. In all honesty, I loathe the term “weather girl.” In recent history, it was accepted to be just a pretty face pointing around on a screen but the science and the industry has come so far since then, I feel that this term is somewhat degrading and diminishes the science I have devoted a large portion of my life toward. I have a degree in meteorology and have worked very hard to earn the associated title.
Gazette: You’ve been with KRDO for quite a while so I’m sure people recognize you when you go out. Do viewers ever approach you on the street? Any memorable encounters?
Rachael: They do and I love it! If it wasn’t for those in the community who watch, I wouldn’t have a job. I will admit that I still get caught off guard and have to think for a second how this person saying, “Hey Rachael!” knows me. There have been several “memorable” encounters but the one that probably caught me the most off-guard was when I was in Dallas, Texas for the Broncos/Cowboys game (go Broncos!) and a gal approached me at the game and said, “Rachael, I watch you every morning!” In Texas! It’s a small world we live in.
Gazette: Your glasses have come to be a trademark for you. Do you think people would recognize you without them? If you made a drastic change to your eyewear do you think you’d get emailed by viewers about it?
Rachael: The glasses are a funny story in and of themselves. When I first started with KRDO, the question as to whether or not I should continue wearing glasses or switch to contacts was taken to Facebook! The consensus was: glasses. So, here I am. In all honesty, they’re more comfortable with the hours we pull at the station. It’s funny, because if I do wear contacts (which I do when I workout, ski, etc.) I don’t get recognized. I call it my “anti-disguise.”
Gazette: If kids asked you for advice on how to become a meteorologist or reporter or just wanted to get into your industry, what would you tell them? What are the skills you need to succeed in your profession?
Rachael: I always tell them not to get discouraged by people who say it’s an “impossible” business to break into. If you want it bad enough, you have no choice but to succeed. I think the most important thing is to get your degree, whether that’s in meteorology or journalism. The second most important thing is to intern at a TV station. It really gives you an uncensored view of the not-so-glamorous life of TV and helps you determine whether this avenue is right for you. The third most important thing is to NEVER burn a bridge with anybody, no matter how high or low they are on the broadcast-hierarchy. It’s a very small market and everybody knows somebody who knows somebody else that can help to make or break you. I have to imagine it’s like that with a lot of businesses.
Gazette: What are your career goals? Do you want to be the next Al Roker? Have your own talk show? Where do you see yourself in five years? 10?
Rachael: I’m an anomaly in this business, I have never wanted to be the “next Al Roker” or work in New York or Chicago or LA. Yes, that’s where the big paychecks are and while driving into work in a new Porsche with the latest Chanel handbag on the passenger seat would make Mondays a little easier, I’m not in it for the money. I love what I do and I am head-over-heels in love with Colorado. I have a hard time picturing myself anywhere else in 10 years so hopefully I’ll still be here, just a little wrinklier.
Gazette: And finally, have you ever thought about giving yourself a catchy nickname? Matt Meister is “The Weather Meister” (although I think “Cold Meister” and “Heat Meister” would be cool as well) so have you ever thought about being called “Precipitation Plath” or “Radar Rachael” or Rachael “The Alberta Clipper” Plath.
Rachael: I was called “Iso-Plath” by a former colleague (isopleths are those lines that connect values on our weather model maps). I’m sure a nickname will be created at some point but for right now “Rachael” is doing the trick.