June 5, 2015

Bud Kraehling, R.I.P.

The Star Tribune called him the "Walter Cronkite of TV weather," and I'm perfectly willing to let that stand.  He was Bud Kraehling, and if you've read some of my TV listings from the Twin Cities for the '60s and '70s, you've probably seen his name on the WCCO (Channel 4) listings.  He was the weather for generations of Minnesotans, and it didn't matter that he wasn't a meteorologist, didn't have an alphabet soup of letters after his name, and wasn't a glib, sexy blonde in a short skirt.  He was, perhaps, the most trusted man on Twin Cities television.  Kraehling died on Wednesday from cancer.  He was 96 - we hardly have to shed tears for a life not lived.

Bud was part of the Twin Cities' top-ranked news program of the era, along with other bonafide legends of television: Dave Moore, the anchor, Hal Scott, the sportscaster.  As much as you could depend on Minnesota weather to change if you just waited a moment, that's how dependable he was. He stared out at an time when being the weatherman meant "he would stick magnetic clouds on the wall and draw on transparencies with a grease pencil."  By the time he retired from WCCO in 1996, it was done with Doppler radar.  Don Shelby, himself part of Minnesota TV history as the longtime news anchor for WCCO, Bud's station, gave a very insightful look at what makes a television weatherman a success.  “The person who does your weather has to be the most likable of the entire staff. Bud was that, a happy-go-lucky guy. But when weather becomes news and you have to tell people danger is approaching, he took that very seriously. When his face turned serious, the whole community stopped what they were doing and listened.”

He was much-loved in the community*, with his warm screen presence, his humor, his ability to deliver a tornado warning with a sense of reassurance.  When WCCO celebrated one of its landmark anniversaries on a gala show before a live audience - this was back in the late '70s and early '80s era when all the networks were celebrating similar anniversaries - the mere mention of his name, as part of that all-star news team, brought everything to a screeching halt, the audience rising and cheering until Bud was forced to stand and acknowledge the response.  That's what Bud Kraehling meant to Twin Cities television viewers.  In thinking about him today I realize he reminded me of my grandfather, a feeling I'll bet others had as well.

*A columnist once said that he'd become such an institution, his profile had even started to look like the state of Minnesota.

Unless you're from Minnesota, though, you probably don't know who Bud Kraehling was - but it's likely you knew someone like him, a local television icon that was more like a friend of the family. It was a time when local stations were really broadcasters, rather than merely transmitters of network programming.  Ernie Kovacs started out on local television, and so did Dave Garroway, and many many others.  Stations produced their own talk and variety shows, and oftentimes after-school dance shows for teens.  They created their own children's programs, both in the morning and the afternoon, creating some of the most memorable personalities in the history of television, shows and stars that are still revered today.  They aired their own news and information shows, and I'm not talking about the kind of news and information we get today, with its corporate smoothness and blow-dried bots, all operating from the same carefully scripted banter prepared by the same consultants, with content that would barely qualify as news even for illiterates.

I'm not saying you don't have local personalities like that today - particularly among weathercasters, who've always been audience favorites - but Kraehling and the rest of them were different.  As I say, even if you didn't know him, you knew someone like him.  And so we come not to bury Bud Kraehling, but to praise him, and those like him.  What we mourn is the death of the world of local television, and one of the last living reminders of that era.

Here are two videos of Bud Kraehling, talking about the early days of television:

And in this video, part of a retrospective on WCCO's wild, famed Bedtime Nooz (introduced by Kraehling), you get a brief glimpse at the 2:38 mark of Bud's deadpanned explanation of how he puts his weathercast together:  The rest of this video, and others like it on YouTube, are examples of the brilliance that could come from local television.

Finally, from the great Museum of Broadcasting in suburban Minneapolis, here is a tribute to Bud.

1 comment:

Thanks for writing! Drive safely!