A change of seasons is in the air for Wayne Cox, after 20 years as Global BC's sunny-dispositioned weatherman
Frankenstorms and snowmageddons aside, the weather segment of a TV newscast is generally regarded as a soft, fuzzy interlude in journalistic proceedings.
Neatly coiffed mannequins who pace about before green screens, gesticulating at virtual jet streams and cloud masses, are easy targets for satirists as evidenced by Steve Carell’s clueless character Brick Tamland in the 2004 Will Ferrell comedy Anchorman. (The role will be reprised in a 2013 sequel.)
However, the reality is that doing the weather is tough. Presenters need to be humorous without being offensive, engaging without being smarmy and relaxed without being careless, and they need to perform five days a week for an unforgiving, live feed. When these qualities fail to sync, the result is a perfect storm, as experienced by BBC broadcaster Tomasz Schafernaker, whose on-air gaffes include describing the Outer Hebrides as “nowheresville,” predicting “muddy shite” for Glastonbury (he meant to say “muddy site”) and flipping the bird to his anchor when he thought the camera was off. It was not. In 2010, a few weeks after the finger incident, BBC’s youngest forecaster was axed “as part of a cost-cutting drive.”
Wayne Cox, on the other hand, has survived 20 years as B.C.’s most-watched weatherman without a single major screw-up. His blooper reel is as short as a Vancouver summer. In fact, his only YouTube moment has him wrestling with an unresponsive slide remote. Tame stuff for the Tosh.0 era. Clearly, the 63-year-old, omni-tanned, silky-voiced presenter has mastered the art form, which is why we were shocked to hear that Cox will leave Global BC at the end of December.
Waybe Cox Says Goodbye to Global BC
The weathercaster is on the phone, but not calling from the Burnaby studios where he will soon be cleaning out his desk. Rather he and his wife, Jeri, are at their Cariboo property, cleaning up their cottage in preparation for winter. It’s an appropriate activity given that the local media icon views his departure from Global BC as a change of seasons, not an end to the Mayan calendar.
“I’m jumping back into the freelance pool,” says Cox. “A chance to do some commercials and other projects, hopefully stuff that will allow me to scale back the work week.” Cox has three grown children and half a dozen grandchildren (aged one to six) that he says he’ll enjoy seeing more often. The family also has a snowbird nest in Phoenix, where papa is always keen to log more rounds on the links.
He says his imminent departure from Global is amicable. “I chose not to renew my contract because you can only utter the words ‘partly cloudy with a chance of showers’ so many times . . . gimmicks like my aloha shirt wardrobe and the Weather Window photo contest help spice things up, but now it’s time to move on.”
The two-decade Cox weather run on the News Hour has been his longest continuous gig, but is only one part of an eclectic 44-year career in radio and television. As a kid growing up in Vancouver’s Dunbar neighbourhood, Cox enjoyed participating in high school skits and volunteered with the weekly, student-run radio shows broadcast over his school’s P.A. system. He also marvelled at the smooth onscreen presence of TV personalities such as Johnny Carson, Mike Douglas and Merv Griffin. But upon graduation, Cox had no idea what he wanted to do with his life.
Cox's Early Radio Days
That all changed with a trip to a downtown radio station in 1968, or rather the basement of a downtown radio station. “CKLG was a successful AM station and its owners had also acquired an FM license,” recalls Cox. “Downstairs from the studios, program director Frank Callaghan ran a weekly correspondence course for aspiring broadcasters. I enrolled and each week we received instructional records. We listened to the professional voice of someone named Peter Jackson and mimicked his technique. They made us buy tape recorders so we could submit our exercises on cassette to Frank.
“One day,” continues Cox, “Frank comes downstairs to the National Institute of Broadcasting and announces that CKLG FM is changing its format from easy listening — think: Ronnie Aldrich and the Twin Pianos — to mostly underground rock. Frank says, ‘We need operators to run tapes and records. Anyone interested?’ My hand shot up.” The job only paid a dollar per hour, but came with the bonus clause: “and you can quit anytime.”
Cox cued pre-taped shows hosted by LG’s off-duty AM DJs, stereophonic mavericks like John Tanner, Daryl B. (Burlingham) and Terry David Mulligan. LG-FM was the only underground rock station west of Toronto and north of San Francisco. According to the Canadian Communications Foundation’s Radio Station History website, the Vancouver station’s new music mandate included prog rock, folk, soul, R&B and experimental jazz. No one cared that cars of the day didn’t have FM radios; true hepcats found a way to tune in. And more importantly, for Cox, late at night when no one was around, the kid had access to the production room where he recorded mock shows for his demo reels.
After a few months, Cox took a break from his internship to canoe the Bowron Lakes. While enjoying the Cariboo backcountry, he learned that a radio-station employee in nearby Quesnel had died in a car crash. The aspiring DJ applied for a job at CKCQ and got the gig. The position paid $250 per month. Enough to cover his rent and a steady diet of Kraft Dinner. The position he landed included almost all aspects of running a radio station: reading the news, writing commercials, emptying ashtrays. He also spun records, which produced a kind of dizzying culture shock, because CQ was country. Cox had gone from acid rock to Buck Owens and the Buckaroos in the space of an eight-hour car trip.
And that wasn’t the only shock to his system. In 1971, the CRTC established a minimum 30 per cent Canadian content rule for AM radio broadcasters. Cox walked into his station’s record library to survey the inventory. “There was nowhere near 30 per cent CanCon in that room, so we had to wear the grooves off Anne Murray for the first little while.”
Cox left Quesnel for Kamloops where a new station was being launched. He jockeyed the 7 p.m.-to-midnight shift, playing middle-of-the-road music for CHNL, until station owner John Skelly promoted him to the afternoon drive. Skelly was not the only set of ears to notice the Vancouver kid’s talents. CKNW program manager Hal Davis quietly slipped into Kamloops and listened to the Cox show in his motel room. He headhunted the DJ back to the coast and Cox made his big-city debut twiddling knobs for Jack Webster’s show, quarterbacking a weekend shift and filing traffic reports.
Call of the Camera
The seven-year stint at NW was followed by postings at CKWX, CJOR and KISS-FM, but it was during his time at AM 980 that his career dovetailed into the video realm. Cox did a TV commercial for a travel trailer dealership in Langley. Someone at BCTV (now Global BC) must have liked the way he sold RVs, because he soon found himself hosting Wednesday Night Hockey and covering for weatherman Fred Latremouille.
Energized by the bright lights of cablevision, Cox sought more work before the camera. He hounded the folks at CVKU (now Citytv) until they gave him an audition that landed him a seat beside Pia Shandel on a live, two-hour interview program called The Vancouver Show. Guests included high-profile figures such as Dustin Hoffman, B.B. King and all the local politicians of the day. Cox was star-struck by their presence. He remembers asking Jack Webster how he dealt with celebrities, and the lovable curmudgeon answered in his famous brogue: “Lad, it’s all a bunch of BS.”
Cox returned to BCTV as weekend weathercaster in 1992 and assumed the position full time when Norm Grohman retired in 1998. Cox marvels at how the technology has changed since he first substituted for Latremouille: “In the ’70s, Environment Canada would courier us one black-and-white satellite photo per day. That image was chroma-keyed behind me, where it remained motionless. Then there was a triangular thing on a pole that I turned like a lazy-susan to change the graphics. It was very primitive, but not as crude as what the TV pioneers used. In the ’50s and ’60s, you’d see these guys stand behind Plexiglas panels and freehand the temperatures and fronts with felt pens.”
Bright Skies Ahead
Today, Cox is looking for another way to make his mark. He is pleasantly surprised to see that some of the game shows he hosted in the ’80s and ’90s are being rerun on GameTV. Talk About (similar to the board game Outburst) is currently in the channel’s rotation having replaced Acting Crazy, a charades contest that Cox had fronted. Perhaps Second Honeymoon will come next. The Wink Martindale-produced show was Cox’s first foray into the world of blinking sets and consolation prizes. Modelled on The Newlywed Game, it featured kids trying to predict how their parents would answer certain questions.
Cox has fond memories of awarding grand prize trips to contestants who in some cases were too poor to have had first honeymoons.
These days, he says he misses the charge of a lightning round and kibitzing with the type of bizarre character mixes that once populated game-show panels: Sally Struthers, Jimmie Walker, Rip Taylor . . .
Who knows? Maybe local TV producer Blair Murdoch (Acting Crazy, New Liars Club) has a fresh concept ready to go. The $64,000 question is: Does the career of Vancouver’s favourite journeyman broadcaster have another lifeline?