Spencer Christian sees winds of change

April 09, 1993|By Steve McKerrow | Steve McKerrow,Staff Writer

Spencer Christian became a television weatherman because it paid significantly better than being a news reporter. Now he hopes his popularity from doing the daily forecasts on ABC's "Good Morning America" for almost seven years might bring him co-host status on the weekday morning program.

"I really enjoy what I do, but, sure, I would like to do more," he said yesterday, following an autograph session at Gordon's Booksellers in the Rotunda, the next-to-last stop on his two-week tour promoting "Spencer Christian's Weather Book."

The paperback, written with researcher Tom Biracree ($12, Prentice Hall), is a primer of basic weather information aimed at general audiences.

Mr. Christian, who forecast the weather in Baltimore for WBAL-Channel 11 from 1975 to 1977, said his contract with ABC is up for renewal this summer, and he is seeking co-host status on the frequent ratings-leader morning program, with Joan Lunden and Charles Gibson.

"You can quote me that they're receptive, but it's too early to say anything immediate," said the genial weatherman, adding that he would like to do a mix of news and feature interviewing for the show.

He joined "Good Morning America" in August 1986 after nine years as the local weatherman for WABC-TV in New York.

In the introduction to his book, Mr. Christian recalls that a higher salary persuaded him to give up news for weather reporting at a local TV station in his home town of Richmond, Va.

"Back then [in 1971], a reporter made under $10,000 a year. I think my first contract to do the weather was $16,500 or $17,000," he said yesterday.

Clearly, weather words bring popularity. His book-signing attracted a steady stream of people, including old friends and colleagues.

"Do you know the song?" he cried when Claudette Chandler stepped up to the table.

Another Richmond native now living in Baltimore, Ms. Chandler said she was a classmate with Mr. Christian at the Hampton Institute (now University) in Hampton, Va. And together they quietly sang a few lines of their alma mater's pep song.

"I knew that was a face from my past," he said to Cecilia Muth.

"I used to have a young girl crush on him," she confessed after he had signed a few books. When Mr. Christian was at WBAL, she explained, her father had handled real estate business with him, and invited the TV figure to her 13th birthday party. He came, "and we still write letters from time to time."

But Linda and Fred Silber threw him a curve.

"Hi, we've known you for years," said Ms. Silber. Mr. Christian looked puzzled.

"But you don't know us," added Mr. Silber, saying they felt he was a friend from viewing him daily on TV.

Known for his puns, Mr. Christian had a ready supply.

"What would precipitate a weatherman to tell a pun? I strike with lightning quickness. I always reign supreme," he said to one woman.

Mr. Christian also made appearances yesterday on the morning and noon news programs of one-time rival station WJZ-Channel 13. He returns to "Good Morning America" on Monday, after two weeks off "selling my book door to door, which is how [Mr. Gibson and Ms. Lunden] have been referring to it on the air," he joked.

The book took about 15 months to produce, he said, and while conceding, "I had a lot of questions about how the book would sell," he has been pleased by the response. About 100 copies went out the door during his one-hour appearance at Gordon's, a store employee estimated.

Mr. Christian also said the recent trend in local TV newscasting to hire trained meteorologists to do the weather "is not terribly important." He is not a weather scientist and uses data from a variety of sources.

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