In 30 years at WJZ, Bob Turk reigns as Mr. Popularity

TV/RADIO COLUMN

May 07, 2003|By David Folkenflik | David Folkenflik,SUN TELEVISION WRITER

Bob Turk is a nice guy. A very nice guy. Everybody says so.

"I can't even remember what he reports -- he's just part of the fiber of the city," says Maggie Miceli, 30, a native Baltimorean who currently lives in Washington. "He's been on television as long as I've been alive."

Chris Godwin, a 23-year-old security guard from Baltimore, describes Turk this way: "He's just a typical person like you or I."

You don't have to take their word for it. Executives at several local stations say surveys consistently show the cheerful Turk -- WJZ's weather forecaster for the past 30 years -- among the most popular people on the city's airwaves.

As a broadcaster, Turk is about as dependable, and as provocative, as pound cake. Born and raised in Baltimore and Baltimore County, Turk is the televised equivalent of comfort food.

His Bawlmer accent hasn't been smoothed out by consultants. As he has since childhood, Turk genuinely gets worked up about shifts in the weather and different climate patterns in different parts of the region. His mustache remains from his bell-bottom days in the 1970s. He was hired after an open audition he saw advertised in the classifieds. At the time, he was an urban planner for Howard County. Turk's beard was ordered shaved by his first TV boss, who, Turk said, jokingly, seemed to harbor concerns he might be a communist.

And Turk's lack of flash is taken as evidence that he is the genuine article. Some viewers still remember long-ago commercials for Turk as "The Sunshine Kid." He's still tapping into the nostalgia kick that has helped make the station so strong in this city of Kodachrome memories.

But one of the most popular people on Baltimore's airwaves? Not even a psychic could have predicted it.

Turk's not particularly charismatic. He doesn't seem to be an especially gifted forecaster. A station spokeswoman recently referred to Turk as a "statesman," but then she's paid to get carried away. Love him or hate him, wild man Marty Bass owns WJZ's morning show. Turk doesn't dominate his newscasts in anything like the same way.

Yet Turk's name surfaces more frequently than any news reporter or anchor when pricey consultants gauge who has the highest name recognition in town and who most makes viewers want to tune in.

"Being inoffensive and pleasant and nice-looking is sometimes what television calls for," says Herb Brubaker, president of the nonprofit Television News Center.

Viewers place a mystifying importance on local weather, and forecasters help to seal loyalty to a station. WBAL-TV's Tom Tasselmyer, for example, typifies his station's high-tech, high-energy approach as well as its apparent love of alliteration. ("Live. Local. Latebreaking. Locusts. Tonight at 11.")

Turk, meanwhile, embodies the concept of "relate-ability" -- that a celebrity is approachable, someone you can talk to. Tom Dolan, a television news consultant who does work for WBAL-TV's parent company Hearst-Argyle, says people who stay in the same market for a long time are "going to understand local values, and not offend them."

In his parochial way, however, Turk the unthreatening weatherman is famous -- and that very fame is emblematic of television's ability to create celebrity from whole cloth.

In the flesh, Turk is the same as he seems during newscasts, amiable if a bit unpolished. He delivers a folksy filibuster about his young daughter and talks emphatically about his lifelong enthusiasm for the weather.

As he marks his 30th year in town, Turk seems astonished by the letters that stream in from well-wishers, or the phone calls, or even the fan club that sprouted up over the years. Turk ascribes his popularity simply to his longevity. "I'm happy to be working here doing something that I've always loved, and, God willing, I will continue to do it."

Questions? Comments? Story ideas? David Folkenflik can be reached by e-mail at david.folkenflik@baltsun.com or by phone at 410-332-6923.

Baltimore Sun Articles
|
|
|
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.