Bob Jeswald can be as subtle as a summer thunderstorm.
The chief meteorologist at WRBL, Jeswald has been on the air in Columbus for nearly half of his 26 years as a weatherman. That career has taken the native New Yorker to Georgia, Mississippi, Las Vegas and Phoenix. He came through WTVM in the 1990s on his way to bigger markets out West. When he left here in 1993, he did not think he would be back -- except to visit his wife's family.
Funny how things work out.
Recently, Jeswald sat down with reporter Chuck Williams to talk about the weather, his hirings and firings, and his community presence.
Here are excerpts of the interview, with some of the questions edited for length and the order of some of the questions rearranged for clarity.
So, you've been doing this for ...
Twenty-six years plus. I don't know if you would count high school, which we had closed circuit TV in black and white, but I go back in the early '80s when I was doing closed circuit TV as a weather guy in Hamburg, N.Y.
You did that as a 10th grader, 11th grader?
I did it as ninth, 10th, 11th, then I was kicked out one year because I was doing impersonations of the principal. And I told everyone we had a senior alternative plan, and the senior alternative plan is that you could let seniors go out and roam if they had permission from their parents. And they had taken it away because of a prank that happened and the principal banned them. So, I went off camera and I did his impersonation -- it was Charlie Young -- for him, and their payback was when I went to get my diploma when I graduated was not to have a diploma. They never called me, and that was their joke on me.
So, you got fired in high school?
I got fired in high school. That's a true story.
That pretty much prepares you for the television industry, doesn't it?
Yes, it does. And if it hasn't happened to you, you haven't been in it long enough. I had a contract not renewed in Las Vegas, even though I worked at a couple of stations there, and it was done in a very dignified way back then.
It was, "Bob, we're moving in another direction, but we have three months of severance for you and you can come here and make tapes and do whatever you need to," just to find out when I was called to the ABC affiliate from CBS in Las Vegas -- this was in the late '90s -- "You can't go. You're in a non-compete clause." I said, "Wait a minute, you didn't renew me." But I had to sit out and I got a job with the Department of Energy for a while.
So, this can be a cut-throat business?
It is a cut-throat business, and in bigger markets, especially. Columbus, if you mind your P's and Q's, I think you could stay as long as you want. This is the only market I've ever seen that people are as long-lived as they are.
How did you end up in Columbus?
It was really something. It was Channel 9, and Dale Cerbin -- who just passed away -- is why you and I are talking today. I give credit to Dale Cerbin, who brought me here.
It was through a consultant company I had sent my tape to. ... They gave me a call, I sent them my tape, it could have gone anywhere. And I get a call one morning from this guy named Dale Cerbin. I thought it was a buddy of mine who was doing an impersonation. I said, "Oh, cut it out," and I hung up. And he called back again. The phone's ringing, I pick it up: "Bob, this is Dale Cerbin of WTVM. I'd like to know if you'd like to come and do some weather." I said, "Really, I'm sorry I hung up on you." And he brought me here and that's how I started. I did weekend weather and I was a reporter during the week.
Your personal life changed here, right?
In what way?
I had just recently gotten a divorce. I was a young lad then, in my mid-20's. I lived at Dinglewood. That was the party house of the town, the nucleus center of it all. And I met Teresa. She lived upstairs. My two buddies who lived downstairs called me Yankee -- Yankee, the weatherman. So, (this guy) said, "You've got to meet Teresa, Bob. You've got to meet a Southern girl." And I'm thinking, "I'm not even looking for anybody."
I'm single, 10 months have gone by -- OK, I'll give it a try. So, I meet her and she had a little Southern accent at the time. Look, as far as I'm concerned she could be Irish -- I don't care what your denomination is, it doesn't matter to me. I'm thinking, I'll meet her and see what happens. I find out that she is half Sicilian, which my mom is Sicilian and my dad is Italian. I'm thinking, what's the odds of meeting a girl in the South? Then she tells me she's Catholic. I said, "Oh, come on, there's no Catholics down here."
So, that's how our relationship started. It took a long time; it was a year of courting. She just blew me off like crazy, so when I blew her off, then she starting coming to me, and I said, "OK, now we've got something going here."
So, you spent three years at Channel 9?
Almost three years. We went through some biggies. Of course, our big super storm of '93. First it was Andrew that didn't directly impact us here, but when it came through Louisiana it did and we covered it intently. And then the morning of '93, the super storm was my last big event here.
We had a variance of how much snow we had. It was a big deal; we were forecasting it the night before, because I remember Kurt (Schmitz) and I contacting one another. He said, "Bob, have you looked? I must have 5 inches of snow on my car." It depends on the snow drifts because of the wind. It was probably only 3 or 4 inches in most cases. He went in that night and I was out in the snow reporting live.
Do you measure life events by the weather forecast?
Absolutely. You know how we choose music? In my case it's weather events.
So, you left Columbus and headed where?
How long were you in Jackson?
I was a square peg in a round hole. I came there at the end of November 1993, after the Rankin County tornadoes -- another weather event, sorry -- and I left there in 1995.
Did you go straight to Vegas from there?
I went straight to Vegas.
So, you were headed somewhere if you got from Columbus to Vegas, right?
Yes, you could say that.
How long did you stay in Vegas?
I was there almost 10 years.
Who did you go with?
I started with Landmark Communications, which owned KLAS, a great station. They were the innovators of the web. They were the first in the country that cutting edge. They had sales people selling the web and a lot of people made fun of that and even would tell people these guys are out to lunch -- "Selling the website, this is silly."
So, you spent how long at the first station?
I was there in 1995 and was casually let go in 1997. It was exactly two years, because I was coming up on my third year of my contract.
Anyone who does what you do for a living has to have a little bit of an ego. What does it do to your ego when you get fired?
It does. In that respect, it's good that you said that. There are egos that are more internally, I call narcissistic, that they feel they are entitled to this. I always looked at this job as a privilege first and foremost, but the ego, yeah, it bruises it badly.
That was my first let-go. And they did it well. This day and age, you're marched out with your box. You're done. After all of this, I was in Phoenix, a top 13 market, and it's a whole different story. You walk in one day and the next day you're out. There's no sensitivity issues and all of that.
But back then it was done in a way that at first it was elation because I wanted to get to a bigger market. I was thinking, "Let me get to Phoenix, let me get to L.A." That was the ego that was driving me at that time; we didn't have our two young kids. But when it's gone, after day two: "What the heck did I do wrong?" and you start questioning yourself.
Self-doubt creeps in.
Self-doubt creeps in because you're judged on the way you speak, you forecast, what you do. People do look at you like you're a celebrity or a star. You're just like everybody else and I always make sure I tell that to remain humble, but when you're out there, you're the guy, you're it, and then all of a sudden you're gone.
You're not there anymore and it's, "Oh my God, how am I going to rebuild myself?" I think of "Good Fellas," the scene where Ray Liotta says, "I'm just a shmuck. I'm just an ordinary shmuck." And I mean that in a light way, but you've got to give back, and I think immediately when that happened to me I started volunteering. I had a three-month severance. I did some movies. I did "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas." I did a couple of TV commercials for Miller Beer.
"Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas," Hunter Thompson.
You did "Fear and Loathing?"
I'm in it. Look for the scene with big old sideburns, a Camel cigarette, I'm hugging a girl and I'm in it for about four seconds, which took three days to shoot in Jean, Nev., a dry lake bed at 120 degrees.
So, you get back at another station in Vegas, right?
Yes, KTNV, which is an ABC affiliate. I came to mornings and I even anchored for a while.
How long did you do that?
5 1/2 years.
Did you get the itch to get back in it?
They just called. I was looking for a job because I was in a non-compete clause. I have to back up, and you're going to laugh, but I ended up selling bus stop shelter ads for a short time to get back at the company who let me go, KLAS. I sold advertisements of their main anchors, Paul Francis, who is still there, and Gary Waddell, who has retired since then.
And I put them on all the bus stop shelter ads on the strip. I made some pretty good money. I did that for a short time and then the Department of Energy called and said, "Jeswald, I think you'd be really good in the media adviser position, got experience. ..." And it was. The best thing I ever did. It opened my mind going from private to public and understanding the two. It was just an incredible adventure, I should say. I learned a lot.
So, when you left Vegas, what were the circumstances?
The second time, the guy who replaced me was a local comedian and a guy who came in from Washington, D.C. -- Mark Pfister -- and he was a comedian, not a meteorologist. I never held it against him -- it's a business. I kind of knew him a little bit. He takes the job. "Best man, good for you; you got it."
When I was at KTNV I was at the top of my game there. I had offers from the Weather Channel. I came (to Phoenix) '04. (Cleveland), Ohio called me, Cincinnati, and I felt like I got this all going on. But I remained there and I was loyal to that.
I really was Vegas, it was my town. I knew everybody. If you came into town, I could get you a show for the night. You get that, you earn that. That's just the way it was -- it's Vegas. But I never took advantage of it and you never told your company. You just show up at a show I paid for. It was a respect thing and they would do it. When I was there in Vegas for that time doing this, I got to the point where "You know what guys? I really got to say things are going so good I'm going to renew again."
That's what I thought. They renewed me but they put me to weekends, and I got off of my Monday-Friday show that was going up to No. 1. Well, they wanted to take it over the edge because it's a metered market which you can get quick hits. So, new GMs come in and news directors, and they want to show their mark. Mark took me out to lunch two weeks before that and I think he's picking my brain. I said, "Hope you're not trying to take my job." He said, laughing, "Oh, no, never." He took my job.
The same guy?
The same guy. I wasn't as nice, but I thought about it later and it really is the best thing that ever happened. There's a reason for everything.
So, you don't like Mark Pfister?
I'm not his biggest fan, but I forgive.
The same guy took your job twice?
Twice. So people who haven't been in this business long enough will say, "You can't believe what happened to me today, Bob. I got yelled at." I say, "You don't know anything, and I could tell you stuff that's pretty egregious."
Did you call Mark to see where he wanted to work next?
I hear he's doing real estate. Touché, Mark Pfister. He's doing something else like that now.
So, you end up going to Phoenix, right?
Yeah, I ended up going to Phoenix. I had my grandmother who had just recently passed away. She came from Buffalo and was down at my aunt and uncle's. I have an aunt in Fountain Hills, a nice area in the mountains -- this is the McDowell mountain area -- and my uncle is down in Scottsdale. He's an industrial designer and has been there for years ... and always loved Arizona. And I loved Arizona, too. So, I ended up getting a call from KPHO, a CBS affiliate, and got hired by Tom Bell -- which later I found out I loved his daughter, Kristen Bell, the actress -- so I ended up in Phoenix.
How did you come back to Columbus?
My mother-in-law, an old Sicilian momma and she's traditional Catholic, she was doing the rosary and she was praying. She was at my daughter's baptismal. ...
"Mom, what are you praying about?" "I'm praying to get you back home. I want my daughter back home." I said, "Well, keep praying." I'm thinking Columbus could never be able to pay me what I'm making out here. Sure, I'd love to come home, and I did make a contact a couple of years ago with a guy named Cyle Mims, who is with TSYS now.
... (Later) I go to work -- maybe about an hour or so. It's a bad day. The stupidest story they've got me on. Somebody rubbed me the wrong way. I thought, "Geez." The phone rings -- 706 -- I think it's my brother-in-law. So, I pick it up and say, "What's up?"
"Hey, Bob. This is Cyle Mims from WRBL. I don't know if you remember me." I said, "Yeah, Cyle, of course I remember you. I met you in '04, you and Matt Browning who was general manager."
He said, "Would you ever be interested in coming back to Columbus?" I said, "Yeah, I suppose if it's right." I was taken aback. I was processing all of this in my head: Wait a minute, mother-in-law did this, timing is amazing, how about that? So, I go, "Let's talk."
It took months, and at that point Otis Pickett came in. He was the new GM who took over. I started some dialogue with him and Cyle, and I had an agent at the time. He had called and was keeping the dialogue going. ... But they dragged it out for six months. At first, I thought it was going to happen, but back and forth, it took a little negotiation. And then I get the call from Cyle and he said, "I've got some good news and bad news." I said, "I just let the cat out of the bag." And he said, "Oh no, you're still coming to WRBL, but I'm leaving. I'm going to TSYS." So, I took him to lunch when I got here. Otis Pickett signed off on it. He's at WLTZ 38 selling.
Nine years later, good move or bad move?
Good move. The best move of my life. If you had asked me when I first got here versus now -- I was scared -- did I do the right thing? But understanding that family is first changed everything.
Are you more comfortable being a big fish in a small pond than a small fish in a big pond?
You know what? Now answering that, yeah. Before, it was just understood because Vegas you think everybody watches. It's the entertainment capital of the world. It's a local that would recognize you. And everyone who knew you were on TV thought you were a star or a celebrity. But here you feel like you're the mayor of TV, your station.
I'm representing WRBL and feel like this, again, is a privilege to do it and I like doing this. Yeah, I can say I like being the big fish in the little pond because I love people.
You and Kurt (Schmitz) together have a lot of years in this market, but also just total. How does that translate when a storm hits?
Big time. You can't beat it. My general manager is so excited about it that when we do it now -- when there's any independent research that I'm not privy of or see -- just going out in the street and talking to people speaks volumes.
I don't even have to go anywhere. The 25 April tornado event this year, we had a tornado watch in the morning; we didn't get any tornados that day. April 25 was the day with all of the damaging wind. The weekend before that was the tornado that came up through Fort Mitchell, the F2. And we're tracking it live on air. That's the first time for Kurt and I to coordinate. For him and me to be here at the same time, sometimes we don't get that. But it's the perception. People see us and if I'm not here, we're still the weather team.
It's that concept. I instill that constantly. We're a team; it's got to be a team. It's not just me, it's a team. And to help me with Cody (Nickle) and Carmen (Rose) now, David Reese is here. It's all those pieces of the puzzle that makes me look good on the air because the drive of social media you can't do it yourself, and they do such a good job at it. So, with Kurt and I, the two veterans guys with the most experience, no disrespect to anyone else in the market, I'm just fortunate, but you can't touch us. M.C. Hammer: "Can't touch this."
You want to be out in the community as much as you can.
Absolutely. There's no excuse as to why you can't. As long as I can walk and talk and do all of these good things, it's a great way to get to know your viewers. I just got back from the American Meteorologist Society up in Raleigh. Good statistics and good study. Eight percent of the millenniums now born up to 2000 are not consuming their news -- they're not watching Phil, Teresa, Jonathan or myself tonight on TV. Only eight percent is; others are not. So, where are the rest of these people going? They're going right here: Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, they're getting all their weather from there.
And when I'm out there and I meet the young ones that are in their 20's, and we're running and you're capturing all of this, they say, "Hey, Bob, I saw you," "Hey, what's going on?" and you find out they don't know me from Channel 3, they know me from this. It's incredible, and that's why the embracing of the technology and doing everything you have to do, you have to open your mind to it to be successful. Otherwise, you're going to fall dead on your face.
I would not be here ... if I didn't take this kind of stance or take this kind of initiative to immerse myself. I've always done it. In '91, the first thing I did was a telethon in Binghamton, N.Y., and I never turned back.
At 50, are you comfortable where you are right now?
I am right now. My grandfather told me when I was going up never get too comfortable. He said, "Don't get comfortable." But it's different now. His time in that day was different. I think I'm at peace, I'm good.
One thing I learned from my grandfather was "Always show your value, always demonstrate leadership, always lead by example." And that's exactly what I'm doing. Hopefully, I'm doing it for everybody to see in the market. You'll sustain.
What is your value?
My value is coming to work and being prepared, knowing your forecast when you walk in, and giving back -- and do it every week. Don't let it go by. If you meet somebody, take the time to stop and say hello to them. Again, it's a privileged job -- you're in somebody's living room, for crying out loud. And when you're out there and are able to do that when I'm at a gas station or somewhere, I make it a point. My wife starts kicking, but they're used to it now. My kids go, "Dad, not again." Now they say, "Dad, are you going to sit there and talk to someone when you go out today?" I try to tell them that it's part of who I am and I think they're starting to finally get it a little bit, but they'll eventually get there.
When you left here in 1993, what if someone had stopped you on your way out of town and said in 2015, you're going to be back in Columbus and you're going to be the head meteorologist at Channel 3?
I'd never believe it. I'd say you're crazy.
You put this place in your rearview mirror then, didn't you?
I didn't, only because my wife is from here and we still made return trips. From a career standpoint, I did and I feel bad about that. But you never know which way life is going to take you. "Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you're going to get."
Name: Bob Jeswald
Job: Chief Meteorologist, WRBL, Channel 3; has been a weatherman for 26 years in six different markets.
Hometown: Buffalo, N.Y.
Education: Hamburg (N.Y.) High School, 1984; Medaille College, Buffalo, degree in media communications, minor in science, 1989; University of Nevada-Las Vegas, degree in physical science/geography, 2003; Certified meteorologist
Family: Wife, Teresa, a Columbus native whom he married in 1995; daughters Brittany, Eva and Sophia; one grandchild and one on the way.