When I looked out at the April snow covering my magnolias Wednesday, and bending over my maple sapling like a Charlie Brown tree, the thought occurred to me: How would Tim Hedrick explain this?
Hedrick, who died five years ago today at age 55, could explain anything about the weather in a simple, understandable and often entertaining way. That's what made him arguably the most popular Cincinnati TV personality in my 35 years of writing about TV.
WKRC-TV dubbed him "The Weather Authority," and for most of us, he was. When severe – or just weird – weather blew through Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky, most of us turned to "Doppler Tim," as I wrote in my tribute when he died, "Doppler Tim" Hedrick Was More Than Our "Weather Authority."
"Tim Hedrick was the most accurate weather guy I ever knew," says former WKRC-TV anchor Rob Braun. Hedrick "forever changed the way we do weather in Cincinnati," says Steve Horstmeyer, Cincinnati's longest-tenured meteorologist.
Hedrick, who died of complications from prostate cancer, was a scientist who could speak plain English. He had a playful sense of humor and a keen sense of promotion. All of this combined to endear him to us – unlike many out-of-towners hired by Cincinnati TV stations. The Illinois native, who came here from a DeMoines TV station in 1988 at age 27, often was paid the highest compliment by viewers when they asked if he went to Elder, Oak Hills or Western Hills High School.
He was one of us. We'd see him hosting Grillin' With Tim cookouts and doing Friday night forecasts at high school football games. He was one of a kind.
Former coworkers Braun, Horstmeyer, John Gumm, Scott Dimmich and Julie Phillippi-Whitney help me share some insights into Hedrick's legacy and his fascination with weather; commitment to transparency; seven-year battle with cancer; dedication to his family; and his ability to relate to Cincinnati viewers.
THE WEATHER AUTHORITY: Braun, who left the Channel 12 anchor desk in 2019 to farm in Northern Kentucky, says: "I think about him every day, principally because I'm now farming full-time – I'm not retired – and the weather is one of the major concerns. Tim Hedrick taught me so much about clouds, and which formations were dangerous, and what they were going to do. In bad weather, when he was on (TV) for hours and hours, I'd just sit at the set and watch. I learned so much from him."
CHILD-LIKE WONDER: Gumm, the Clermont County native hired from a New Orleans station in 2005, says one of his fondest memories of Hedrick was from a very long winter day they spent discussing the possibility that a heavy snow storm could bring "thundersnow," a rare mix of lightning, thunder and heavy snow at once.
"Tim decided to mention it in his forecast at 6 p.m., and he made a big deal about it, as I recall. Later that night, we heard the loudest clap of thunder ever. It shook the entire station. We ran out to the terrace and saw the heaviest snow we had seen in years, followed by a flash of lightning and another clap of thunder. We were elated! There was a high-five and this sort of awkward man hug.
"Sure Tim was excited he nailed the forecast – but he was even more excited about the weather display we were witnessing. The fascination with weather he had as a child never left him as an adult. It's one of the many reasons I respected him so much. His child-like wonder at the atmosphere that night helped to keep my passion and excitement for weather alive," says Gumm, who succeeded Hedrick as Channel 12's chief meteorologist.
BUCKING THE TREND: When he came to Channel 12 in 1988, the TV trend was hiring "personalities" to present the forecast, such as former DJ Pat Barry, Bob Alan and backwards-writing Ira Joe Fisher. Hedrick was the only meteorologist on Cincinnati's 11 p.m. newscasts in 1988.
"Tim was the first Cincinnati TV meteorologist who was able to drive his career with personality and with knowledge. He forever changed the way we do weather in Cincinnati by daring to be a professional meteorologist with a big personality," says Horstmeyer, who worked with Hedrick at Channel 12 before becoming chief meteorologist at WXIX-TV.
"Tim was truly 'The Weather Authority' and every TV weather person, young and those of us who are considered to be old, can find lessons in Tim's career that would make us better … Conventional wisdom, at the time, told us that to be trusted our presentations had to be old-school-formal and 'just the facts.' Tim changed that by daring to show that TV meteorologists can be watched, believed and admired by being a friend."
INFORM, NOT INCITE: During his 28 years at WKRC-TV, Hedrick wasn't an alarmist like some TV meteorologists – until weather conditions were so terrible that he told viewers in specific communities to turn off the TV and go to the basement or elsewhere for maximum protection from the storm.
"One of his famous lessons for his staff," Gumm says, "was to tell the audience what you know about the weather, but more importantly, don't be afraid to tell them what you don't know. That means be perfectly transparent and honest."
NO BULL: Hedrick refused to expand his five-day planning graphic to seven days as recommended by the TV news consultants who wanted the weekend conditions in each segment. And he expressed his displeasure to me when Fox 19 came on the air in the 1993 with a 10-day forecast. Hedrick told me that any forecast beyond three or four days was total bull– well, let's just say he said it was totally unreliable.
"Cincinnati people are very sensitive if they think you're bull-crapping them," says Braun, an Aiken High School graduate who grew up in Mount Airy. "He would tell me, 'We don't really know anything past 36 hours out.' He fought tooth and nail against doing a long-term forecast."
GRILLIN' WITH TIM: What also made Hedrick different was taking his forecasts to the people with his summer "Grillin' With Tim" parties and his Friday night forecasts from high school football games. After he grilled a pot roast on his back porch during a weekday weather segment in the early 1990s, viewers started asking what he would cook next. That grew into "Grillin' With Tim" cook-outs for up to 200 people; a TV series one summer called The Dish Presents Tim Hedrick Grillin' With An Attitude; and even a Grilling With Tim bobblehead.
So I was surprised to learn from Braun that Hedrick had to fight the station to start "Grillin'."
"They (station managers) wouldn't let him do it because they didn't want to put any money into it. So that's when he found a sponsor, and then the station realized it could make money on it," Braun says.
"It was so popular that we began taking the newscast out to the communities when we did 'Grillin' With Tim.' It became a team effort at the station. It was so energizing to see fans turn out by the hundreds or thousands."
FROM FOURTH TO FIRST: For many years, WKRC-TV dominated the weekday news ratings with Braun, Hedrick, Kit Andrews or Cammy Dierking. However, Braun reminds me that the newscast was in fourth place – behind the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles – when Hedrick arrived in 1988, shortly after Braun took over anchoring from Nick Clooney.
"Hedrick was full of great ideas. We went upstairs to Q102, which was always giving away concert tickets, and got some tickets to give away (to viewers). Tim would go to a phone booth – back when there were phone booths – and tell people to call the number at the phone booth and try to get tickets to a concert. We got in trouble with management and from Cincinnati Bell, which said all the calls were crashing their system. But it got people to talk about us. People loved it, and they got killer seats for concerts.
RAIN OR SHINE: Not every idea worked. I just heard this one Thursday from Phillippi-Whitney: Hedrick went with her to Totes seeking a sponsor for "Tim's Rain or Shine Weather Rhymes." A giant umbrella would drop down from above with a viewer's poem, which Hedrick would read on the air. It never happened.
"He was the only meteorologist I ever worked with who 'got' the importance of sales. I never had another on air talent offer to go on sales calls with me. He was a team player," she says.
DRESSED FOR SUCCESS: "A lot of people may picture Tim in a suit and tie as the weatherman on TV," Gumm says, "but in my mind, I picture him in his trademark Adidas sneakers and in a hoodie arriving at the station after coaching one of his kids' sports teams.
"He'd only change into that suit and tie right before he went on air and then after the broadcast, it was back to the hoodie - and probably back to basketball or volleyball practice. The Adidas sneakers never came off even with the suit on. He was so fun to be around - loved to crack jokes and had this fun 'free spirit' sort of personality. It was contagious," Gumm says.
BALANCING ACT: Hedrick left a lifelong impression on Braun, Gumm and Dimmich by insisting each find a balance between their work and family life.
When Braun's son Robert was playing for Madeira High School's football team, Hedrick would storm into Braun's office and scream at the anchorman for not going to the games.
"He just railed on me. 'Why aren't you going to his games? Do you think you're so important that they can't put together a newscast without you?' This went on for a couple of weeks. And finally I went. It was the best decision I ever made in my life. And I went every Friday night after that, and cut it as close as I could to rush back to do the (11 p.m.) news."
Dimmich, a Blue Ash native hired by Hedrick from an Evansville, Ind., station in 2011, remembers Hedrick "constantly telling me 'balance' – implying I needed to take breaks from work." Hedrick also encouraged his data-related projects, which was "instrumental in forming my second career in data and analytics," says Dimmich, who left Channel 12 in 2017 for a career in business intelligence.
Says Gumm: "When I struggled early in my career at Local 12 with balancing job responsibilities with being a husband and new father, Tim encouraged me to make my wife and children the center of my world. Do that, he told me, and everything else will fall into place. It was clear he lived by these words. Family was everything to Tim. His wife and kids were the center of his world. If you needed time off for family reasons – you got it. No questions asked. "
A few years ago, when Gumm was hustling out to catch his daughter's soccer match after the 6 p.m. news, Braun told him, "Tim taught you well! I wish I would've done that more."
CANCER SURGERY: In 2008, at age 47, Hedrick had surgery to remove his prostate gland after cancer was detected during a routine physical, his first in about 15 years.
"I hadn't had a physical because everything was good," Hedrick told me in 2008 after returning to work. In that conversation he urged all men over 40 to get a physical and blood tests to measure their PSA (prostate-specific antigen) indicating prostate health. "I've received many emails from guys my age – in their mid and upper 40s – who also had this disease. If someone hasn't had a physical in 10 years, and they're over 40, they could be taking a real big chance."
For the next couple of years after his surgery, I'd email Hedrick for a follow-up story. He never responded. Now I know why.
"He had his prostate removed, and he still had a PSA in the one hundreds," Braun says. "His numbers went up. That's frightening.
"I've never seen a stronger person in my life. He was on TV seven years, and he knew he had cancer in his body. He not only fought it, he kept working. People don't know this, but sometimes he'd lie down in his office before doing the weather. He was a helluva fighter."
SHOCKED COWORKERS: Hedrick last appeared on Channel 12 in February 2016. When he died on April 23, coworkers were stunned. They had respected his privacy, and were unaware that he was dying. Braun got emotional recalling the staff meeting after his death.
"That's a moment I'll never forget. I told them what he had been going though. He had confided in me seven years before. People were crying and their mouths were agape. They didn't realize what he had been through," Braun says.
ONE OF A KIND: Braun thanked me for writing about his dear friend.
"He was a unique person. He needs to be remembered," Braun says.