It’s been a long while since we interviewed FOX6 meteorologist Vince Condella for a personal profile, but with the long-time weather man's upcoming retirement, it was time to catch up.
Condella has long been a go-to source for OnMilwaukee – he wrote a weather blog for us in our early days – and has always been available to chat about weather and anything else.
But now, after 34 years at the same station, Condella is ready to begin another phase of his life. We visited him at the weather studio in Brown Deer to find out why he’s leaving and what’s next for the 60-year-old Milwaukee icon.
OnMilwaukee: I was telling you as we walked in here, Jeff did a Milwaukee Talks with you 15 years ago, but over the phone.
Vince Condella: Crazy.
You're one of the only people we've done two with and certainly this far apart. Do you sometimes feel like you've been doing this forever?
Condella: Well, I do feel like that. When I think about it, I'm 60 years old, so over half of my life I've been walking into this building almost every day. That is really a mind-blower. It really is.
In this career or any career.
Condella: I've been very fortunate. I mean, there's no doubt. I started here 1982. The management here has always been very stable, especially for the television business. They've always had my back. They've always put total autonomy to the weather department and myself and all of the staff here. I really feel like I've been working in rarefied air compared to other people in our business that I've talked to around the country. I could not be more fortunate.
Do other meteorologists have this kind of longevity in other markets? Are there people who've been doing it as long as you?
Condella: Oh yes, there are. Some, you know, some will reach the 40-year mark, but it is rare. Well, in Milwaukee, here alone, John Malan.
It's just him. And then you.
Condella: Yeah. I just saw John about a week and a half ago at a Starbucks. We were reminiscing. He started just a little over a year earlier than I did. But, yeah, it is rare to have somebody in the market that long in television.
So let's get the deep question out of the way. Why are you retiring? You're only 60.
Condella: Well, couple of things. One is I really feel like I've accomplished everything that I want to accomplish and have felt very satisfied in my career. Also, my wife and I are just ready for adventures, to pursue our hobbies and our interests full time. It will be nice not working nights, which is part of this business.
That's where you want to be.
Condella: Yeah, exactly, but it’ll be nice after 34 years to just to live our life and pursue our interests. It's been such a great run.
I would say you look relaxed, but you always looked relaxed. Do you feel a sense of calm now that you have this deadline of May 25?
Condella: Yes. This has really quite literally been about two years in the making. Our management here and myself, we just sort of had kind of a two-year plan.
So they knew?
Condella: Yes. Everything was pretty much charted out.
Did your coworkers know?
Condella: Yeah, pretty much. I never have sat around thinking, "I don't know about this decision. This may not be the right thing." Never a doubt for me. Then, even once I made the official announcement on the air in early March, a bit of a relief that it's out there now, but exactly the same feeling. No second guessing. No second thoughts. Totally at peace with the decision.
I don't know if it's due to the longevity, but you have this "good guy" reputation. Is it because people have known you for so long?
Condella: Wasn't there a Dan Rather book once that said the camera never blinks? I don't think a person can really fake it very well on television, especially over a certain amount of time, because people are going to catch on after a while. I mean, I've got to be honest. From the moment that I started in television, first in Madison and then here, I always worked for bosses who never tried to convince me to be anything else.
Their mantra was always, "Just be yourself. We hired you to be yourself. We have faith in you," so I never felt the need to put on a persona. It was just, I think, encouragement from the bosses that I had. I think that really helped. What you see is what you get. With social media it's a different animal, as you know. It is a different way to relate to viewers, but it's been a fun way to relate to viewers.
You do it actively.
Condella: I enjoy it. I really do. It's because, as Tom Wachs and I have often discussed, and you know this better than anybody, this is now reality. This is how we reach people now. It's a whole new media world compared to when it was back in the 1980s where there was three television stations for local news every night that people had a choice, and that was it. Now the choices for weather information are everywhere. It's been fun to relate to people. In the old days via letters, and then via email, and now via social media.
What's the response been from viewers on your pending retirement?
Condella: It has been more than rewarding. Initially, everything came in right away after the official announcement on social media, Facebook and Twitter, and even Instagram, lots of different messages and so on. Then, about a week later came the actual letters and cards. I have some here. You know, people sending me cards saying, "Congratulations."
That's wonderful and pretty unique.
Condella: It's been amazing. People saying, "I grew up watching you. You've always been a fixture." I've heard from a couple of meteorologists from around the country who have grown up here, and now they're meteorologists in their own right. They said, "You've inspired me to pursue this career." You talk about a full-circle moment. Working with somebody like Tom's a full-circle moment, going back to the intern days, and how long I've known him. Then to hear from other people who I didn't know that I'd affected. Oh, my goodness.
Is it personally and professionally as rewarding as it sounds?
Condella: I can't describe it in any better way than to say that it's stunningly rewarding. It's just amazing.
Are you going to be emotional on that last day?
Condella: Yes. I am the John Boehner of TV. You know, Congressman Boehner, who's famous for crying at everything. I could be at a wedding of two people who've I've never met before. Just go to a random church on a Saturday, sit in the back pew. As soon as they start walking down the aisle, that's it for me. I'm done. Give me a handkerchief. Give me Kleenex. I'm done. When I made the announcement on the air, March 3, I think it was, I rehearsed it out loud about 30 times, even back here in the office beforehand. Tom can attest to that, just so I could hear myself. I knew what I wanted to say, but I had to say it so I could get used to hearing the words so I wouldn't break down on the air, but my final night on May 25, all bets are off. I don't know. I'll be a wreck.
Condella: It just seemed to be a good time. My contract had come to an end. We extended it a little bit. For my wife and I, it just turned out to be good.
You've worked with pretty much everyone in the modern era of Channel 6. Do you have some favorite colleagues?
Condella: When I came here, the legends at Channel 6 at the time were Tom Hooper, Carl Zimmermann, Earl Gillespie, John Drilling. All these names, of course, bigger than life, and I didn't really appreciate it when I first came here, but then working with those folks was pretty amazing. Jill Geisler, long-time news director, she's the one that hired me, and she's a bit of a television legend going back in the day. All of these people had a profound effect. But it's funny, even nowadays, the new faces. For an ego-filled business, this is a fairly ego-less staff in this office, in this building, in news. Meaning, there are just no prima donnas. It's pretty amazing to see that and to work with people that are down to earth and really grounded. Even to this day, working with some of the people I work with, and Ted Perry is one of my favorites. He and I go back ... I think Ted's been here quite a long time. He and I have worked together a very long.
Same story with (Tom) Pipines. Pipines has been here since the mid '80s. Those two people I've worked with probably the longest here. Every day, I mean, Ted makes me laugh every day. Consummate professional guy. Unbelievable on the air. Just a well-rounded guy off the air. Couldn't be better. He's just been a great colleague. I think I'm a bit spoiled.
Ted said to me as we were sitting in the lobby, "I've learned so much from Vince." He's in news and you're in weather. It's an interesting thing to say.
Condella: Well, you know, it's funny because we just have a lot of things in common. Music and motorcycles and just, you know, just kind of that stuff that we can talk about off the air is just a lot of fun. He just has a great sense of humor. He always makes me laugh.
You do have interests beyond weather. Your Harley, dogs. What's next?
Condella: The first question a lot of people ask is, "What are you going to do after you retire?" I'm going to live life, but also spend time on a lot of my hobbies. I love photography. I love music. I play the guitar. I want to pursue that more. Same story with photography. We love doing hiking, bicycling. Of course, we're dog owners so we enjoy being around with our dog and stuff. There's just a lot of different hobbies and interests that I have now and I want to continue to pursue.
What do you think you would have done if you hadn't pursued the path of meteorology?
Condella: I think I would have tended toward teaching in some way. I always have enjoyed that. This goes back even to graduate school in Madison in the meteorology program, being a teaching assistant, helping some of the professors and so on. Then coming here, I taught at UWM my first eight or nine years that I was here. It also gives me a chance during my weather segments to do teaching. Maybe something toward education, or teaching in some way.
Well, meteorology is science. You're not just a TV weather man, you're also a scientist of sorts.
Condella: Growing up, some of my favorite teachers were the science-related teachers. Things like geology and astronomy, I always gravitated toward those subjects and really loved those teachers. Maybe I would have been something along that line.
Do you find yourself interested on a personal level about climate change and weather patterns, or is it just a job at this point?
Condella: Always. That'll always be an interest to me. I think the more we look into the changes in the atmosphere, the more questions we have. It's one of those kind of infinite circles. We're never going to get total answers. But, yes, I am very concerned about a lot of things that are going on in the atmosphere right now. Climate change is real. It's a combination of both human-induced and also natural cycles. It does make me wonder: 50 years from now, 100 years from now, how is our planet going to adapt? Look, by 2050, I believe, we'll have 9 billion (people) on this planet.
That's a lot of people.
Condella: How are we going to adapt to the changes that are going on? Yes, Earth has gone through many climatic fluctuations in 4.6 billion years, but never with this many people on it.
A year ago, we talked about what weather forecasting was like in the beginning of your career. What's the future?
Condella: I think it'll get more accurate. The reason is what's happening every few years, you're seeing a jump up in computer power. It really does come to that. As you know, we rely a lot on these numerical prediction computer models. They're based on running mathematical equations, based on the laws of physics and so on. There are so many data points and so much information and data.
Computers are getting more powerful. They can do more operations per second and so on. I just think that these computer models that we look at will get more and more accurate. They serve as a guide for us. I think that will help future forecasters tremendously. I think especially in near-term dangerous weather. Can you imagine in the morning being able to tune in and say, "Look, we've got a high probability for tornadic activity in this part of our area after 2:00 this afternoon." Just to really be able to pinpoint especially dangerous and severe weather, that's the big jump I thing we'll see in years to come.
That's pretty important.
Condella: It saves lives. When Doppler radar came out, it was like the promise was, "Now we can give you tornado warnings 20 minutes in advance." That's true and that is a huge amount of lead time. That will just keep getting bigger and bigger with the increasing numerical prediction models.
What's your favorite weather app – not counting the FOX 6 one? Do you look at them?
Are you happy? Because you look really happy.
Condella: Well, I am. I just could not be more fortunate when I think about how my career has gone. This goes back to Madison. I worked part-time in Madison at Channel 15 in grad school. My first full-time job was with Channel 27 there in Madison and Weather Central for 13 months and then came here. Just the stability and the faith that management's always put in me and trust.
Do you think you'll always be kind of a part of Channel 6? Are you going to call Tom in five years to check his work?
Condella: I'm going to be that guy. Now, we'll still get calls like, "That Albert the Alley Cat was way better than you."
Are you still going to watch?
Condella: Oh, absolutely. I always will have a special place in my heart for Channel 6 because I know from first-hand basis the integrity of the news department and the integrity of the people who work here. Knowing a lot of them personally, I'm just naturally biased towards it. You bet.
Andy is the founder and co-owner of OnMilwaukee.com. He returned to Milwaukee in 1996 after living on the East Coast for nine years, where he wrote for The Dallas Morning News Washington Bureau and worked in the White House Office of Communications. He was also Associate Editor of The GW Hatchet, his college newspaper at The George Washington University.
Before launching OnMilwaukee.com in 1998 at age 23, he worked in public relations for two Milwaukee firms, most of the time daydreaming about starting his own publication.
Hobbies include running when he finds the time, fixing the rust on his '75 MGB, mowing the lawn at his cottage in the Northwoods, and making an annual pilgrimage to Phoenix for Brewers Spring Training.