Milwaukee Talks: FOX 6 meteorologist Rob Haswell
Rob Haswell didn't dream of becoming a meteorologist when he grew up. Rather, the Canadian native wanted to be a comedian, studying with Second City, north of the border, until he saw what life was like for a friend in Los Angeles trying to make it in showbiz.
So Haswell opted for "Plan B," a job in radio that eventually gave way to a career in TV meteorology that ultimately landed him in Milwaukee. Now married with three kids, Haswell also co-hosts "Real Milwaukee," and credits his training in improv comedy for his ability to find his timing on a crowded desk with three outspoken female co-anchors.
Last week, we caught up with Haswell, who spends most of free time on a hockey rink coaching his kids. We talked about the business of weather forecasting, competition with Siri and what's the deal with that chicken tattoo on his ankle. Enjoy this latest Milwaukee Talks.
OnMilwaukee.com: I have to start you off with a tough question. Every morning, I ask my iPhone what the weather will be like today, and it tells me. Why should I watch you on TV?
Rob Haswell: Actually, that's pretty easy. Siri is probably getting "her" data from an out-of-state source, like AccuWeather out of Pennsylvania or The Weather Channel out of Atlanta. Her ability to forecast on a local level like we do and to know the local terrain like we do is pretty limited. On a day like today, when it's sunny and 38, she's probably 100 percent right. But when we start getting into severe weather season, particularly blizzards, you're not going to turn to a phone to know what's going on.
OMC: So being in a market where you know its intricacies has an effect on your forecasting accuracy?
RH: Absolutely. It's one of the very few parts of our business that's growing in size. At FOX 6, we've actually added a meteorologist, which I never thought would happen in a million years. We did it because the level of interest in what we provide is one of the few things you can't get but on the local stations. Ultimately, I believe, people watch people.
OMC: Even when it's something as straightforward as the weather?
RH: Sure. People connect with that personality, and they like the voice. Not the sound of the voice, but they like what you're saying.
OMC: But is it an outdated idea to expect people to wait until 10:18 p.m., for example, to learn what the weather will be the next day?
RH: Especially in the morning, because morning television is essentially radio with pictures, people tune in and out. It holds up pretty well. I think the evening is changing, but people are still tuning in.
OMC: OK, my questions get easier from here. Doing my research on you, I learned that you grew up on a turkey farm in Canada. Really?
RH: It's true. My father was a research farm manager. It was not your typical farm; they were researching (turkeys) to be bigger and better. As kids, we would help feed them occasionally. The farm was only five to six acres, but we had 5,000-10,000 turkeys.
OMC: Did you grow up in London, Ontario? I had breakfast there once on the way to Cooperstown.
RH: I was born there, but the farm was not too far from London.
OMC: So what happened to your Canadian accent? I don't detect one at all.
RH: When I was in Rochester, N.Y., the news director there was adamant that I had to drop the accent. No "aboots." I've lived in the U.S. for 10 years now, so when my family comes to visit, it's just a kick. You don't notice it until you sit down in a conversation. I start giggling; I can hear it now.
OMC: Speaking of Canadian accents, I understand you have some experience with the "SCTV" guys.
RH: My little claim to fame. I did all of the Second City stuff when I was in Toronto. My first dream was to be in "SNL;" to be a stand-up comic. I quickly found out that wasn't for be, but in the meantime, I went through all the training courses at Second City and did some shows with them. I performed with my own comedy troupe. Along the way, I took a course with Joe Flaherty.
OMC: He's a hilarious guy.
RH: Hysterically funny, and just as big a character in real life as he portrayed on-screen. He was between gigs, so I was first to sign up. Took two or three classes, got to know him a little bit. It was just cool.
OMC: You're a couple years older than me, and I remember "SCTV," so as a Canadian, you must've been in heaven.
RH: It was huge. Canadians exporting television was unheard of before that.
OMC: So you're training to be a comedic actor, then what? Just said, "Forget it, I'll do the weather?"
RH: It didn't quite go that way. I was prepared in my last year of high school to go to L.A. and try my luck. One of my best friends did just that and probably saved my life. We went to visit him, and when I saw the way he was living, I realized that I need a Plan B. That's when I decided to go to "university," as Canadians say, and take communications at Ryerson University in Toronto.
My first love, to this day, is radio. I fell in love with Toronto and spent most of my 20s there. I was in radio there, and did it for five or six years. In this business, you kind of know when the writing's on the wall; management starts to change. I knew my days were numbered, and I was offered a position working part-time at Canada's weather network.
The job was what I had been doing in radio, but only reading weather news. I was like, "Sweet, I'll take that." I got there and they said I looked better on the green screen and I should do the maps, but I didn't know anything about the weather. They said they'd train me through their in-house weather school. That's where I got the bug. I was just fascinated by the whole concept. I'd always been a bit of a sci-fi nerd, anyway.
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