Paul Douglas entered the world of TV meteorology wary and never wanting to be dependent on “the man.”
Yeah, that man, for whom he worked at KARE 11 and WCCO-TV for 11 years each.
“Ever since I was in college, I had radio stations I worked for when I was at Penn State, [as well as] a couple of construction companies. I loved having that alternate source of income, that safety net, not being dependent on ‘the man,’” said Douglas, who some people might consider “the man” at this point.
“Television news we all know is fickle, right? In one year, out the next. You’re a gypsy moving every couple of years,” he said. “I didn’t want to put all my eggs into one basket, and I liked the intellectual challenge of trying to start a company.”
Douglas is president and senior meteorologist of Eden Prairie-based AerisWeather, his fifth company.
“We provide data, tools — what are called APIs — to developers to build weather into their businesses, into their apps. We have a lot of clients, big banks, small companies, websites. Netflix has been a client. They actually target ads for specific movies based on the weather at your ZIP code. On a rainy day you might get a different movie suggestion than if the sun is out. I had no idea. It’s cool when people do things I never would have thought of in a million years. We also do consulting for Fortune 500 companies, trying to keep them out of trouble if there is a typhoon or brush fire or flash flood that [could have an] impact on their facilities. We also do segments for media, including Star Tribune. We’ve launched two national weather channels in the last five years. We have a 24/7 weather channel in Kentucky, and we do all the segments from Minneapolis. If you have a good meteorologist and good data, you can do weather from anywhere. It’s been a good ride. I’m very blessed.”
He misses his former TV colleagues, but he doesn’t miss the green screens of TV news, preoccupation with ratings, putting on makeup or worrying about his hair.
Ah, hair. Of course, I play with Douglas’ in the video, although I forgot to shoot video of my fingers massaging his scalp. Beyond the credit, you’ll see the end of a clip of Douglas dancing; he apparently likes to dance.
Sunday at 7 p.m. on TPT2 Douglas will be one of the meteorologists on a special “Minnesota Stories in a Changing Climate. ”
Q: Let’s clear up the public’s Doppler radar attribution issue.
A: Oh, I did not invent Doppler. There’s a meme going around. People still come up and thank me for Doppler! Where that came from [I don’t know]. We did three-dimensional weather graphics so we turned Doppler into a 3-D fly through with EarthWatch, but somehow that got turned into Doppler radar. No, I did not invent Doppler radar. I wish I had.
Q: When you first entered the world of meteorology, did you ever imagine the climate control catastrophe unfolding today?
A: No. I’m a bewildered spectator most days, just predicting the weather. But by the late ’90s, early 2000s, something had changed. Weather was always a symphony, beautiful and predictable to some degree, a natural ebb and flow. By the late ’90s the weather was more like a second-grade orchestra, a very talent-free orchestra. I just started connecting the dots, and that led me to climate change. I didn’t wake up and have an epiphany. It had nothing to do with Al Gore. I was tracking Minnesota’s increasingly bizarre weather when I said, “Something’s up.”
Q: Do some TV meteorologists tailor their opinions about global warming to suit their employer?
A: Look, it’s no secret; local television news is a popularity contest. Viewers vote with their remote controls every day, and so if you’re a meteorologist and trying to do the right thing, connect the dots, put it in a larger context — Here’s why this flood may have been worse, because there’s more water in the air, and the reason there’s more water in the air is because it’s warmer. You know you’re going to piss off 20-30 percent of the audience. ’CCO was actually pretty good about saying, ‘Hey, the data is the data, the science is the science. Report on what you can actually see.’ I know I made a lot of people squirm. Talking about climate change probably was not good for my television career. But I happen to believe that some things are more important than ratings. Life isn’t a popularity contest. If you see something, you should speak.
Q: Can you generally tell if a meteorologist is Republican or Democrat based on whether they believe humans have caused the warming of the planet?
A: I think there’s definitely a correlation. Conservatives, because they fear that tackling climate change will automatically lead to bigger government, it’s easier to push back and deny the science. Or be skeptical about the science. So yeah, there are meteorologists in this country who are very conservative, who believe there isn’t enough data or the data are inconclusive. I don’t know how much more data you need. I’m writing a book that’s going to be out next summer, and I’ve interviewed a number of these meteorologists around the country, people like Tom Skilling in Chicago, who are seeing the effects in their markets today. It’s not a 30-years-down-the-road thing.
Q: Tell me about the book.
A: I’m writing a book with a minister, Mitch Hescox, in Pennsylvania, who is very involved in the environmental movement. His father was a coal miner. He has a unique story: Very conservative. Very Republican. We are writing a book geared to conservatives and evangelical Christians, helping them connect the dots and telling them why they should pay attention to, why they should not dismiss this. As I tell people, acknowledging the science, the data, acknowledging that climate change is real doesn’t make you liberal, it makes you literate. It means you’re scientifically literate. You respond to data and facts and not conspiracy theories and fairy tales. He heads up the Evangelical Environmental Network. They do a lot of lobbying. They helped to get the whole mercury rollover, cleaning power plants. His thrust is that it’s affecting kids’ health today. The poorest are first to [suffer the impact]. The 1 percent can move. This really is the global civil rights movement of the 21st century.
Q: How often have people actually flipped you off because they’re not happy about the weather?
A: Maybe a handful of times in 30 years. I remember once sitting at a stoplight. I looked to the guy next to me. He recognized me. The rain was making his commute longer and he flipped me off, or he was telling me I was No. 1. I have to laugh. When the Vikings suck, do they blame Mark Rosen or Eric Perkins? But when the weather is bad, even if you predicted that storm, people take it personally. It’s bizarre. The meteorology part is easy compared to the public relations part.
Q: I hear your son moved to the Pacific Northwest, a section of the country I keep reading is overdue for a major earthquake. Did you tell him this before he moved there?
A: No, I didn’t. It would be like Dad is trying to keep him from moving. His fiancée got a really good gig. She’s doing stuff with Nordstrom and Amazon and they wanted to try Seattle. After they were there, I saw the headlines about how the Pacific Northwest is overdue for a 9.0 earthquake, and I sent that to him.
I think it freaked him out, and I said, “Once you have all the information, the decision is easy.” We get a lot of grief for our cold fronts, our winters, but the ground is firm, no earthquakes, hurricanes, tsunamis.
Q: [What season do you like if] you can only have one season?
A: Summer. I’m a summer guy. When I get home, it’s shorts, which T-shirt am I going to wear? Watching the sunset. Going up to the cabin. I do like and respect all the seasons, but if I had to pick one, it’s summer. And the summers are getting longer. Spring comes earlier, fall lingers deeper into the season. So this notion that we only get about three months of summer — nah. We really get four.
Q: You don’t whine about the heat and humidity?
A: Nah. The hotter the better.
Q: I tell people cars don’t slide into each other in the humidity.
A: That’s right. Well said.
Q: If you had it to do over again, would you have allowed the bright lights of Chi Town to lure you away from KARE 11?
A: If there was different management at the time at KARE, if the current management at KARE was around in ’94, I never would have left. We would have figured out a way for me to stay. But they didn’t want me to have a business on the side. They wanted changes with the Star Tribune. At the same time I was having some issues with the management here in ’94, CBS was, Hey, we love you. We’re going to buy EarthWatch 3-D weather graphics for all of the CBS stations. So it was kind of a seduction. Chicago’s a great city, if you’re going to be stuck in a big city, but it wasn’t for us. We raised our boys here. Being in Chicago for three years gave us an appreciation, a respect for Minnesota that maybe we didn’t have when I was at KARE.
Q: Did that “Goof on the Roof” handle bother you, or did you think it was funny?
A: Rosen came up with it.
Q: No. What did one of the personalities in Chicago call you?
A: It was the sports guy, Tim Weigel? He’s the one. I think I used up some of his time and went long. Whatever. I’ve been called a lot of things, and they’re all true.
Q: Do you have any lingering resentment about WCCO and how that ended? Do you miss it?
A: I miss my friends at ’CCO. I miss Amelia, I miss Frank. I even miss Rosen … some days. I can’t say I miss television news, the ratings, the research, the consultants. At every station there are good people and a handful of idiots. But that’s life; every company. There’s no animosity with ’CCO. We were headed into the worst recession since the 1930s. As a businessman, I understand, you have to make cuts. I was an expensive meal ticket. The way that CBS did it, could that have been done better? Maybe. There’re no resentment with ’CCO.
Q: So when you let somebody go, you don’t do it that way.
A: I think there is a right way to part ways. It’s not just about the money; it’s about closure, self-worth, self-esteem. I don’t pretend to have the answer. If you have let somebody go, be humane. Put yourself in their shoes. I do have the unique distinction of being fired twice by CBS. Not too many people can make that claim.
Q: You consider the Chicago ’BBM situation a firing?
A: Oh yeah. The guy [Hank Price] who was at KARE came down to ’BBM and let me go.
Q: How many companies have you created?
A: I’m on my fifth company. Every company is, you think you’re going here … nope, you’re going there, you just don’t know it yet. Can you zig and zag and get to where you want to go? If you have great people, creative people and a flexible business model, you’ve got a shot. No company ever turns out the way I think it’s going to turn out. Ever since I was in college, I had radio stations on the side, a couple of construction companies. I loved having that alternate source of income, that safety net, not being dependent on ‘the man.’ Television news, we all know is fickle, right? In one year, out the next. You’re a gypsy moving every couple of years. I didn’t want to put all my eggs into one basket, and I liked the intellectual challenge of trying to start a company.
Q: Are you working on any new revolutionary weather-predicting apparatuses? What’s that patent you had that made you disgustingly rich? That’s according to what I’ve heard, and you do have a Tesla.
A: Don’t believe everything you read. A lot of people have Teslas! We’re doing some cool stuff today with AerisWeather, and we’re really focused on smartphones and pushing information to corporations on phones and empowering people out in the field. It’s no secret we are going from a speech to a conversation with social media. We have tools that provide a digital pat on the shoulder: Pay attention. There is rough weather moving in that [may have an] impact on your operation, your safety. We’re cooking up some new things too; I can’t go into detail, but there’s always something new. I tell aspiring entrepreneurs who want to spin up their own business, I think the two most important attributes to have are curiosity and tenacity. Tenacity is the most important. When you get kicked, pick yourself up, try again, try a different route. Thomas Edison did 10,000 different experiments before he found the correct filament that would power a light bulb. Henry Ford went broke five times before he made it. Somebody told Walt Disney he had no creative skills. What makes all of those people great, and I’m not in any way comparing myself with those people, is they didn’t give up.
Q: Do you ever cringe when you look back at your KARE 11-era hair?
A: The hair. The hair.[Eyes closed.] What was that on my head?
Q: And I’ll bet those toupees were expensive?
A: I’ve had this conversation. You don’t see a lot of bald guys on television. As a rule in local television, not a lot of bald guys. So when you’re 22 and losing your hair, what do you do? And, you know I’ve been very open about this, I’ve had a series of hair transplants, but until those took, I had to have something else. Looking back, yeah, I cringe. Most people when they see pictures of themselves at a young age, cringe. In the ’80s [the ability to transplant hair began]. And it’s gotten a lot better. It’s amazing. It was a business decision. If you want to be in this business, you need hair. Preferably your own hair, but until that happens, sometimes you need a little help. They were some scary years. Oh really? [As I got a video closeup of his head.] I think you should let the hair thing go.
Q: Did you pass on your hair follicles to your sons?
A: No, they both have their hair. They got their mom’s hair.
Q: You painted a picture earlier with the shorts and T-shirts. I know you like music and Twin Cities singer Kiana Marie, but what else do you do when you relax?
A: She is incredibly talented. In the Tesla, there is something anybody can subscribe to, and I listen to stations around the world. Classic rock. I’ve got a few hundred classic rock stations from London to Belfast.
Q: How many cars have you had?
A: I’m a car guy; I’ve had 34 cars. My dad grew up in Germany, escaped Communist East Germany, and when I was growing up he would got over there every other year and buy a new car, drive it in Europe for two weeks on vacation, then ship it back. I thought, Everybody does that. He was a printer, a sales guy. He went from proofreader to VP of sales at a printing company in Pennsylvania, a really good salesman. [I’ve had] a Porsche turbo, Aston Martin. Laurie [his wife of 31 years] would not drive the Aston Martin; it was so loud. The more I talk about climate change, we have to wean ourselves off fossil fuel. Here I am talking about climate change and driving a 12-cylinder twin turbo Mercedes, and I said, You know, you’re a hypocrite. So I trade in two gas-powered pigs on a gently used Tesla and I’m driving for free. Yeah, it was expensive, but no gas; our electric bill has not gone up. The next house, we’re going to put up solar panels and a battery in the garage and truly drive free. That’s where the light bulb goes off — I don’t know of anybody who doesn’t want to save money. I don’t care if you’re a Republican or Democrat, going green is going to put more green in your pocket.
Q: What’s the best way of making a good impression on the public?
A: Oh, when people come up to me, I never, ever say, “Good to meet you.” It’s always, “Good to see you.” I made the mistake of saying, “Good to meet you” a couple of months ago and a woman was indignant: Paul, you came to my elementary school … 25 years ago. I was in the back, I raised my hand, I waved. You signed an autograph. You don’t remember me? She was serious! My memory, my senior memory. It’s from years of standing too close to the Doppler.
Interviews are edited. To contact C.J. try firstname.lastname@example.org and to see her watch Fox9’s “Jason Show.”