Weather forecasts are a standard part of nearly every radio station’s programming in the U.S. But for many years, WILL went beyond forecasts from the National Weather Service, with its own staff of weather forecasters to provide in-depth forecasts and coverage of severe weather.
Of those forecasters, Ed Kieser is probably best remembered. He was WILL’s second fulltime meteorologist, succeeding Kirk Melhuish, later known as Kirk Mellish, who recently ended a long stint forecasting weather for WSB Radio in Atlanta. Before him, WILL received its weather forecasts from Mark Harrison, who also reported news, and Steve Hilberg, who worked nearby at the Illinois State Water Survey on the University of Illinois campus
From 1987 until WILL disbanded its weather department in 2010, Ed Kieser was joined by other meteorologists and forecasters, including Mike Sola and Scott Olthoff. But in an interview for Illinois Public Media, Kieser says he started out as the station’s sole staff meteorologist.
ED KIESER: I was the only meteorologist here, the only one doing weather on WILL. And I worked Monday through Friday and then storms as needed.
MEADOWS: And you would be a big part of our morning programming during Morning Edition, with Craig Cohen hosting locally, and Tom Rogers providing the newscast and you providing really, it wasn’t just a 20-second forecast, you were doing some pretty detailed work
ED KIESER: Every hour at 35 past the hour, we had about a four-and-a-half-minute window for weather back then, which is unheard of nowadays. Also, there were the agricultural weather broadcasts later in the morning, on Morning Edition as well.
MEADOWS: Besides just saying, here’s the forecast, what did you find it was important to tell people?
ED KIESER: Well, it was putting the weather in context, what was causing the weather, what was coming in. And we were covering more than half of Illinois and half of Indiana. And at that point, there was a focus on the whole region, not just the Champaign-Urbana area. So, there was a lot of focus on that. And of course, agriculture, still a big industry around here, a lot of interest with that. Weather is a big part of their livelihood.
MEADOWS: And so, when you went from the general weather forecasts to the ag weather forecast, what did farmers, what did producers need to know that you had to tell them?
ED KIESER: It was more of that of weather that was coming here for their production, and some parameters you might not hear elsewhere would be relative humidity levels for the drying down of grain and things of that nature. The wind is always important for spraying and planting and harvest. But then when we got to the ag marketing broadcast, then we’re looking at different parts of the nation and the world. The other areas where corn, soybeans and wheat are grown, because that helps determine the market prices for the farmers around here. So those broadcasts were actually focused on a different part of weather.
Ed Kieser’s Most Memorable Storm
MEADOWS: Besides the stuff that you did every day, I remember hearing you so many times, coming in whenever there was a weather warning going out there, and coming in at off hours when there was some sort of severe weather in the region to talk about it.
ED KIESER: Yeah, I felt the duty to come in when there were hazardous storms. Especially tornado outbreaks or big winter storms, blizzards, ice storms, things of that nature. And the most memorable night was the tornado outbreak on April 19th of 1996. That was a big one for us.
MEADOWS: What happened on April 19, 1996, in terms of the storm damage?
ED KIESER: Well, there were a few F3 tornadoes, pretty strong tornadoes. One went through Decatur. The most memorable one for us is southeast Urbana, that around the eagle Ridge subdivision. That was hit hard. And them Ogden was hit hard as well that night.
MEADOWS: And so you were on the air for that one.
ED KIESER: Yes, yes. We have no recording of it. But yeah, I was on the air that night. And in fact, after the tornado hit, our news director, Alex Ashlock, handed me the bag phone (an early portable cell phone) at the time. He said, well, your job is done here. Take the car go out and find the damage. And then I was reporting in from the damage thing.
“Talk to Ed”: Forecasts in a Flash
MEADOWS: One thing that a lot of people still remember here is the regular feature you did I think every Friday called “Talk To Ed”, where people could phone in asking you weather questions and forecast questions
ED KIESER: It originally was on Friday mornings at 7:50. I took that over when I came to WILL and did that on Friday mornings throughout my 23 years. And the afternoon Talk To Ed started a bit later. And that was on Fridays, right after the 12:35 weathercast that we had every day on the Afternoon Magazine.
MEADOWS: And often people would be asking, going to New York next week, what’s the weather going to be like? And it would be up to you to figure out a forecast for that region pretty quickly.
ED KIESER: Yeah, so in my earlier days, I’d have a stack of maps and I’d be looking through paper maps right in the studio and coming up with the forecast. And in the later years, I could just do a little some searching online to bring up maps quicker and get some more detail. So that became easier as the years went along. But still, again, I was trying to do something more than what you would just get off a weather app just using my judgment and training to give the best possible forecast there
MEADOWS: for a few years. Also you were on WILL-TV as well. When we were bringing regular forecasts during the prime-time hours there.
ED KIESER: Yeah, we had a program called your weather on WILL-TV and it consisted of two one-minute weathercast early in the evening and then a four minute weather cast at 9:58. And that aired about nine years or so, went from ’02 until 2010.
On Being a Local Celebrity
MEADOWS: People who do the weather and I don’t know why it’s the weather in particular. If you do the weather on TV and radio, a lot of people suddenly know who you are. It’s really something that I think the audience has an identification with. Did you experience that yourself, with people who know that you’re Ed Keiser, the guy giving the weather and WILL?
ED KIESER: Yeah, you know, it’s strange. I am not broadcasting now. And I live in Columbus, Ohio. So, nobody knows who I am. I still do weather forecasting there. But, I come back to Champaign Urbana, there’s still people that to this day that know who I am. And it’s kind of strange that like, wow, it’s been a long time now. But yeah, there’s that recognizability sometimes it’s good. Sometimes it’s bad. A lot of times dependent on the weather, people like to compliment you on the weather is beautiful, even though I have nothing to do with that. And they want to blame me when the weather is bad, even though I had nothing to do with that, either. It’s kind of funny. People feel like they know you. And you know, that’s one of the things I really loved about radio, there is that connection with the audience. It’s there and it made it great. And when I did the weather here, I was not some sort of broadcasting actor, or something like that. I’d like to say I was authentic. You know, I was very serious about my work. And I think that came through and I think that came through in a good way. I do miss it. It was a lot of fun. And it felt like it was a position that provided value to a lot of people. And you know, I’m glad I had the opportunity to do that over the years.
Ed Kieser and Andrew Pritchard
While WILL no longer has Ed Kieser on staff, or even its own weather department, it does have the services of a meteorologist. Andrew Pritchard provides weather forecasts for WILL AM and FM every weekday and can often be heard on the air during severe weather. Andrew is the son of retired WILL Radio technical director Mike Pritchard, and Kieser has known him for a long time — even attending his first birthday party.
“And when he was three, we had our first live tornado show at the Champaign Public Library and Andrew was in attendance there with his father,” says Kieser. “And not too many years after that, he started drawing me pictures of tornadoes and sending them in. And he got bitten by the weather bug and always loved weather. And we just continued that relationship and he ended up working in the weather office as a student helper for a while, while I was still here too. And now I’m proud to say he’s taken over the reins and continues that meteorological tradition.”
Pritchard’s early interest in weather forecasting puts him in the same category as Ed Kieser, who also developed his fascination with the weather as a child — only Kieser says his interest started with something else.
“I was into maps,” said Kieser. “And I saw maps on TV during the weather. And then I started to chart stuff off the TV weathercast, flipping around the few channels we had back then getting weather information. And then I just started to learn how to forecast the weather. And then when big storms came along, of course, I was very interested in them and just went from there.”
Today, Ed Kieser lives with his family in Columbus, Ohio, where he is a senior meteorologist for American Electric Power, an Ohio-based utility company operating in eleven states.