Saturday, May 3, 2008


During the last several weeks the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex has been pummeled with typical North Texas Spring weather that includes severe thunder storms and tornadoes. The predictable outcome of that weather includes the terrible wind damage, flooding and the inevitable loss of life that has devastated many families and communities in the Metroplex and beyond. So, you can understand the heightened intensity and the dependence that our great citizens have on accurate weather forecasting. Well, sometimes it’s good and sometimes it’s not. A couple of weeks ago, for instance, two days predicted to be fair and sunny turned out to be cloudy and cool.

These failures bring back memories of Dick Pike, the Bohemian Disc Jockey at WNOP in Cincinnati in the 1960’s and a segway to comment about legendary Skinny Bobby Harper of WQXI (and several other stations) in Atlanta in the 1960’ and 70’s. Both used to forecast the weather by looking out their studio windows. I know that Bobby Harper’s forecasts were spot-on and received several awards for accuracy even when pitted against some heavyweight Atlanta television stations that were evolving their new electronic forecasting techniques. Skinny loved the absurdity of that situation.

Harper was the outspoken, multitalented DJ who also had stints at Atlanta’s WLTA-FM, WKLS-FM and WSB-AM, among many others. He had a way about expressing his opinion that kept him in hot water and eventually got him fired at the legendary Quxie in Dixie (now Gone With The Wind).

In less sensitive days Skinny made Don Imus look like a mere novice when it came to shots from the hip. Bob Neal, current co-host on Comcast Sport’s SportsNite and long time TBS sports commentator, worked with Skinny at WQXI in the 1960’s. He related an incident in 1969 when the Atlanta Braves won their first National League West title and were playing the ultimate Miracle Mets for the National League Championship. Harper gifted with behind home plate seats (he was a big time buddy of Ted Turner) at the late Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium spied a man with a Mets banner and without a thought threw his cup of beer at the man, who ducked. The beer instead hit a well-dressed businessman across the aisle. Skinny didn't apologize. "Get over it!" Neal recalled Harper saying. The beer-soaked man called security, who understandably escorted Skinny out. "People booed," Neal said. No doubt with an opinion or emotion, Skinny had no compunction acting on it. His action was born of incredible frustration as the Mets ultimately outscored the heavily favored Braves 27–15 and swept Atlanta three games to none.

Skinny spent his last seven years behind the mike working as the celebrated top morning guy for The Blowtorch of The South, WSB-AM/750. Again Bobby was usually spot-on with a truth that always ran counter to the spin doctors, then and now. To Bobby there were no sacred cows. He made fun of or brought attention to anybody he thought corrupt or needed public scrutiny. Skinny was the inspiration for WKRP in Cincinnati and the sitcom's off-the-wall character Dr. Johnny Fever. He made his shows interesting by creating a host of characters that included Rex the Wonder Dog; Laverne, an old lady with an attitude and not so surprisingly in homosexual friendly Atlanta, Officer Bruce, a gay, lisping police officer.

Skinny, even with his Coke bottle glasses, a seeming precursor to Harry Potter’s Mad-Eye Moody, was a die hard hockey fan living up to his Canadian roots and was supportive of all Atlanta hockey like contemporary Neal Boortz. Harper even ended up doing color commentary for the Atlanta Flames broadcasts.

I had the occasion to share a few beers (OK a lot of beers) with Harper at a few Atlanta Ski Club meetings at the Riviera Hyatt House (now long gone) in Atlanta where revelry and good times were abided, tolerated and even encouraged. The Riviera was convenient to my digs at Retail Credit Company next door at 1600 Peachtree Street. The bottom line of all these meetings was that Harper made me laugh and made a lot of sense to me, then and now. To boot, he was one hell of a nice guy who always made you feel welcome whatever his notoriety. He left a wonderful legacy of memories that continue to inspire and motivate.

Texans would have really appreciated Harper’s sense of humor even to the end having his 2003 memorial service at Dave & Buster’s in nearby Marietta, Georgia. His many Friends approved…

When it came to the weather we think that Skinny Bobby had a secret weapon in his arsenal besides his compromised sight and studio window. We think that he had a weather rock that operated on the following principles of nature.

If rock is wet, it is raining.
If rock is green, it rained a while ago.
If rock is white, it is snowing.
If rock is shaking, there is an earthquake.
If rock is dry, the weather is fair.
If rock is swinging, it's windy.
If rock is warm, the sun is out.
If rock is not visible, it's dark outside.
If rock is under water, there is a flood.
If rock is gone, there is a tornado (Run!!)

While we know that all this is old ground, we really don’t know where else to go. Invoking the old mantra, “If it ain’t broke don’t fix it”, we will be strongly urging the local radio and TV stations and, of course, the National Weather Service and the National Hurricane Center, given their abysmal forecasting record of recent years, to adopt an adjunct system for their weather forecasting to include the weather rock. We suspect that our weather forecasts in the great Republic of Texas might be more spot-on. All that said we certainly appreciate their great service especially when those storms and squall lines are approaching – that is until the satellite-fed TV signals go out.

Maybe we can find a Dallas DJ who in the pioneering spirit of Skinny Bobby Harper won’t be afraid to look out the window and let us know what’s going on with the weather.

Rest in peace, Skinny.


Ned Buxton

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