One of the things I’ve been grumpy about a lot is the way that severe weather warnings are presented on local TV. Do they need to be presented? Yes, because it is a public service to inform the viewing audience of where storms are and if you need to take cover from said storms. That’s something we all can agree on. However, there are good ways and there are bad ways to handle informing the public of severe weather.
Let’s look at a bad way first, shall we?
This picture comes from just a couple of weeks ago, on the Sunday before Memorial Day, when we had some (as you can see on the radar picture) storms in the area. They weren’t severe (at the time), and there was just a watch issued for the area.
However, the fine folks at channel 12 decided to do what they do every time there’s a watch issued for the area – squeeze the picture so that it’s completely unwatchable and essentially waste about 1/8th of the screen with their graphic telling you that you’re watching channel 12’s weather bar. Of course, not to be outdone by the weather department, you also have the convenient reminder that you’re WATCHING CHANNEL 12 in the lower right hand corner. By the way, the reason for the black bars is that this was taken from their digital feed, and if it were not for the watch bar, the show would have been in HD, and the 12 logo would have been about 1/4 the size.
By the way if you think that channel 12 are the only ones who do this kind of thing, here’s what channel 58’s bar looks like (note that this is from September 2006, during which time they were running a promotion and squeezing the picture even further than they had already with their weather bar!)
Channels 4 and 6 at least use a bit of sense (though how much sense is questionable because it just happens that they wind up wasting more space by doing this) and just shrink the picture so that the aspect ratio isn’t messed up; only the picture is smaller.
Now, let’s take a look at how this kind of thing should be pursued (or, at least how it was pursued by the local stations in the past). First off, I should commend channel 12 on their old way of doing this – they would just put up text at the bottom of the screen that read, for example, "T-STORM WARNING ___ COUNTY". It was simple, didn’t interfere too much with the picture, and was a perfect solution to a complex problem.
However, what really got me going on this was the fact that I was able to pick up stations from out of the area yesterday (ahh, the old days of TVDX, you might say, and that’s true, and this was my first time doing some digital DXing, which made it that much cooler 😉 ). Thanks to the weather, a lot of the stations had their warnings up and showing for you to see.
On every single occasion, no station had squeezed, squished, crunched, or even re-sized a picture to accommodate the warning information. All they did was put a simple overlay of the affected counties, and text telling you what warnings were out (along with the counties affected). In another instance, an ABC affiliate broke into their programming (game 2 of the NBA finals), but did something that I think would give Milwaukee TV bosses heart attacks (well, except for channel 6 back in 2007) – they kept the game on in the bottom left and had the meteorologist in the upper right!
So, you may ask, what did warnings look like in the "olden days" of TV (i.e. anywhere but Milwaukee yesterday). Well, I could show you a picture I took of one station that is literally stuck in the early 90s with just showing a storm cloud in the lower left — which is what they used to do on local TV; sometimes with an S or a T to tell you what kind of warning it was. However, as it so happens, I have an old picture from channel 4, from a taped airing of "Days of Our Lives" circa I have no idea – maybe late 90s or early 2000s.
Look! A full-screen picture (though it wouldn’t be in HD because none of the major stations have the technology yet, but you’ve got the feeling it’s coming) with a simple overlay. Can anyone tell me why the TV stations can’t make such a simple step backward that would, in the end, be a huge step forward?
Oh, and by the way, I must also give kudos to the PBS broadcaster in the area – channels 10 & 36 – because they can do an HD overlay, and the size of it is very comfortable – it looks like a postage stamp on an envelope. When viewed on a 42-inch screen, I bet it’s the perfect size.
What I’m curious about is if Milwaukee is the only TV market that does this stupidity. I have this inkling that we are. That should be a lesson to them, but I don’t think they care to listen…