Weather Xtreme Video
James Spann Bio
You can read my "official" bio here. Below is the real story.
I was born in Huntsville, Alabama (at least that is what my birth certificate says; I don't remember any part of my life before the age of five for some reason). As a young child I lived in the heart of L.A. (Lower Alabama), down in Greenville, which is between Montgomery and Mobile. I still have a lot of Butler county in me, and all of my "Spann" relatives are from there. I went to school at W.O. Parmer Elementary in Greenville through fourth grade.
In 1966 we moved to the big city of Tuscaloosa, and I started fifth grade at the old Verner Elementary school, which was across 10th street from Denny Stadium. From Verner, it was on to Eastwood Jr. High, and Tuscaloosa High. I graduated from THS in 1974; as it turned out there would be only five more graduating classes of "Black Bears" since the school would merge with Druid High School to form Central High School in 1980. Some of the most significant events that shaped my intense passion for weather happened during those high school years; the Brent F4 tornado of May 27, 1973 and the "superoutbreak" of April 3, 1974. I spend many days after those disaster as an amateur radio volunteer, and the memory of what I saw is as clear as if it happened yesterday.
Another big event took place while I was at Tuscaloosa High: I was hired by a local radio station as a disc jockey! I would go on to work for WTBC-AM, the "BIG 1230" for five years during high school, and my days as an electrical engineering student at the University of Alabama. The first night on TBC was pure magic; it was a cold November Sunday night in 1973. My first song was "Jessica" by the Allman Brothers, and I still remember the chill bumps when I opened that microphone for the first time. I am stunned at the number of people who tell me they remember me from the BIG 1230 in the 70s. For a number of years I worked afternoons, while Dave Baird (the ABC 33/40 news anchor), worked mornings. We had some really good talent at TBC thanks to the University of Alabama being in town.
That merger of being a weather weenie and a broadcaster would turn out to shape the rest of my career. My first television weather job would come in the summer of 1978 when I was hired by WCFT in Tuscaloosa, Channel 33 (yeah, I have been doing this for 30 years now. Amazing!).
From Channel 33, it was on to WSFA-TV in Montgomery in the fall of 1978. I was actually hired to do weekend sports anchoring, but my real dream was to do weather. The main weather guy at Channel 12 at the time, Dan Atkinson, was far and away the best TV weather person in Alabama at the time, and I did indeed get the chance to handle weather from time to time. I was living the dream.
I resigned my position from WSFA in June 1979 to briefly go back into radio. I worked afternoon drive at WHHY-FM, Y-102, in Montgomery which would turn out to be one of the most care-free summers I would ever enjoy.
Wendell Harris called me in August 1979 and asked about the possibility of me coming to Birmingham's WAPI-TV, Channel 13, as the main weather anchor. Now THAT was a real dream come true. I was 23 years old, had only one year of TV experience, and had no formal weather education. I could live my life over again ten million times and this would not happen again. It was a "God thing". I do believe I was born to do the weather on radio and television. I have no idea why.
My first week at Channel 13 in September 1979 was remarkable. It just so happened that hurricane Frederic was to blow into Mobile Bay that week, and I was sent to the coast to cover the arrival of the storm. This was before satellite trucks, so most of the live reports during the storm were done on regular telephone lines. We shot a ton of video and had to drive the tape back day the after landfall to get it on the air.
In the summer of 1981 I married Karen O'Mary, who has somehow managed to tolerate me and my strange hours for all these years. She is the love of my life.
I spent five years at Channel 13, and in August 1984 I was transferred to sister station KDFW in Dallas, at the time the CBS affiliate. I was the lead weather anchor in one of the largest TV markets in the nation at the ripe age of 28. That same weekend I was being sent off to Dallas, our first son (J.P.) was born. What a wild month.
In Dallas, I competed against TV weather legends Harold Taft of KXAS (Harold died a few years ago), and Troy Dungan of WFAA (Troy recently retired from Channel 8). I had a ball building the weather operation at Channel 4, and I learned so much about severe weather from some of the great ones in our science while I was there. I was honored to win the Katy award for Best Weathercaster in Dallas/Fort Worth from the Dallas Press Club the one year I was eligible. Pretty amazing considering the competition.
Dallas was great fun, and I think we all need to get away from home at least once, but Karen and I felt a strong call to come back home. In early 1986 told KDFW manager Bill Baker I would be leaving at the end of my two year contract that summer. I should mention I still see some of my old KDFW friends still on the air on Channel 4, including Ron Jackson (still working in the weather office!), Clarice Tinsley and Richard Ray.
In 1986 we moved from Dallas to Demopolis, Alabama to run an AM-FM radio station combination. Not many TV people walk away from a nice paying top 10 job to run a small business in a small town, but I am not your standard TV person. Being on the tube has never meant much to me; I just loved the weather. I was a part owner of the station along with Dave Baird and Tom Stipe (long time producer of the University of Alabama Sports Network, and with University Relations). I think all radio guys have a dream of owning their own station, so once again, I was living the dream.
We spent three years in Demopolis, and I still have many close friends from those years. I loved the slower pace of life, the freedom from working the TV night shift, and being involved in a smaller community. But, I somehow knew the Lord was leading me back to Birmingham. And, sure enough, in October 1989 WBRC, Channel 6, called wanting to now if I was interested in taking Mike Royer's place (Mike was leaving to go to Channel 13). I worked out a deal quickly with manager Nick Bolton and news director Steve Minium, and I was back on the air in November 1989. We sold the Demopolis radio stations two years later.
At the same time I enrolled in the broadcast meteorology program at Mississippi State University, knowing I needed the formal education. After completing the program at MSU I earned the NWA and AMS seals of approval.
I was at Channel 6 for 7 great years, and we enjoyed unprecedented ratings success. People like Scott Richards, Janet Hall, Art Franklin, and Bill Bolen were great to work with. I guess the biggest weather situation on my watch at Channel 6 was the "Blizzard of 1993", or the "Storm of the Century" in March 1993. It would take a book to tell you everything about that one!
In the fall of 1996, I left Channel 6 along with about two dozen other colleagues (like Brenda Ladun, Linda Mays, Mike Raita, and Bill Castle) to help form the new ABC affiliate in Birmingham, ABC 33/40. It was not exactly a smooth transition, but the Lord worked everything out and I still absolutely love being here. Nobody gave us much of a chance 9 years ago as we went head to head with the mighty Channel 6, but our little station has been quite a success, both financially and ratings-wise.
We broke lots and lots of new ground here. Long form, non-stop weather coverage during tornado warnings, street level radar mapping, a mobile weather center, and much more. The owners, Allbritton Communications, are simply great. Their support for our weather operation has been rock solid, and this is by far the nicest group of people I have ever worked for.
We have covered some riveting weather events during this station's brief history, including the April 8, 1998 F5 tornado that killed 32 people in Birmingham (we were the only station with non-stop coverage that night), the December 16, 2000 Tuscaloosa F4 tornado (we had it live on our tower camera in Tuscaloosa), the November 24, 2001 outbreak that was responsible for the largest number of tornadoes in one day in state history, and the November 10, 2002 event that killed 11 people in Walker and Cullman counties.
I work the weeknight newscasts at ABC 33/40, handle the weather on about 25 radio stations around the nation, and, of course, the Rick and Bubba Network. I also do four daily video updates on the Internet daily, write for our blog, and speak to schools, civic groups, and churches often. I teach children on Sundays at my church, Double Oak Community Church, in the northern part of Shelby County. Most of you know I was at Hunter Street Baptist for many years, and I will always feel part of that family as well.
The little boy (J.P.) born during the move to Dallas is 28, and we have another son, Ryan, who is 15 (yep, they are thirteen years apart!). Ryan is in the tenth grade, and plays baseball for Spain Park High School in Hoover.
Our private weather business, The Weather Factory, is doing very well (we were the Weather Company, but sold the name to the Weather Channel in 2012). Our biggest moment was hiring Bill Hardekopf away from the Birmingham Barons (our AA minor league team affiliated with the Chicago White Sox) to run the business. Bill was in charge of the Barons during Micheal Jordan's summer on the team, and earlier in his career was the PR guy for the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. He is a Godly man with the gift of administration; not many of them around.
Bill was also a big part of Reality 101, a 100,000 watt Contemporary Christian Music station we put on the air here in 1998. While we sold the radio station a few years ago, the Internet ministry we have is exploding thanks to Bill and Therese Romano, our program director up in Nashville. Be sure and listen to one our live streams at AllWorship.com.
Karen and I have been married for 32 years now, and we live in the far eastern part of Hoover. My main hobby is ham radio (I have been licensed since 1970, at the age of 14!). Needless to say, working from 5:00 a.m. until 11:00 p.m. doesn't allow much time to get on the air, but amateur radio will always be a part of my life.
In 2005 I upgraded the AMS seal of approval to the new "Certified Broadcast Meteorologist" designation. The CBM is the highest level of certification from the AMS, and involves academic requirements, on-air performance, a rigorous examination, and continuing education. I am CBM number 33, meaning I am the 33rd person in the nation to earn it. I wanted to be the first in Alabama, but a couple of guys in Huntsville beat me to it. Just not enough hours in the day!
I was honored to win the two national awards for a broadcast meteorologist in 2012... the NWA (National Weather Association) Broadcaster of the Year, and the AMS (American Meteorological Society) Award for Broadcast Meteorology.
Another huge honor in 2013 for me was receiving an honorary doctorate from the University of West Alabama.
The broadcasting business is changing like a meteor streaking through the night. I spend most of my time doing Internet weather products like our Weather Xtreme video and blog discussions. It is really exciting being able to communicate with our audience at any time; not just when the news comes on television. I look forward to many more years of weather coverage with my associates at ABC 33/40 and The Weather Factory. Thanks for dropping by and taking the time to read the story of my life!
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