Weather Boy Blues

FOR REGULAR READERS of the Star Tribune's weather column, the upset of columnist Ken Barlow by Paul Douglas was a veritable blizzard. Broken in two lively installments in early August, news of the takeover began with Barlow's stormy assessment--"To say that this is not a happy moment for me would be an understatement"--and ended a day later with Douglas gloating that he'd been "jolted out of this major-market funk, happy to be alive, and safely back in the Land of 10,000 Weather Hazards."

According to Star Tribune Editor Tim McGuire, it was former KARE 11 evening weather anchor Paul Douglas who "pioneered the concept of having a television personality do the 'Weather Corner' back in '91." When Douglas left the Twin Cities three years ago to join WBBM in Chicago, Barlow approached the Strib about taking over the column. "They said sure," winces Barlow. "The pay was shit, but I did it to get my name out there. Your name is on the page every single day. It's an advertisement that you don't have to pay for." This happy arrangement ended when Barlow's contract came up for renewal last month and the job was handed back to Douglas, whose WBBM contract was bought out last spring.

In an office busy with the flashing of computer monitors, TV sets, radar equipment, and "Earthwatch," a 3-D weather monitor pioneered by Douglas, Barlow manages a broad smile. "I'm angry about the way the thing was handled, in case you can't tell. I don't know what happened. They [the Star Tribune] gave me a raise last year, which I didn't even ask for, and this year I get a letter from Tim McGuire saying, 'Sorry, it's over.'"

That letter, which Barlow says was a mere three sentences long, must have tasted particularly bitter since only a week earlier, Strib gossip columnist C.J. proclaimed him a hero. "KARE 11's Barlow adds 'lifesaver' to list of credentials," was the headline on the long, gushing story about Barlow assisting a neighborhood kid suffering a seizure. "I'm so embarrassed," Barlow told C.J.. "I didn't want to make a big deal but I was so excited when I got to work I told everyone." It's little wonder that McGuire's letter is not one that Barlow, who has carefully archived phone messages and flowery cards from concerned viewers ("Of course, I made copies and gave them to my boss upstairs"), has kept.

According to McGuire, there was nothing shady about Douglas's maneuvering. "Douglas called me but I was the one who made the proposal. Barlow's contract was up and the option to get Paul Douglas was my sole motivation. Paul could do both print and online site development and he is still for many the most popular weather and television personality in this market. Some readers might be mad, but they're just going through a little change. I don't think that they realize that Paul lives in Minnesota now, that he moved back here last week."

If there's any doubt about that, Douglas hasn't missed any opportunity to rub his Minnesota heritage into his column. On August 2, Douglas noted that "only in Minnesota can you be ankle-deep in mud with dust blowing in your face," and also "we [in Minnesota] have much better shopping and nightlife" than in central Siberia. On August 17, Douglas let us know that "an informal poll of eight friends and family members shows that this projected lack of sultry, steamy weather should rub at least 87 percent of all Minnesotans the right way."

And will Douglas replace Barlow at KARE 11 as well? "Where or when or whether I'll show up locally I don't know," says Douglas. "I miss working with Paul Magers. I realize now how special that was. He was genuinely interested in the weather and a lot of fun. People still come up to me and tap me on the shoulder and say, 'Hey, you're that poor guy who used to stand outside.'"

Nostalgia is one thing, and contracts are another. Barlow has another year and a half left on his contract with KARE 11 and Douglas has 22 months left before a clause in his old KARE contract prohibiting him from working for the competition expires. For now, at least, when KARE 11 receptionist Veronica sings out, "Oh, weather boy," it's Barlow who trots to the lobby.

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