A country superstar talked John Fredericks out of a career in teaching.
The weather anchorman was a college student majoring in history and preparing to follow his family into education when he took a part-time job as a disc jockey at a Bakersfield, Calif., radio station. Station owner and country legend Buck Owens took Fredericks under his wing and advised him to find a more lucrative field. So Fredericks changed his major to communications, and before long, he was forecasting weather on television.
After an inauspicious beginning — during his first broadcast, he "did the whole Albert Brooks ‘Broadcast News’ thing, with sweat pouring down my face and huge pools of sweat underneath my arms" — Fredericks’ weather career took off.
Along the way, Fredericks happened upon his best buddy and eventual career trademark, a yellow Labrador retriever named Jordan. Jordan went live with Fredericks for the better part of a decade, until the dog died in August, drawing 600 people to his funeral and generating $30,000 in donations to the Nevada Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
Today, Fredericks has a new on-air sidekick, a 4-month-old Lab named Little Jordan (L.J.).
Question: What possessed you to start bringing your dog to work?
Answer: When I got Jordan, I was living with a roommate, and we were renting a house in La Conchita (Calif.). When the owners found out there was a dog in the house, they said, "One of you has to go." I said, "No, both of us have to go," and we spent the next two weeks living on the floor of the radio station I was working at because we couldn’t find a place to live.
Then on the weekends, because I didn’t have anything else to do with him, I’d take him up to the television station in Santa Barbara where I was doing the weather. Almost immediately, Jordan started coming on the air with me there. The news director thought it was cool.
Here’s this weather guy with this big, lovable Lab, and that’s his sidekick. When I got here, bringing him to work was a no-brainer. There was a dog run out back for (Channel 3 owner Jim Rogers’) dogs.
Jordan didn’t really spend a lot of time on-air with me here for the first year or so. Then, after a while, when I’d go out on assignment, they’d say, "Why don’t you take Jordan out with you?"
Question: Why did they want you to do that?
Answer: I think because I was such an animal lover. We started hosting animal-adoption segments and Jordan started making more cameo appearances. There was never any decision that said, "You guys are a team." It just happened that way over a period of time. We’ve gone through management changes, and some people have gotten it and some haven’t. But after Jordan died, I think everybody here said, "Whoa, this dog really meant something to this community." The news director literally thought the phone systems were going to shut down. We received more than 3,000 e-mails and well more than 1,000 pieces of correspondence.
Question: Why do you think there was such an outpouring after Jordan’s death?
Answer: I think he touched a nerve with people, particularly animal lovers.
He became a symbol for two reasons: One, it was validation that you’re not crazy to love your animal the way you love any other family member, because pets are members of the family. And he became a symbol for animal rights, of striking out against abuse, neglect and homelessness.
I wish I could tell you the number of times someone came up to me and said, "I really wasn’t a pet person, but when I saw that connection between you and your dog, I got myself an animal, and now I get it too."
Let’s face it, with pets and kids, it’s pretty hard to go wrong. But because he was on television almost every day and became a bona fide broadcast personality, I think people just thought that was the coolest thing in the world. This guy gets to bring his dog to work every day, and the dog is on television with him.
Question: Who was more popular, you or the dog?
Answer: Jordan, by far. People just like animals. When we would check the traffic on our Web site, Jordan’s section was always either the first or second most-visited area. The only close competition was (anchor) Kim Wagner.
Question: There’s now a national Take Your Dog to Work Day, and a 2006 survey showed 43 percent of workers would take pay cuts of 5 percent to 10 percent in exchange for bringing their pet to work. Do you have any tips for someone who wants to broach the subject with their boss?
Answer: It has to come from the top down. Find out whether the owner, CEO or whoever is pulling the strings is a pet person. If that person doesn’t have pictures of pets in the office, or if they don’t bring their dog to work, it could be an uphill battle. There’ll always be legal issues: What if someone is bitten, what about people who have allergies. But clearly, we are becoming a more pet-friendly nation. Studies have shown that pets lift your spirits, calm you down and put a smile on your face. I firmly believe allowing that little perk in the work place would also increase productivity.
Question: Let’s talk about the weather. Why have you stayed with it? What do you enjoy about it?
Answer: I love the weather because you’re trying to predict future events, which is impossible to do with any absolute certainty. That’s the fun of it. Guessing storm systems when no one else does gives me an incredible amount of satisfaction. When that newscast is over, there’s no immediate, tangible evidence of what you’ve done. It’s not like building a house or repairing a car. Other than the taped segments, what you have to show for it is the impact you have on the community. Having a father come up to me and tell me, "I was having trouble explaining to my son why the moon appears closer at times, and you explained it to me and now I’m a hero to my son" — that’s very gratifying.
Question: Would you consider moving to a market with more varied or more interesting weather?
Answer: The weather in Las Vegas is harder to predict than people understand because we have so many microclimates here. We live in a rain shadow (because of the mountains), so predicting rain, snowfall and particularly wind can be challenging. By far, the thing people complain most about locally is the wind, and I pride myself on being fairly knowledgeable in forecasting windy conditions. People seem to respect that. I’m also very confident in my ability to forecast severe weather during the monsoon season.
Question: What are your career goals? Where do you see your career headed?
Answer: My goal is to continue to work in this community, educating people about humane causes, talking to kids and trying to be a positive role model. The only thing that’s going to allow me to do that is if I can retire at Channel 3. That is my goal and that is my dream, to retire at Channel 3 with my head held high and my credibility and professional integrity intact.
Contact reporter Jennifer Robison at firstname.lastname@example.org or (702) 380-4512.VITAL STATISTICS Name: John Fredericks. Age: 52 Occupation: Chief meteorologist, KVBC Channel 3. Position: Chief meteorologist, KVBC Channel 3. Family: Single. Education: Studied broadcast communications at California State University, Bakersfield. Work history: Since 1978, on-air work for numerous radio stations in California, as well as television stations KBAK in Bakersfield, Calif., and KEYT in Santa Barbara, Calif. Hobbies: Golf, music, hanging out with his dog. Favorite book: Anything by Dennis Lehane, James Lee Burke or Michael Connelly. Hometown: San Fernando Valley, Calif. In Las Vegas since: 1996. Quotable: "I love the weather because you’re trying to predict future events, which is impossible to do with any absolute certainty." KVBC Channel 3 is at 1500 Foremaster Lane and can be reached at 642-3333.