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Kudzma to sign off KDKA after 34 years

Thursday, May 30, 2002

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

After tomorrow's noon newscast on KDKA-TV, meteorologist Bob Kudzma won't have to worry about predicting rain or sun, snow or sleet. Kudzma, who joined the station in 1968, will retire, and his concerns about forecasting will evaporate.

Meteorologist Bob Kudzma, on the set at KDKA, is retiring from the world of weather maps and severe-weather radar. (Robin Rombach, Post-Gazette)

Getting a forecast wrong disturbs Kudzma, a genial dry wit whose common-sense approach to weather stands in contrast to some forecasters who seem to leap at the opportunity to make things sound as dire as possible.

"I always try to be optimistic with my forecast," Kudzma said. "Sometimes you get burned, but most of the time it works out fine."

Instead of just calling for rain, Kuzma said he'd rather be more specific, promising showers but not an all-day drenching.

On occasions when the forecast doesn't turn out as predicted, Kudzma takes it to heart.

"I've never gotten over the fact that a forecast I've made has been wrong," he said. "My wife knows. I get grumpy and upset. I've never been able to handle that well. People think it upsets them, but it upsets me 10 times more because I feel like I've let them down."

It doesn't matter whether he predicts sunshine and it rains or rain and it's sunny. "If I'm optimistic and it turns out terrible, that's much worse, but the other way people will say, 'I canceled my picnic because of your forecast.' Oh, man, don't tell me that, please."

Kudzma said his worst call came on July, 4, 1969, when he predicted a pleasant evening for fireworks. Severe storms broke out at 9 p.m.

The prediction he takes greatest pride in was the blizzard of March 1993.

"We started talking about it on Monday, and the blizzard was on Saturday," he recalled. "By Tuesday and Wednesday we were saying we could get a foot of snow and -- Poof! -- we ended up with two feet. That was really one of the best."

Kudzma, 63, said retiring now wasn't his original plan. CBS, parent company of KDKA, approached him with the idea.

"They suggested it, and my wife and I talked about it and said, 'Yeah, may as well,' " Kudmza said last week as he sat in the station's weather center. "I just assumed I'd keep working until 65 or 68 until they suggested this."

When KDKA announced Kudzma's retirement, it came with news that he will continue to do fill-in work on the station.

"That's what I've been told by management, and I would like to do that," Kudzma said. Jon Burnett will take Kudzma's place at noon weekdays, and Rebecca Hower will fill his role on the station's Saturday morning newscast.

Kudzma, a New Hampshire native, always had an interest in meteorology. Growing up, he idolized Boston weatherman Don Kent. Kudzma earned a degree in mathematics from the University of New Hampshire and entered the Air Force, which sent him to Texas A&M University for meteorology courses. Later, he found himself in Vietnam doing forecasting for bombing missions.

After achieving the rank of captain, Kudzma resigned his commission in 1966 and worked as a meteorologist for United Airlines in Chicago.

"I kept looking at these people doing weather on television and I kept saying, 'I can do that.' "

After some prodding by his wife, Charlene, Kudzma started looking for TV meteorologist jobs and found one at KDKA. He was hired even though he had no broadcasting experience.

"They took a big chance on me, and I took a big chance on them," he said. "It actually worked out very nicely."

He's had a regular role on newscasts in prominent time slots (weekday evenings) and those that are lower profile (noon). The shift in hours bothered him more because he likes routine and hates change. He said the changes didn't do much damage to his ego.

"I knew eventually they'd have to phase the old people out and bring in the young," he said.

Kudzma remembers his first on-air appearance at 11 p.m. Dec. 8, 1968.

"Talk about being scared. I'll never forget that as long as I live. I was really bad, terrible. I could barely stand; my knees were weak. At least I got through it. It took me months before I relaxed."

Over the years he's had to adjust to changes in anchor teams and technology, switching from magic markers and magnets on maps to computerized graphic systems. The station's weather now carries the AccuWeather brand, but Kudzma still feels ownership of his forecasts.

"Whoever is standing up doing the weather, it's his or her forecast," he said. "I use AccuWeather as a consultant and more or less follow their guidelines. It really is a big help to have more than one opinion in a forecast. It's like getting a bunch of doctors together to get a diagnosis. I find AccuWeather very valuable."

Kudzma said weather has a much greater emphasis in newscasts than it was when he started in TV. He also thinks 24- and 48-hour forecasts have become more accurate.

In his retirement, Kudzma will continue to drive a school bus for Bethel Park's public schools, something he's done in the morning and afternoon for the past three years. Three of his four children live in the Pittsburgh area, and several grandchildren are in town, so they'll keep him busy, too.

"It sounds like the old thing, 'I want to spend more time with the family,' but I spent plenty of time with the family. I'll have to find things to do 'cause I know in the summer it will be difficult with no school bus."

Saying goodbye may be difficult, too. Kudzma's not a fan of showy last forecasts or even farewell interviews like this one. He'd prefer to avoid the hype, a hallmark of his 34-year broadcasting career.

"I'm not planning anything," Kudzma said. "It will be my usual extemporaneous stuff or nothing at all."

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