In today’s TV Tuesday blog post, I interview Mike Augustyniak of WCCO-TV, the CBS affiliate in Minneapolis/St. Paul. Mike wears lots of hats at WCCO-TV and he tells us about all those hats in this blog post, as well as who his dream interview is – and much more. Follow along to find out if Minnesotans are really “nice” if he doesn’t quite get a weather forecast right!
1. Describe your TV job.
I am, first and foremost, the director of meteorology for WCCO-TV; that means I forecast and appear on WCCO’s regular newscasts and during special coverage of high-impact weather events. I also work behind the scenes to support our team of meteorologists and coordinate our efforts with the rest of the television station. Most often that revolves around maintenance, updates, and research related to everything weather — from the on-air graphics systems, to strategic planning, to digesting and disseminating new weather, climate, and social science research to the weather team.
I also co-anchor the WCCO Saturday and Sunday morning newscasts and, as part of that, provide ideas, stories, and interviews well outside the scope of weather.
2. You were in radio before moving to TV. What did you like about radio?
Radio will always feel more magical and intimate to me. We put a lot of thought and effort into making a connection with specific viewer in our television audience; yet, still, it often still feels like more of a “show” playing out in front of a theater full of people. Radio (or the 21st century version of radio — podcasts) feels more like a private, one-on-one conversation between equals; I don’t know if that’s because radio is often consumed alone in the car or through headphones, or if it’s the “faceless” nature of radio.
There is one big exception to this notion, though (at least to me); the TV weather cast. Weather casts are always ad-libbed and, when I deliver one, I am envisioning speaking to one viewer. I think that lends a more intimate feel to the whole endeavor, and I believe that’s a big reason I enjoy being a meteorologist.
3. What’s the TV best pitch you’ve received and why.
I’m going to speak in generalities for this question and the next, because it’s less about the specific topic and more about how the pitch is packaged. The best TV pitches are tailored to both the host and the audience, come with ideas (or B-roll) for striking visuals, and have some element of exclusivity. Prove to me that you understand who I am as a person, what I’m interested in, and how your product fits into that.
4. What’s the worst TV pitch you’ve received and why.
Oh, where to begin. Let’s start with pitch emails that scream “your viewers will love to hear about this!” and are addressed generically or (unbelievably) to the wrong name. These immediately go into my trash. These are, essentially, your resume and cover letter as a PR person; get your shit together.
I am also annoyed by pitches that make absolutely no sense for my audience; for example, a hard news pitch for my Saturday AM lifestyle show. If this happens from a specific agency or person too often I have (and will continue to) unsubscribe from or block those emails using my spam filter.
5. What is something that you wish PR people knew or did that would make your job easier/better?
I have 10% of the time I wish I had to find and book great guests. Don’t waste my time with pitches that don’t make sense for me or my audience. If you routinely provide interesting pitches and well-spoken guests that you fully support with good visuals and even better planning & time-management you’ll become my favorite.
6. What makes someone a good interview?
Passion for the topic they’re discussing combined with the ability to speak in 15-second chunks. Long answers are rarely the best answers, particularly during a live segment. If I want to know more, and have time, I’ll ask a follow-up.
7. What kind of stories do you like to cover?
The stories I enjoy most are those that give our viewers a chance to see something they wouldn’t be otherwise able to; whether that’s a peek behind-the-scenes, or something too expensive or in town for too-short a time to experience. My next-favorite stories are those that help a busy viewer figure out what to do with the 2 hours they have free each weekend, before the lawn needs mowing and the kids need to be picked up from soccer.
8. How did Mike’s Mix come about?
Mike’s Mix was born of a need for a specific type of content on our weekday morning newscast, and my science interests. We did not have a kitchen set in our studio until several years ago; before it existed we were struggling with the logistics of providing cooking coverage on WCCO This Morning. I pitched the idea of cocktails because we didn’t need an oven or stove for those; but, also, I see cocktails as “cooking” with liquid ingredients. I also enjoy the chemistry aspect of how ethanol allows ingredients to work together in a way they might not otherwise be able to. And, based on the opening of Minneapolis’s first few craft-cocktail bars I sensed the beginning of a movement here. Management (at the time) was skeptical, and I fought for 2 years to bring Mike’s Mix to life; the rest is history.
9. If you could interview anyone, who would it be and why?
The people at the top of that list are there for very selfish reasons; for example, I don’t know if the world needs another interview with David Letterman, but I’d sure like the opportunity to tell him how much he means to me and my career. I’d also like to interview president Obama — not because of his politics, but because of his personality type. My impression is that we are both academics and idealists operating in a world that values the complete opposite. I feel like what he learned while reconciling logic with what people REALLY want, and how they REALLY behave, would be interesting and helpful to learn.
I am fascinated by people who are really good at what they do; plying their trade at the highest level. Almost everyone at that level fought their way to success, and I’m interested in the story of their struggle to the top. There are lessons to be learned there, because most of us are still in the “struggle” phase.
10. What’s your schedule like being a meteorologist – how much “on call” time do you have? (Or, what’s a “typical” workday look like for you)
After leaving the 5-day-a-week grind of weekday morning television (because it was causing me serious health problems) I have settled into a somewhat more manageable 8-ish to 4-ish schedule on 3 weekdays, and a 3:30am to 11:30am schedule on weekends. If there’s severe weather or a big storm I’m usually doing social media from home or coming into the station to help, no matter the time of day or day of the week. I also work a fair number of weekend double shifts throughout the year (way more than the “zero” doubles that most jobs require), which equates to being obligated for about 20 hours of the day.
11, How have advancements in technology changed your job in the last decade?
The change in computing power and speed, coupled with high speed internet, now allows meteorologists to access more observation and model data more quickly, more accurately, and at a faster refresh rate. Forecast outcomes have become better because of this; but, at the same time, rising atmospheric CO2 levels and the global warming it has caused, creates stronger storms that are harder to forecast. It’s a bit of an arms race.
Technology also means that our bosses want our forecasts to be present everywhere, all the time. Between social media, more on-air newscasts, and the ability to do internet-only newscasts, everyone in the industry is trying to do more with far fewer people than we had even 10 years ago.
12. Does “Minnesota Nice” really apply to Minnesota residents when you might miss a forecast by a little (or a lot)?
I don’t think Minnesotans are any more frustrated by a blown forecast than anywhere else; in fact, if anything, Minnesotans are MORE weather savvy than most, and that leads to a greater understanding of the challenges forecasters face.
Follow Mike on Facebook at Morning Weather Guy, on Instagram at @mikeaugustyniak or on Twitter at @mikeaugustyniak.