One-on-One with Daryl Ritchison

MATAYA ARMSTRONG | THE SPECTRUM Former WDAY weatherman Daryl Ritchison recently accepted a position at NDSU working with the state climatologist.
MATAYA ARMSTRONG | THE SPECTRUM
Former WDAY weatherman Daryl Ritchison recently accepted a position at NDSU working with the state climatologist.

Daryl Ritchison has been forecasting weather longer than most NDSU students have been alive, with his TV career spanning 25 years. The former-WDAY weatherman of 18 years is predominantly known for his meteorological work on WDAY’s morning show, “First News.” While there, Ritchison typically would accumulate a 60-hour work week, with days starting at 2:30 a.m. and having other media responsibilities as well. Recently, Ritchison, 51, left WDAY for a position at NDSU, where he will be working at the Climate Center. Staff writer Benjamin Norman recently talked with him.

This Q&A has been edited for clarification and size.

Benjamin Norman: Let’s start with the basics: Daryl Ritchison. Is that how you pronounce your name?
Daryl Ritchison: Yes.
BN: Not Richardson?
DR: No, it’s R-I-T-C-H-I-S-O-N.
BN: I’ve been pronouncing that wrong my whole life — my entire family has.
DR: Everyone does, because it’s an odd spelling. I always jokingly say my ancestors couldn’t spell. I’m sure it’s a derivative from Richardson. It’s an English name.

BN: Earlier this morning (April 15), a new record low was set in Fargo. Is that exciting or disgusting?
DR: I’m not a fan of record lows (laughs), any time of the year — even in July. In a way, I felt good about the record low this morning, only because it’s been so cold these last six months, and we’ve came close several times (to setting a record low), but we couldn’t quite do it.
BN: At least it will up in the record books now.
DR: Exactly.
BN: Do you enjoy stormy days, or is your ideal day sunny and 75 degrees with a slight breeze?
DR: My idea of an ideal day is hot. 95 (degrees). I love hot, humid weather. Granted, I should be in Florida, but I get my seven days here … The hotter the better.

BN: So, Daryl, you have a new job; what does this job entitle?
DR: I’m the relaying assistant to the state climatologist. I’ll be helping him (Adnan Akyuz) with research and the writing corresponding to that as well. I am also the public spokesman for the North Dakota Agricultural Weather Network (NDAWN), so I will get to go to some public events to speak at, which I am quite excited to do. Also, I’m doing some of the research writing and catching up some of the climate bulletins.
BN: When did you decide on this new position?
DR: It didn’t come about in a day or two, in that sense, but I literally just had heard about it and contacted Dr. Akyuz. I asked if he had someone in mind … and they were quite thrilled that I would be willing to take such a position.
BN: You just wanted a change of scenery or …
DR: I was doing my old job for 25 years. It was my entire life. Not a lot of people, to be honest, get to retire from television, especially when you’re not the main evening person. I’m 50-ish now and thought about how could I finish my career out … I loved my old job, and it was hard to leave … I was lucky; there are not a lot of people who get to work 25-straight years in television. I was never fired.
Really, I get to go from one job I really liked to another job that, although I’ve only been here for a couple weeks, I really can sense I made a good decision.

BN: At WDAY, you spent most of your time doing the morning show?
DR: Almost the entire time. I started weekends for about three months, and then prepped for the newly-launched morning show for a few months, which I have been doing ever since.

BN: You weren’t jumping back and forth between stations throughout the years. You stayed faithful, unlike, you know, Craig Bohl, Saul Phillips…
DR: (Laughs). Well, they got great new jobs.
BN: Agreed.
DR: As did I. You know, my kids are in town, and I really like the Fargo-Moorhead community. There wasn’t a $500,000 job right there waiting for me. No, this opportunity came up, and I get to stay in town — my kids are teenagers, and I really didn’t want to pull them.
How many weather-type opportunities are out there? I can do other things in life, but (weather) is, in many ways, my passion.

BN: And the hours are a little bit nicer here?
DR: Oh, yes. I had never worked a day job, literally, in my life … In a couple of weeks, I feel so much better. My biorhythm is in gear with the sun (laughs).

BN: Do you have any prominent stories that you remember that are worth retelling?
DR: One of my goals in working television all those years, especially this last decade when YouTube came to be, is that I did not want what I called a “YouTube moment.” (Especially with) DVRs, people can put (my on-air mistakes) on YouTube pretty easily. As far as I know, there are no YouTube moments, and that fulfilled my goal in life.
A lot of my prouder moments happened more off-air than on-air … I literally have done hundreds and hundreds of speaking engagements. I have had (NDSU students) come up to me and ask, “Daryl, what are you doing on campus?” … and (later) tell me, “I still remember when I was in first grade, and you came to my room and did an experiment.”
Those are the things. Those are the examples that touch me. There are not a lot of people in their lives to meet thousands of people in their life.
I was always flattered when people would say, “I wake up to you every morning.”

BN: As a weatherman, you have many people that compliment you, but there might be a few bad apples that say otherwise?
DR: When you work in the public, nine out of ten of your phone calls tend to be angry, nasty calls. The people who love you don’t tell you they do. The people who hate you do. It just comes with the territory.
When I train new people in, I always tell them: You are always going to get the angry people. And you’re new. And you suck. And they are going to let you know that. Everyone else gets to train in private, you don’t. The thing is, though, that there’s always truth in what their saying. They say it poorly, but you can learn from angry phone calls.
I also can laugh at myself. The reality is … you just move on, there’s always a little bit of truth (in what they are saying) and learn from it, because nobody’s perfect.

BN: Now that you are out of the scene, this might be a bit of a taboo question, but I’ve always been curious: do you ever interact with people from other stations or do you remain independent?
DR: Independent. When (former-WDAY weatherman) Rob Kupek left WDAY, Rob and I were friends and we did interact, but not as much as when we were working together. The Valley News team, I didn’t really know any of them … I don’t dislike these people by any stretch.
BN: They’re not your enemies?
DR: No, but they are competitors … For me personally, I didn’t want to hear anybody else’s forecast, not even my own staff’s forecast … I did better when I stayed focused (on my own work).
BN: I always imagined, and these are just pipe dreams, but (Valley News Live morning weatherman) Mick (Kjar) and you at 3 a.m. swapping information.
DR: I’ve never met Mick.
BN: Really! Maybe I can set something up.
DR: (Laughs).
BN: Did you keep a tally of how many anchors you saw come and go through the morning show?
DR: 14 … (Blame it on) the small market and a tough shift.
BN: Did you have any favorites?
DR: You know every single one of them I enjoyed in different ways … I could go through every one of them and (praise them), and I’m not just saying this because I’m being interviewed. It’s the truth. I enjoyed them all.

BN: At WDAY, did they compensate you for haircuts and on-air makeup?
DR: Haircuts, no, for me, at least. Others, they did. There’s your controversy right there! (Laughs). Makeup, they did.
BN: What products did you use?
DR: I got my makeup at Merle Norman.
BN: Interesting. My last name is Norman, so I’m probably related to the guy.
DR: You should be; he’s rich.

BN: You said earlier that (weather) is your passion.
DR: I would describe myself as a weather geek. I absolutely love weather. When I was sixteen, and of driving age in Minnesota, a lot of (boys) want their driver’s license so they can take girls out on dates. Not that I didn’t want to do that, too (laughs).
I don’t think my parents ever figured it out, but often times when there were thunderstorms … I’d usually try to make up an excuse (and tell my parents), “Hey, I’m going to Jeff’s house,” or “Hey, I’m going to visit John.” And I’d take the car, and what I’d really do is go storm chasing. I would just go out and, you know, you don’t have Doppler (radar) in your car, you just basically listened to AM radio — FM was still pretty primitive at the time. And you’d just go storm chasing … (With this) new position, I will have more opportunities to go (storm chase).

S: You’ve got nearly 13,000 tweets and over 1,500 followers on Twitter, Daryl; would you consider yourself famous?
DR: I have always struggled with the whole concept of being a celebrity and people asking me for my autograph … I’m not Justin Bieber. That part of the job always humored me … I’ll be honest, I was completely overwhelmed. I had hundreds of responses to my leaving. I just recently finished thanking people … You don’t realize the impacts you have until later on. That’s what I try to teach my kids or go out public speaking and people ask for advice. Your impact is much greater than you ever give yourself credit … It’s helping someone who slipped out on the ice back up.

S: Last question: Do you have other, non-weather related hobbies?
DR: I used to be very passionate about golf. I was a golf addict for many, many years. My kids are teenagers now, and the other job became so overwhelming with its hours that I never had enough time to play … When I was your age (19.5 years old), my handicap was three. Now, if I break 90, I’m really happy … I’ll go three holes in a row where the 25-year-old Daryl comes back, and I’ll go, “Wow.” And then the 50-year-old Daryl (shoots an) eight, nine and puts five balls in the water.
Another one of my hobbies is (laughs) climate statistics. A lot of people hate statistics, but it has always been my favorite discipline in math.
It’s hard to call this a hobby, but I love having the opportunity to publicly speak and being involved in the community. They are not exactly traditional hobbies, but everyone has different things they do.

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