Heatwave Berler craze, 1976

August 8, 1976

KDAL-TV weatherman Richard "Heatwave" Berler wearing one of his T-shirts, August 1976. (Joey McLeister / News-Tribune)

Heatwave sweeps region

By Mary E. E. Peterson, News-Tribune

A heat wave is a rare meteorological happening. Heatwave is a rare media happening.

In fact, the probability of such a weatherperson hitting Duluth may approach one of Heatwave’s own spare-time calculations – the probability that everyone in New York City will die of random causes within 12 hours of each other is one chance in the number one followed by 38,900,000 zeroes!

But it happened. Right here in Duluth. Since late May the fuzzy-haired, wild-bearded, crooked-smiling Richard Berler has been putting together a serious weather show for KDAL-TV that has precipitated a miniature cult – an unheard-of stream of fan mail, a Heatwave Fan Club in Orr and a Heatwave T-shirt craze.

At a recent Top Shop autograph session promoting the T-shirts, Berler was besieged by motorcyclists from the Iron Range, a busload of kids from Fort Frances and a devotee from Bemidji who brought a gift of a pillow featuring a hand-stitched weather map.

Berler made a guest appearance at Accent Paint’s grand opening and next week will talk about tornadoes to the Moose Lake Kiwanis Club. Strangers on the street hail him familiarly, and, all things considered, he’s somewhat of a celebrity.

Berler is clearly overwhelmed and bewildered by all the commotion he’s created.

"I’m not a show business person," he explains, clutching a clipboard of weather maps. "My motivation is not to promote Heatwave. I’d like to think the response is related to the fact that I’m trying to present a serious weather show, an informative show."

He certainly does take a seriously. After putting aside geology studies at UMD, he was hired for two hours a day, based on a concept of a weatherperson as someone who reads the national wire services’ weather reports. But instead "they wound up with someone with a meteorological background," Berler says triumphantly.

He spends six hours a day on his job, gathering data at the airport, making his own interpretation and drawing intricate weather maps with multicolored felt-tip pens: all for a five-minute presentation sandwiched between the 10 p.m. news and sports. …

Richard "Heatwave" Berler works on one of his weather maps. (Joey McLeister / News-Tribune)

———————————

Whether viewers are charmed by the content of Berler’s program or his style is difficult to pinpoint. An attraction to the combination is expressed in a fan letter from the Orval K. Moren family of 4502 W. 7th St., Duluth:

"This man is a gem. Not thinking of flaws, but quality! We have come from another station to KDAL because of him. He is himself. No pretense." …

The derivation of Berler’s nickname Heatwave long precedes his job at KDAL. A postcard from Parsippany, N.J., received last week asked, "Richard ‘Heatwave’ Berler? Reminds me of a chap I knew from Westport, Conn., about five years ago – a guy by the same name who got extremely excited about heat waves. Tell me you’re not the same Rich Berler."

Well, dear viewer, he is. Berler recalls the turning point in his life: "When I was six, I turned into a heat-wave maniac. I always wanted to see a temperature of 100 degrees." …

Now 22 and without a degree in anything, he describes himself as "a mathematical maniac with respect to numbers. I ended up with a one-track mind. In my ninth-grade yearbook, no one wrote a single comment that wasn’t weather-related.

"That was the level on which people know me. I tended to be somewhat quiet and alone."

The stereotype persists. He walks to work from his room on the East End of Duluth where he lives alone – a 44-minute hike "plus or minus three minutes," his constant companions a transistor radio and a Hewlett-Packard pocket calculator.

With the radio he keeps up on music and tries to receive distant AM stations. …

And, with the calculator, he toys with such things as a formula for predicting thunderstorms and determining "the probability that the air in this half of the room will go to the other half of the room and leave us to suffocate." (The answer to the latter is one chance in the number one, followed by one septillion zeroes.) …


"Heatwave" stayed at KDAL, later KDLH, until February 1980, when he moved to take a TV weather position at KGNS-TV in Laredo, Texas – a town that is very familiar with heat waves. He’s still there – you can find his station profile and current photo here.

He’ll be popping up in another Attic entry in the near future… stay tuned.

And, I’m curious… Does anyone out there still have any Heatwave memorabilia?

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25 thoughts on “Heatwave Berler craze, 1976

  1. We don’t have a “Heatwave Craze” down here in Laredo but, I can honestly say Richard is a vital part of our fair city. He predicts local weather and even elections with uncanny accuracy using his math formulas. His wife, Carol is a local Realtor and they are quite happily married. They are lovely people and I am happy to know them both. He recently celebrated 30 years serving Laredo as “our” weatherman. You can see Richard throughout town either cycling, power walking or helping build houses for Habitat For Humanity.

  2. Lived in Duluth’s Woodland neighborhood when we were introduced to “Heatwave.” Having grown up in the Chicagoland area, we were accustomed to watching guys like Harry Volkman & The Weather Channel founder John Coleman on WLS-TV. But Heatwave Berler was something else entirely. He was the original nerd. Beard and a white guy Afro, drawing crazy maps, smiling at the camera goofily…..I think Denny Anderson’s toupe fell off. The guy was a hoot.

  3. I worked with heatwave at the K until he left for Texas, too. I remember he would hang out until sign-off to go out and have breakfast with whomever was working. We would go to Perkins in E Duluth, where the women would fawn over him despite his geeky look (dress shoes, black socks and bermuda shorts) while ignoring me…

  4. Heatwave was a riot. A real down to earth kinda guy. I lived next door to him when I went to UMD and met him around the time he first went on the air.

    Our whole floor at Griggs Hall on the UMD campus egged him on to try out and as it were; the rest is history.

    Just looked him up on the internet the other day and was surprised at how popular he is in Laredo and all other places U.S.

    Well good for you Heatwave. I can still remember all of the guys on our floor watching you on your first telecast and hearing the whole dorm hurrah you on.

    Would like to get in touch one day.

  5. In the late 70′s on election night when he was not working weather Heatwave would help Eric Eskola and myself at KDAL. He had the best hand computer in the Twin Ports. On primary night 1978, the AP called the DFL primary for endorsed Senate candidate Don Fraser. Heatwave objected. He maintained that Bob Short could still win if Northern MN turned out better than the South. By the next morning the rest of the state knew what Heatwave told us the night of the election. Short won — the MN massacre happened 60 days later.

  6. Pingback: Heatwave Berler | News Tribune Attic

  7. I have one of Heatwave’s business cards. I started working at Channel 3 right after he left as the new guy Pat Kelly was just starting and he was followed briefly by Mike Tsolinas and Pam Golden

  8. Sure, I remember Heatwave. Who remembers when Gordy Paymar was the weatherman on the big “K”, but we can’t say that anymore? And who remembers the young fellow, can’t remember his name, that came to the Twin Ports and always talked about skating in the winter. He loved the outdoor rinks. Anybody remember his name?

  9. Pingback: Duluth TV weather guys, 1996 | News Tribune Attic

  10. I can remember in my teens watching Heatwave up in Thunder Bay, Ontario. That was when Thunder Bay would get TV signals from Duluth instead of Detroit & Minneapolis as it does now. Heatwave actually made watching the weather interesting and I learned more about weather from him than I did in school.

  11. Caught one of Heatwave’s first broadcasts of the weather. He seemed to have terrific stage fright and totally botched the weather. The stunned silence of the anchors as the camera cut back to them was hilarious. It was not easy to get KDAL in Bemidji but we tried not to miss our daily fix of Heatwave.

  12. As I remember it, Heatwave stood in as the weather guy when the regular news team went on strike. I think that he was an intern, given the job while the regular crew with straight teeth and homogenized teleprompter lines, took to the streets with their strike. I remember Heatwave inadvertently falling off of a riser while “pointing” to a map and yes, he was the most legit’ personality I’ve ever seen on tv. He knew the science and certainly delivered with his own style!

  13. I worked @ KDLH (then known as KDAL) from 1973 through summer of 1976. I was a shy, skinny, college kid @ the time – a UMD student and the only person of color @ the station in those days. I worked as a news photog. and studio cameraman. Worked on the evening news and shows like- “Wally Pease Outdoors”. I remember Heatwave as quite a character! This was probably @ the beginning of his popularity.

    • Maybe you might remember her — kind of Duluth’s Nancy Nelson, hosted a local show, not sure morning or afternoon, attractive…do you remember anyone back in the 70′s like that? Thanks!

  14. I worked with Heatwave at KGNS in Laredo, Texas. He’s still going strong fantasizing about the cap of warm dry air that comes to Laredo frequently. Despite his love of heat he despises a good bowl of Chili cooked by his wife Carol.

  15. I worked with Heatwave at KDLH before he left and then with Pat Kelly when he was hired to replace Heatwave. You think Heatwave was a character? You should’ve known Pat when he had a lot more hair and before he turned into a news guy instead of a weather guy…that guy was a riot!

  16. I met Heatwave when I worked as Assistant State Climatologist in Texas, 1980-84. He’s a great guy and we’ve (sort of) kept in touch since then. We both love weather records and I (ahem!) have the data for Dallol.

  17. Hey Jimmy!
    That was Felix Humphrey that ran the marathon barefoot. I used to give him time cues that he totally ignored when I was on the floor crew at Channel 6 in the late ’80′s. I don’t think Heatwave ever ran it and I know for sure George never did!
    Brian

  18. Rumor has it, if the summer skip is right on satellite, you can pick him up on your TV – someone saw it and almost fell out of their chair, Heatwave in Texas, the viewer was in Duluth….if anyone catches, it let me know! :)

  19. yeah, he was a character. wonder if this climate was too cold for him to stay. does anyone know if he still comes to visit or does he think of this area at all?

  20. We had a Heatwave frisbee, I thought he was pretty cute. I recall a weatherman named Felix that used to run the Marathon barefoot. Do I recall that Heatwave ran it also, or am I confusing weathermen?

  21. Heatwave was huge! I remember playing at a band concert at the Arena (as it was called back then, not the DECC) back in 1975 or 1976 and Heatwave emceed it. People went nuts for him. And as our bus was heading out, we saw him walking across the viaduct. All the kids opened their windows and screamed “HEATWAVE!!!!” at him. Can’t imagine why he left town….

  22. I remember the whole Heatwave craze fairly well, even though I was pretty young at the time. I was only eight when he left town. I have a vague recollection of maybe having a Heatwave frisbee. I think he was even bigger than George Kessler.

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