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?