FOX 11’s Dickert calls the weather from home
Fox News weatherman brings work home
by Rachel Reeves
Not long ago, before surging rates of the novel coronavirus again siloed Americans in their homes, meteorologist and TV presenter Rick Dickert would tell millions of viewers about the weather from a studio in West L.A.
The Redondo Beach native would design graphics – the scenes and storms that appear behind him on the air – on the mainframe system at Fox News’ West Coast flagship. He would sit in the makeup artist’s chair and then assume his position in front of the chroma key screen.
The producer, camera operator, and lighting technician would tend to the technical details. The floor director would speak into his earpiece, or IFB, the interruptible foldback system used in broadcasting for one-way communication from a director to a presenter. “One minute, Rick,” he would hear, and the hit – the industry term for a broadcast – would commence.
Dickert still gets a cue from the floor director. What’s different is everything else. In the age of the Covid-19 pandemic, Dickert does the nightly broadcasts from his Redondo Beach home. He builds his graphics during the day on a laptop. A green screen hangs on the wall in his bedroom. His camera is a cell phone on a tripod, which features an app that allows him to operate the presentation with a remote-controlled clicker. To see the graphics appearing behind him on the air, he glances at an iPad on his bedside table.
The night he slips me an Apple AirPod – the home version of an IFB – the show’s director is telling him to move his camera. The bed and the laundry hamper are out of view, but there’s a lamp in the frame.
Dickert moves the camera.
“Here?” he says.
“To your right,” he hears. “Perfect.”
“Test 1, 2… alright, see you in a few.”
He warns me that our mics are “hot,” then checks the real-time schedule via his laptop, which is being updated by directors, producers, and technicians sitting in front of large screens.
“I’m going to get into on-air mode now,” he tells me.
“I could be wearing slippers and no one would see them on TV,” he tells me. “But just to get psychologically in the mode, I suit up head to toe. I emulate being in the studio as much as I can.”
He listens for the cue.
“One minute, Rick, coming right out of a break to you,” we both hear in one ear.
“No toss?” Dickert responds.
“No toss.” This means, I am later told, that an anchor will not be introducing him after the commercial ends. “Ten seconds, stand by.”
“Welcome back, everyone,” I can hear from the bedroom as I watch the big-screen TV from the couch in the living room. “I’m meteorologist Rick Dickert. Conditions will be nice and mild…”
Between hits, Dickert sits at his desk and checks WSI (Weather Services International) for updated data. He double-checks them against the research he did on his own earlier that day, via long-winded forecasts and myriad charts, and begins to tweak the graphics for his next show.
Onto a real-time map of the United States, he drags and drops icons: a cloud, a red arrow. He positions the arrow according to the direction of tomorrow morning’s winds. He drops a block-letter “L” onto a different scene, over an impending low-pressure system. He dials into the National Weather Service to check a figure.
“The advances in meteorology and numerical forecasting are really amazing,” he tells me as he works. “It’s gotten so accurate.”
Dickert, 52, became fascinated by weather when he was a kid. He grew up outdoors, surfing at Topaz and the Avenues and skateboarding down The Strand. After graduating from Redondo Union, he studied meteorology at San Jose State University, then worked his way through a series of stations until he ended up at Fox 11. For 20 years he reported from a helicopter on L.A. traffic, car chases, and weather, in the process picking up several Emmys and a Golden Mike Award for being the county’s best traffic reporter.
After the coronavirus became a pandemic, he began presenting traffic and weather from his home. In June, he moved exclusively to weather.
“It was a great run in the helicopter, but this is ultimately where I want to be,” Dickert says, as he saves the graphics for his next hit. “Not all people get into weather presenting because they’re passionate about it. They get into TV first and move into it. I’ve always had a passion for weather.”
His house bears witness to this: books about storms, photographs of lightning, an antique barometer. A framed certificate identifies him as a certified broadcast meteorologist, meaning he is trained in the science of weather and has the skills to present it on TV. (Dickert was first in Los Angeles and 16th in the nation to receive this designation.) Another framed certificate is from the National Weather Association.
Before the next hit, the wifi cuts out. We can’t hear the directors anymore. A message about breaking news interrupting the show — actor Kirk Cameron is leading another protest against masks in Santa Monica — buys him time.
“Here’s meteorologist Rick Dickert, who is safer at home,” we finally hear through speakerphone.
“That’s right, Elex, Marla,” Dickert says from the bedroom, addressing the anchors on the air. And from his bedroom, he tells Los Angeles that in the morning, California will be receiving a red-flag warning. There hasn’t been rain since Nov. 11, and the Santa Ana winds will be blowing, portending fire.
“Hey, Rick, I like that you did the seven-day first,” I hear in my ear after Dickert hands the show back to Elex and Marla. “I think we should keep doing that.”
For now, as the rates of Covid-19 continue to spike, Dickert is learning to cope with the stress of technical difficulties. Tonight, on the air, after the IFB came back online, millions of people watched him freeze, mid-sentence, for a few seconds.
“That’s just one of the perils of working from home,” he says. “You don’t have all the tech. Some days, it’s better than others. Obviously it’s nice not having to drive on the 405 but I would prefer to be at the studio, having the camaraderie with the anchors and all the tech I need to get a nice, clean show on. I don’t know how long this is going to last. These numbers have gotta go down, and right now they’re continuing to go up.” ER
by Jen Ezpeleta