Milwaukee Talks: WISN-TV meteorologist Lindsey Slater
When I walked into the lobby at WISN-TV to interview meteorologist Lindsey Slater, I figured I'd ask her about how she feels about working in her hometown, about social media since she's so active on Twitter; you know, that sort of thing.
Then news producer Dwight Moss happened to stroll in and he said, "you have to ask Lindsey about baking. She's an amazing baker."
Cue Slater herself, who rushes out and apologizes for being late (even though she's actually one minute early). "I'm late because I was baking cookies for everyone here. You want one?"
And we're off ...
OnMilwaukee: So, what I wanted to talk to you about, of course, is your background. The fact that you're from here.
Lindsey Slater: Sure, I am. I'm in my hometown.
Tell me about where your sort of career path, how you got here.
I went to Franklin High School, graduated '04. I was born in Milwaukee, but we moved to Franklin when I was in third grade. So I've been a part of the Franklin school system (nearly) all my life.
I was a gymnast, I was a diver for Franklin. I went to Altius Gymnastics, as well. I was big into gymnastics. I actually went to school to be a vet, first. I always have loved animals so much. I loved weather a lot, too, obviously.
But I remember making that decision as a senior, like, "Okay, Lindsey what's going to make you more money: being a meteorologist or a veterinarian? I'm like, oh well the vet's going to make a lot more. Let's be honest."
They also require a lot more schooling. So, I went to school at UW-Eau Claire. To be a vet. I was a biochem major. About a year and a half into it, I was doing okay. I was doing really good in math, I was doing really good in chemistry, I wasn't tanking biology, but I was getting B's and C's.
You were thinking you weren't so confident in your biology that you wanted to put IVs into dogs and so on?
Yeah. You know, and I did internships and stuff, too. I was interning at vet clinics, I interned at the Humane Society, and I love all the hands-on stuff. I loved it.
And I knew that I had a big passion for animals. But about a year and a half into it I'm like, "You know, this biology book that has this big blob that's supposed to be a protein, I'm like, how do they know that that's what it looks like? They don't know what it looks like." I just had a hard time believing the people that wrote the book. It bothered me, for some reason.
And I remember there being this big squall line, which is a line of thunderstorms all kind of glued together. It was coming for Eau Claire. And I remember it being, "Oh, this is so cool."
"I'm so excited."
Yeah, I popped up the weather service radar, and I'm like, "Oh, it's coming." And my then boyfriend – now my husband, because we're high school sweethearts –he was going to school in Chicago at the time, and he's like, "You ever think about doing that?" And I'm like, "Doing what?"
The thing you're super-excited about.
You know, I really, really wanted to be a vet. I really truthfully wanted to be a vet, and I remember just, he was like, "You know, Linds, you love weather." I'm like, "I do, but what am I going to do with it? I'm not going to be Mark Baden."
You did not say that.
Oh, I sure did. He knows this story. He thinks it's hilarious. Because he's the one I always watched. I mean naturally, because he's the best. And I grew up watching Sal (Sally Severson) and all them, too. And I'm like, "I can't ... I mean, what am I going to do with a meteorology degree or a weather degree?" He's like, "Well, why don't you look into it." So I remember looking into it, and I hadn't figured out if I wanted to do environmental science, geology, climatology. I knew I wanted to do something in the earth sciences field.
So I ended up transferring schools. I went to Carroll College in Waukesha, so I got out of Eau Claire. I honestly, I didn't like it up there anyway. I'm not a big party girl and I had a very committed relationship, so really I wasn't the typical college person. I went to a college party and realized that was not the scene for me.
Well, and you were far from home, and if he was in Chicago, you were even farther from him, right?
Absolutely. So when I went down to Chicago to visit him, I was in Happyland, because I was with my now-husband and I was close to Milwaukee. But being up in Eau Claire, it was very rural to me. I grew up in Milwaukee. I just like the bigger city setting. So I transferred schools. I went to Carroll College. My dad went to Carroll College, my aunts went to Carroll College.
You carried on a family tradition.
I did. And oh my gosh did I love Carroll. It was like four times more expensive. But I loved the individual attention. I wasn't a number there. I was a person, and I really appreciated that. So I got my degree in environmental science with a biology minor because I had so many credits. There a fly in here. Oh my gosh, there's always bugs in here.
They didn't quiz you on that blob?
No, no blobs, thank God. And I was getting A's easily. It just was coming to me. I really enjoyed learning about it, and then about halfway through, or actually right in 2006 I was a sophomore going to be a junior, and I interned here at Channel 12. I honestly appreciated Mark for not ... He's very selective about the interns he picks, and I appreciated that he took a chance on me, because at that point I was a veterinarian major. I would not ... I had no credits for meteorology under my belt at all.
So you interned here in the weather department before you even made that decision?
Yeah. I mean, I was debating. I already transferred schools. I already was going to start at Carroll College, and I was getting my environmental science degree. I was in transition. I didn't know what I wanted to do with that degree.
Once I interned here, I was like, "I really like this. I like it a lot." I also interned for the weather service, the one in Sullivan, for a whole year, brought in baked goods all the time. That's how they remember me. That's my plan.
So is that how you got hired?
Let's be honest (glances at the tray of chocolate chip cookies).
Yeah, it's probably the baking (laughs). I remember the people at the weather service, when they gave me a recommendation, they're like, "Oh yeah, you're the one that baked all the time." If you remember me for something, that's fine.
So, was this then your first job out of school?
No, no. That would be amazing. In my little brain, I thought in my little Lindsey happy brain, I know I've got to work my way up. Milwaukee is market 35 in the hierarchy of markets. I'm sure ... are you aware with how that works?
Okay, Casper, Wyoming, is like number 209. So as you work your way up, the numbers get smaller.
So is that where you went?
No. I just knew that that was the one I didn't want to go to.
I interned at KOW in Madison, as well. I got married to my high school sweetheart. We moved to Madison; lived in Mount Horeb, land of the trolls.
I interned there at KOW. I was a nanny. I was a chauffeur for some family, and then four months after being there, I was really adamant in working on my tape, my demo reel, which is basically the way you can get a job in broadcast. You have to make a tape. And it was still a VHS at that time, and Jackson, Mississippi, came calling. They're market 94, so I was pretty thrilled.
Hey, you were in the top 100. You were charting already.
Oh, God. It was a startup. And I was like, "I don't even know what that means, but you're offering me a job." So I asked my husband. We just got married four months previous. And I'm like, "What do you think about Jackson, Mississippi?" And he's like, "Well, my career's going fine, so I guess it's time for us to get yours going." He's a Mercedes-Benz mechanic, so he can go anywhere. And he's also in the Air Force. So as long as there's a military base, an Air Force base and a Mercedes dealership, he's pretty set. And there's a lot of both in the country.
Jackson, Mississippi has one?
Oh yeah, and very lucrative. Actually, one of the best in the country, weirdly enough. So we moved our butts down there in 2009, and I worked there for three and a half years.
Then I got a little itch. You know, you feel like you hit a wall. I don't want to say a wall. You feel like you've done what you could. You feel like it's time to get ready to go. Naturally, being from Wisconsin going down to Jackson, Mississippi was a culture shock.
And my accent was not good, you know. I called it Shrev-a-port the first time I was on air, and it's Shreeve-port. Yeah, I didn't know that. It's crazy.
I would think they'd quiz you on all that stuff.
You know, honestly, before every market I've worked in, I have made sure I knew what the viewing area is, and I would quiz myself on the county names so that by the time I got there, I knew them. That was kind of my big thing. I wanted to make sure I didn't look like an idiot and not get the right town names. But naturally, it's going to happen.
Well, right. And you think about the poor people who come here.
That's why I felt so good coming here. I'm like, yeah. Kaukauna, Oconomowoc, Waukesha. I got this. That was helpful in my audition when I came here. But then I worked in Springfield, Missouri, for four years, and then my husband was like, "You know, I really would like to try to get back home."
So then Baden, I had been talking with Baden this whole time. He's been my biggest mentor my entire career. So we would always go back and forth, you know, and he mentioned, "Hey, (Chris) Gloninger's going to be leaving soon."
And it all depends on when your contract lines up, because he told me when Lyra O'Brien was leaving, but my contract wasn't up yet. So I couldn't just jump ship. That's kind of a big no-no in the industry, unless you want to pay a really big fine.
Which I never want to do. The broadcast business honestly is so small. You wouldn't realize that, but it's like, "Oh, I know that person. Oh, I remember him when he was here." News directors, general managers, they go all over the place. So if you make somebody mad in one market, you never know where they might pop up again. So just be nice to everybody.
So you were in Baden's home state.
I know, right? You know, I always would mention. I'm like, "God, it's so hot here." I actually really enjoyed Missouri. I loved Jackson, too. There's things I've learned at each market. I have so much severe weather experience under my belt. I'll never get that anywhere else. I'll never get that here.
But when I came here, it was like, "Oh, the lake. There's that again." So I mean, I think every place I work there is a big challenge. So Missouri was, is it going to be ice or snow or rain. They always run that freezing line. Jackson, it was how bad is this severe weather going to be?
We're getting it, but how bad is it going to be? And here it's, how much is the lake going to influence this snow? And, yeah, I think I honestly have gotten more gray hairs from forecasting here than ever in Jackson.
Well, and I asked Mark about that, because so many meteorologists talk about how challenging it is here because of the lake.
It is. A lot of it's the lake. It's a big player. In the Ozarks, there is an Ozark Plateau, which is a higher ridge that is there, but it doesn't really do a ton to weather systems. It wasn't like they were going to get halted. Here, you'll have a warm front coming, and it literally will get halted by the lake breeze.
You know, if you have any area with lower dew points, thunderstorms are going to have a problem. I always tell people who don't understand dew points, I always say, "Okay, it's the equivalent of lower dew points is like kale, and higher dew points is like burgers. So where do you think this storm is going to want to go?"
Where the burgers are, with the higher dew point. It can eat all that energy. No one wants the kale. And we were the kale last night.
Okay, so let's talk about that. We've gone completely off track, here. But here's a big pan of cookies, and I was told when I came here to ask you about baking.
Yeah. I love to bake. My mom, ever since I was a kid, she always hosted Thanksgiving, she always did Christmas. Every year we make over 14 different kind of Christmas cookies. I bring them all in, and they're all different. It's not like I make chocolate chip and then cranberry chocolate chip. I mean, they're significantly different types of cookies. We experiment.
I buy like seven pounds of butter for Christmas cookie baking. It's amazing. I just love to bake. And then I recently, since moving here, I made it my vendetta to be very good at cakes.
Do you bring cakes to work?
I have brought test cakes, the ones that haven't worked out. I'm like, "Here you go."
Oh, so you keep the good ones for yourself?
No, oh no. I bring everything in. I want feedback. You know? And I feel like a lot of people are too afraid to say if it sucks, but I want you to tell me if it sucks.
Well, I had a cookie, and it was really good.
Good. My grandmother's recipe. You can't really mess up chocolate chip cookies, I feel. They literally came out of my oven two hours ago.
That probably buys you a lot of goodwill here, too, doesn't it?
Well, you know, if someone's upset, I think baking always helps. And it also helps me get better at it, too. I like the feedback. I don't make anything out of a box anymore. I love the idea of making small ingredients into something. It is kind of scientific, I guess.
So, you're in your hometown. Are you here for good?
I hope so. As long as they want me here. I mean, this is where my whole family is. My mom and dad are still in Franklin, my husband's family is in Greendale, all my friends are still most of them are still here. You know, we were the weird ones when I got married that jumped ship and like left.
But now, that's just how things are. We have some friends that are gone, but most of them are still here. You know, my brother has two daughters and I wanted to see them grow up, and my husband's brother, my brother-in-law has two boys and I wanted to see them grow up.
So you're not ... I mean, a lot of times you see young people in this business who think, "Well, after Milwaukee then I've got to go to Chicago, and then I've got to go to New York or L.A. or something like that."
That's always there. But, honestly, this is home.
If ABC wanted you on "Good Morning America," you might consider that, I would imagine.
I would absolutely consider it, but again I'm happy here, and you know, I love being at the station I grew up watching. Like I remember when I interviewed here, I mean nothing against any other station, I think everyone does an amazing job. I really, really do, especially in the weather department. We all are looking at the same maps, we're all making smart decisions, and we all have degrees. We all are scientists, and we respect every other person, you know.
But I remember, there was an opening at FOX 6 when I got here, too. So I didn't interview there, but I went there to like say hello while I was here. Just, you've got to keep it open.
Did you bring cookies?
I did not bring cookies. I didn't bring cookies here, either. I should've done that.
But you had the Mark connection.
I had the Baden connection. That's better than cookies. Hashtag, badenbetterthancookies. And I remember interviewing there, and my mom, I remember calling her, and she said, "Well, how did it go at FOX 6?" I'm like, "They have a really nice facility, it's really great." She said, "I'm going to be honest, Lindsey. I won't be able to watch you if you work for somewhere else than Channel 12. I just don't know if I could see you anywhere else than 12." I'm like, "Well, I'm hoping for 12, mom."
So you are in a hardcore WISN family.
Yeah, I am. Yes. Everyone watches it. You know, I have friends that were devoted to one station, but now they try to watch us, so you know, that always helps. Ratings boost, maybe.
There are a lot of local meteorologists on social media, but I feel like you and Baden are probably the most active.
Well, I mean I hope so. Even if it's not in a very active day like today there's not really a whole lot happening, but last night I was constantly updating. You know, we had some storms. And it was my day off yesterday, so I tried to update, but not also let it like turn into like this when I'm hanging out with my husband, you know.
So I do what I can. I Retweet a lot of Mark's tweets or I re-shared a lot of his already done posts and stuff. But if it's even a day like a normal day or something, I'll just post like, "Hey, it's sunny." Or "Hey, I went for a run today." Most of my posts are about running. "Hey, I went for a run and it was really muggy, and it sucked." You know.
Do you like to do the social media part? Or do you just sort of feel like you kind of have to?
Well, you know in Missouri we went through a lot of social media workshops. So I learned I have to at least post three times a day.
Like on Facebook. Twitter is more. Instagram, I'm learning that they have those stories and stuff. I'm trying to get all that in there. I think I posted a Instagram story today, "Should I make cookies or brownies?" Cookies won.
You know, I don't mind doing it. The only thing I don't like is when, if we're in a weather situation and someone is like giving us false reports. That is so unhelpful. It is so unhelpful because I don't know whether or not to ...
You don't know who to trust.
Well, yeah. For instance, we had, when you were here last time with Mark, we had people sending us videos of funnel clouds and a tornado. And I'm like, "Is this real? Is it from today? Where's it from?" Like, before I Retweeted it or my newsroom was like, "Oh we need this video. We need to get it." And I'm like, "Is it real? First of all." We don't want to look like idiots."
I would rather not be first to show a video of a tornado versus another station. I'd rather be accurate. I'd rather be right. So there was a situation where like maybe FOX had it on at 9:00, and I was still verifying the validity of said thing, so we didn't get it on exactly at 10:00. We got it on at 10:20. But I wanted to make sure, because in my brain, that's like my reputation on the line and I don't want to be seen as the meteorologist who shared a video from Texas claiming it was Wisconsin.
And then people can trust you and rely on you. I mean, and I'm not saying that other people have anything wrong with being first, it's just I've been burned by it.
First AND accurate is best.
Absolutely, yes. Every time hands down better than cookies. But we had that happen with the weather service, too. One time they rweeted out a video, or I'm sorry a picture of a funnel cloud that was supposed to be from that day, and it was like from four years ago. Like how awful would that be?
And it was from the weather service, which you know that's a valid source. So then of course all the mets Tweeted this thing. And everybody Tweeted, "Oh, here's the funnel cloud from yesterday." I'm like, "Michigan from 2013." You know it? And then you have to say, "Hey sorry, this is not the right picture." And then it's kind of embarrassing because you have to say something. We all get screwed by it, basically.
One thing I wanted to talk to you about that I did not talk to Baden about is, young girls and science and women in positions like yours. Do you think do you see more and more girls getting into science?
It's better now. When I started in meteorology, I mean, I was like the only woman at every station. So, now that kind of helps sometimes because of the whole diversity thing. That will help you get a job. But it also does limit to what people believe in you.
There's a lot of people that still think if it's not coming from a white, male meteorologist I shouldn't believe it. So it takes a lot more effort to prove yourself, hence the, "I don't want to Retweet wrong Tweets or fake Tweets." Those types of things. There's a lot more ... Hello. There's a lot more that I feel is at stake and you have a lot more to represent. But nowadays, I see a lot of women in weather teams.
Tell me your take on this, but I feel like when I look at Milwaukee, there's a lot of women.
Milwaukee's pretty even. Yeah, and that's good.
Which is amazing, yeah. I mean, for the longest time Sal (Sally Severson) was here with (Jeremy) Nelson and (Chris) Gloninger and Baden, and she was lone female, and the I stroll in. And she was like, "Yay, Girl Power!" You know, but I mean, I think that there still is a different standard that's held, and I think that being hired is not as bad as it was. But it still kind of stinks a little bit to be a woman in science, because there's a different expectation that's being held over you.
Is it harder to get that chief meteorologist job, do you think? Maybe because the change has only been happening more recently, women don't have as many years' service?
Sure. I mean, I think that there aren't as many women chief meteorologists out there. I know that Baden's been chief for a long time, but I know Sally was asked at one point. She didn't want it. If that ever comes down the road, I honestly, I really don't want to be a chief, either, personally. There's a lot of stuff that you have to do to be a chief.
What's the downside of being chief? I mean, obviously the upside is you're chief and you get to make a little more money.
Absolutely, but I think that there's just a lot more responsibility. I honestly don't know how Baden does it. I'll be here on a weekend, and there'll be some storms popping, and he's texting me, "Hey, I'm here if you need me." He's very aware. And we all do that for each other. This has been the one weather department I've ever worked for where we all get along. We all have each others' back. There's no conniving going on. I've been a part of a lot of teams where that was not the case.
Like, bad. So being here is just amazing, because Chris and Sally and Mark and I, we all respect each other in a huge way, and that's very rare. It sadly is.
So you guys are not like secretly feeding each other fake tornado pictures?
No, no. But there are people that would do that. Oh, it's happened to me. It's messed up. And you would think that you're on a team, you want to help each other, but there are some that just aren't.
Well, because it makes the station look bad, too, doesn't it?
Absolutely. Uh-huh, because your name's behind that. But the amount of responsibility and extra work that Baden has to do to make sure that we're all adhering to what the station wants, what our sponsors want, what he wants as a weather message being sent out, that's a lot of responsibility that takes a very special person to do. Not that I couldn't do it, it's just that sometimes after I leave work, I just want to know that I can just take a mental break.
You can turn off the phone once in a while.
Yeah, I never turn off my phone. That never happens. I'll be honest, it never happens. And my husband is always like, "I know you gotta do phone stuff every night" but we try to have a no-phone zone, but if there's severe weather he knows it's not going to happen.
Okay, so I just wanted to ask you, and partially this comes from the fact that my daughter came here with her class and was like, "Wow," and whenever she sees you on TV, she's like, "Lindsey!" And to me that was really important, because she sees a person that she respects and looks up to ...
It's important for her to see people like herself all grown up ...
In a role. Yep. They can see themselves in a field like this and feel comfortable about it and know that it's actually an option.
When I would visit schools, I remember little kids being like, "Well, how can you be a meteorologist if you're a girl?" I remember one little kid said that and I'm like, you know, in my brain I was like, "Oh my gosh."
And the teacher was so embarrassed. She was like, "I'm so sorry." I'm like, "He's in second grade. He doesn't know. He doesn't understand what that means."
On the other hand, in a sense he does, doesn't he? Because that's the message he's gotten, isn't it?
Kids are smarter than we give them credit for sometimes. He was just saying what he saw.
By whatever standards that his parents, or whoever, whatever he sees. Yes, exactly. So you know, I'm always like, "Well, anyone can do this. You just have to be willing to do the work and be good at school and put in all the effort, and anyone can do it, girl or boy." So I try to hone that in on all the kids, you know.I always tell my niece, Rose, I'm like, "Rose, you can do anything you want to do."
You sort of answered it already, but maybe you can tell me again in a nutshell what message you would send to girls who are interested in science?
God, I feel like such a broken record, like if you put your mind to it, anyone can do it. But honestly, I think it's time for girls to step up and show the boys that we can do it, too.
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