Milwaukee Talks: FOX6 Meteorologist Tom Wachs
OMC: And you didn't have to be a clown.
TW: Right! Literally.
OMC: Could you share that experience?
TW: It was when I first started in Kansas City. Sometimes they'd send a meteorologist, especially, out to do just some fun stories and things like that. The circus was coming to town. They said, "Tom, we're going to send you out at 5:00 in the morning to go to the circus." Well, of course one thing leads to another, while you're at the circus, they're going to dress you up and juggle around you and do all that kind of a thing. Which was fun and I had a very good time with it.
TW: I wanted to have fun with it, but at the same time … this is not what I was thinking. Not that I didn't want to showcase my personality and all that, but, in Kansas City for example, how do I go from being a clown one minute to then, "Here comes the big tornado." And then, "Oh wait, that was the clown." You know what I'm saying? It can be a credibility issue.
OMC: Now that you're back, there's the possibility that someday you could advance to be Vince's level at the station. Do you think about this kind of stuff?
TW: You know, I do. I don't know what the future holds. I also live it one day at a time. I can tell you this, it is awesome to work with Vince. We can talk about everything from nothing, like a Seinfeld episode, about nothing, to atmospheric thermodynamics.
OMC: Have you learned things from him on a professional level?
TW: Absolutely, every day. Every day. Vince is one of the smartest meteorologists I've ever worked with.
OMC: You've been around a few at this point.
TW: Several. When you first start your career, you usually are copying. They always say copying is the biggest form of flattery. I largely copied Vince in my first job. It was a lot of weather education on TV and different things like that. The viewers ate it up. What I realized going through my career, I always thought there was a Vince Condella in every market.
OMC: There isn't?
TW: There isn't. In fact, it's very difficult to find anyone that is even close. He's a great storyteller and is so passionate about it. It's so awesome to learn from him. Everything from lake-effect snow to ... He's just a great mentor.
OMC: What is your style? If you had to put into words for your resume ...
TW: First and foremost, it's professional. That comes from a lot of experiences from Tornado Alley. But I also try not to take myself too seriously. It's a balance. It's professional yet personal.
OMC: Is it a challenge to be one of the youngest meteorologists in the market?
TW: The biggest challenge, and I'll bring up Paul Joseph here because he told me this when I was interning with him, he said, "The biggest problem that you're going to have in this business is that you look young."
OMC: Generally speaking, that's a good thing.
TW: Right, but in television, and it has been a little bit of a hindrance for me along the way. I've had people tell me, "You have everything it takes for this job, but you look too young."
OMC: Well, there are very old people watching at times, I suppose.
TW: Right, and it goes back to the credibility standpoint. It's not as big of a deal, maybe, as it used to be. It's been both a positive and a negative, but there's nothing I can to do. It's funny because I do have some more gray hair coming in and some viewers in Kansas City, I got emails that said, "I don't know if the gray look is what you're going for, but I'm seeing more gray hairs," and I'm like, "It's not a look."
OMC: Do you want to jump to a bigger market, or are you happy in Milwaukee?
TW: I am. I don't really have a huge desire to get to a major market. I've learned to never say never, because I had largely written Milwaukee off. And it's literally a dream come true. Honestly I don't have any plans to go anywhere.
OMC: Is this the kind of place you could make the rest of your career if you wanted to?
TW: Absolutely. And it's in a large part because I'm from here. My whole family is here and I think that's the biggest thing for me is, this was about more than the job, coming back here. I think, just like for some reason when I'd survived when I was born, there was a reason for that happening that I don't know. I think there was a bigger reason …
OMC: Something pulled you back here?
TW: Yes. I think family has a lot to do with it.
OMC: What do you like about Milwaukee?
TW: What I've always loved about Milwaukee is it is a big city with a small-town community feel. And as you know, everybody knows everybody. My wife always jokes, "Just to go to lunch, I need to get ready because we always run into somebody you know." It's not a TV thing, it's, "Oh yeah, I went to school with you." Especially Mequon, very tight-knit.
OMC: You're living minutes away from where you grew up. Is it rewarding or unusual to get recognized now in your own town? It's one thing to get recognized in Nebraska, nothing wrong with that, but you don't know those people.
TW: It's very rewarding. I think a lot of people that I grew up with, whether it's friends of my parents or friends from whatever the case may be, they all knew my passion for weather growing up.
OMC: That's just part of your identity now, right?
TW: And that's the thing. I think that North Platte taught me that pretty well. I was thrust into that so quickly and they don't train you for that in college. There's no training for going out to a restaurant and literally having 20 people stop eating and turn, that kind of a thing. I had a lot of training for that and I think that that helps. It's just become a way of life, I don't even think about it anymore.
OMC: What is your schedule like, that is, when severe weather isn't happening?
TW: Usually when we're in a ratings period, we're all working. Our schedules are the most normal during ratings months. I will work Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday 9 to 5, which is very rare, to have banker's hours those three days. Then Friday night and Saturday night is the evening shift, which is 2:30 to 10:30 at night. Then I'll fill in whenever Vince is off, sometimes for Rob (Haswell) as well, early in the morning. The schedules in this business are all over the place and you really just have to adapt. Holidays, be prepared to work.
OMC: How does your wife feel about this?
TW: She's in education, so she works more of a "normal people" schedule. It can be an issue. For me, I've come to the fact that this is how it is. If I have to work Christmas, I'll take another day off to compensate for it. In the future, if we have kids or something like that, there may be more things to work out. But the best part, again, about Channel 6 is we're such a family there that we all have each others' backs.
OMC: Where do you like to go to eat in Milwaukee in all that free time you have?
TW: Bayshore, I'm very impressed with. That has totally changed from when we were kids. They've done a great job with that. We'll hit up some of the restaurants there. I would say we go to the Third Ward quite a bit and down to Cathedral Square area. There's just so many great restaurants. I have yet to go to Bay View.
OMC: You, like a lot of other people, have had the experience of growing up in suburban Milwaukee, but leaving and coming back. Does it feel like a different place to you?
OMC: Yes and no. You come to a place like Mequon, which is advancing, but it's largely, feels very much the same. Which there's a comfort there.
OMC: Do you have to buy your own suits?
OMC: You don't have a suit budget?
TW: We used to. They used to give us a clothing allowance, which was great. To spend other people's money is very fun. But those days are gone. I want to say that's pretty much across the board at every television station, so we do.
OMC: What's your favorite news product to be on? Is 10 better than 5?
TW: To me it's a lot fun to do Studio A, and that's because it's a little more laid back. As far as the newscasts go, because we have different anchors for each show, they're all different. I love them all. We do quite a bit of news at 5 to 6.
OMC: FOX6 does a ton of news.
TW: The reason why it's fun is because of the culture at Channel 6, which is the bosses let us do our thing. They let us do the weather. They aren't sitting there breathing down our necks. They let us have the freedom. It's not that way at most stations, which is why, before I took the job here, I was really questioning, "Do I really have it left in me to keep doing this?" I'll give you an example, at my last station, my boss at the time would literally send us an email right as the weather cast ended, saying, "Don't wear that tie again," or, "That map was too broad, you need to zoom it into Kansas City. You can't show western Kansas."
OMC: It kind of sucks the life out of you, doesn't it?
Tom: It really does. You get to the point where you feel like you're a robot almost. The motivation had really been sucked out of me. That's where, at Channel 6, it's all come back. That's the other thing that it's come full circle, because, where I got my motivation from, was from guys like Vince Condella.
So to be back working with him again, I think, again, that all happened for a reason. I told Vince this during the interview, I said, "I really think that this is going to be the opportunity for me to enjoy what I do again. Really enjoy it." And I do. It doesn't feel like I'm working when I go to work.
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