There’s a lot of former Midwesterners in Alaska, and if you lived in Minnesota or Wisconsin in the 1970s and got your news from KSTP in Minneapolis, then Barry ZeVan the weatherman was a celebrity you knew. Celebrity might seem like a weird way to describe a guy who told you whether you’d need an umbrella or sunscreen, but his mix of theatrics and famous guests made him a household name. He spent time in Alaska serving in the Air Force at Elmendorf in 1955 and covered the Iditarod for ESPN in the 80s. He’s written a book and his Alaska adventures are part of the mix of an incredible career. He was known in Missoula Montana as Barry ZeVan the peek-a-boo weather man for his peculiar way of peering over his shoulder as he drew weather diagrams- when he auditioned for a job at KSTP.
ZEVAN: I decided to send the goofiest tape I could find. Redd Foxx and Juilet Prowse were guests on my weather show on this particular tape. Anyway, I sent that and one where I was throwing a pie in the face of a sportscaster. A week and a half later, I got a call from KSTP TV, the then NBC affiliate, now ABC, and [they] said “We wanna talk to you.” So that’s literally how I wound up here.
TOWNSEND: Let’s talk for a moment, Mr. ZeVan, about your Alaska connections. You knew two of Alaska’s former governors, Wally Hickel and Tony Knowles. Tell us about how you knew these folks.
ZEVAN: Well, Wally I met in D.C. when I was on the air in Washington D.C. and he had been in the Nixon administration. I just got to know him through him being in the studio. And he was a terrific personality, and as every Alaskan knows, he was one heck of a governor in my opinion. Just full of personality himself. But Tony Knowles, one of the fun stories… I think it’s in the book, is I was sent by Channel 11 here to cover the beginning of the Iditarod not only for them but for ESPN. So whatever year that wouldv’e been, ’84 or ’85, I had remembered after my Elmendorf days, you’ve got ten minutes of daylight every day from December 22 on. But that particular year, there was almost no snow in Anchorage on 4th Avenue. And Tony Knowles, then mayor of Anchorage, made fun with me. He said, “You know, Barry. It’s 40 degrees warmer here than it is in Minneapolis.”
TOWNSEND: Your book is out now. Barry ZeVan: My Life Among the Giants, A Memoir. What do you want people to take away from it in reading your story?
ZEVAN: Well, what they see in maybe a personality all the time on TV… there’s a lot more to their lives then just what they see. And this particular life has been too much. I was gonna entitle the book Too Much Life because it is such everyday, as someone said, “You’ve done everything except get arrested and go to jail.” And that’s true. Those are probably the two things that haven’t happened to me in my life.
Barry ZeVan’s book My Life Among the Giants about his celebrity weatherman career is available now.