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Early Radio Weather Forecasts Were Something to Hear

In this month's installment of These Ozarks Hills, longtime journalist Marideth Sisco has some stories about a certain kind of Ozarks weather forecasting.

Sisco: This is Marideth Sisco for These Ozarks Hills. These days, when we look for a weather forecast, we think of Doppler radar, storm chasers, and high-tech, up-to-the-minute information. We forget that not so long ago and not so far out in the hills, weather forecasting was a different story. Like many an Ozarker, I grew up on the wise words of C.C. Williford who broadcast on KWTO in Springfield. But out here in West Plains, it was hard to hear C.C. so in 1949, at KWPM Radio, Bob Nethery decided to start his own broadcast and he hired for a broadcaster the fella who took the local measurements for the National Weather Service, bus station manager P.S. Cree and his wife Julia. Well, like the Crees, those broadcasts are long gone. But Laurel Thompson and John Dedecker, broadcasters who worked with P.S. Cree and his wife remember them. And they sat down with me recently to share some of those memories and I'd like you to hear them.

John: CC Williford would always talk about his garden and what was going on around the area and he would incorporate that in his weather reports so he just emulated what CC Williford had been doing and that's what you heard on the air.

Laurel: For many, many years, they had a little one-lung amplifier down in the basement and they would actually do their reports from their basement. I think he took a lot of pride in being THE weather observer for West Plains and the vicinity and he well should have.

John: He never got a salary. He got paid so much for each report in the later years.

Laurel: And he actually contributed to one of the fellas at the radio station losing his job and this fella hadn't been on the air at KWPM very long and introduced Mr. Cree and you could hear papers shuffle. Mr. Cree was there but didn't have his headset on and so the fella didn't really know what to do but to introduce him again. So, he went through the routine of the introduction and still, all they could hear was the shuffling of paper. After a third time, Albert forgot to turn off his own mic and said out loud, "I wonder what's the matter with the old so-and-so now." And in less than 30 minutes, he was fired. John, do you remember the morning Mr. Cree choked on a corn flake?

John: Yeah. He'd say a couple or three words and then he'd have to cough.

Laurel: Not only cough but gag.

John: Oh yeah. And this one morning, he could just a couple of words out and then *cough*. And I mean he just carried on this coughing. His report was supposed to be five minutes but that particular morning, it took him about 10 minutes and every 2 or 3 words *cough*. The next morning, he came on the air and says, "I have to apologize for yesterday but I was choked on my corn flakes."

Laurel: Mrs. Cree and I think the older she got, the more so...she was really intrigued by the almanac. I distinctly remember one morning that Margaret and I had been out to a little patch we had established. For the first time ever, we had planted potatoes. We'd gotten out there about daylight and as we left, we heard Mrs. Cree saying that that day was a barren day in the almanac, not to plant anything that would develop in the ground. And then lo and behold, we had the awfulest gob of potatoes you ever saw in your life and a lot of them weighed over a pound a piece. I think they really became icons. They were so unique. Everybody loved them. They'd laugh about some of the things that happened and thoroughly enjoy a lot of the things that did happen on the air...and it was live.

John: Their equipment was downstairs in the basement next to the washer and dryer too. There were a lot of broadcasts where you'd hear the "slush" of the washing machine going. And she wouldn't turn it off.

Laurel: There were times the phone would ring and particularly Mrs Cree would pick up the phone and say, "I'm on the radio now. I can't talk to you. Call back in a little bit." And "clunk." It was live and in color.

John: That was the Ozarks at that time. A lot of people, if they wanted to know what the weather was going to be like, they thought they had to tune in and hear Mr. Cree's weather. I can remember my grandmother, she thought if Mr. Cree said it was going to be a cool morning and you needed a jacket, you'd better get a jacket out.

Laurel: Sometimes, Mr. Cree had some extra help like a little bit of water poured in the rain gauge. The observation was in a chain link fence but it wasn't locked and it was a great opportunity for high school kids who didn't have enough to do to see if theycould modify the forecast. And they did.

John: Like Laurel said, they were icons to the area. They definitely were. They were the weather.

Sisco: Having said that, thank you John. Thank you Laurel. This is Marideth Sisco for These Ozarks Hills.