Everybodys Got Balls

April 26, 2002
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The long-range weather forecast is … stormy.

And it has nothing to do with rain or snow, but maybe a little bit of lightning and thunder.

The brewing brouhaha is over a Grand Rapids icon that last appeared on the city's landscape more than a decade ago — the Weather Ball.

To the uninitiated, the Weather Ball was a quaint neon-light-and-steel structure (OK, it was huge) that was perched atop the Michigan National Bank building in downtown Grand Rapids. Its different colors represented weather patterns for the day. Green for good. Blue for cold. Red for Communist attack. Anyway, you get the picture.

But like the 10-cent phone call, the Weather Ball made its way into Grand Rapids lore when the weight of the behemoth became too much for the MNB building to bear.

Now, however, the Weather Ball is back.

Everywhere, it seems.

A couple weeks ago, WOOD TV8 began running promo spots touting the return of the Weather Ball — or, more precisely, Weather Balls.

GM DianeKniowski said the plan was to put a ball in each corner of Kent County, but WOOD TV8's balls would be smaller than the original. (Would that mean there would be a ball for each of the station's meteorologists?)

In fact, WOOD TV8 was said to be in negotiation with contractors and building owners of new structures that might be big enough to hold the station's balls.

While this was going on, rival WZZM 13 apparently was doing a little digging of its own. Last Wednesday morning, Chief Meteorologist GeorgeLessens came on the air and announced that the station had exhumed the "original" Weather Ball from a landfill in Kalamazoo. To prove his point, he pointed to a triple tractor-trailer behind him that apparently contained the remaining ball scraps.

So, Channel 8 has the most balls, but Channel 13 has the biggest ball. The question that remains, however, is whether Channel 13 can get it up. As Kniowski said, 8's balls are heavy, but nowhere near as big as the original. WOOD TV8 had apparently been working on its balls for two years. And they're still not up.

Plus, 13 would have to have someone work diligently on its ball to restore it to its original shape.

So who's got balls? Well, it seems that everybody's got balls. Another player in this ball game happens to be none other than the Grand Rapids Business Journal, which has had its balls displayed on the Web since May 2000. That's when the Journal launched its Web site, grbjexpress.com, complete with electronic Weather Balls leading to the day's weather forecast.

In fact, Kniowski saw our balls and said she liked them enough to get a set of her own. We apparently knew then what the TV stations are coming to realize: Grand Rapids likes big balls that turn colors.

WOOD TV8 apparently had little interest in our balls, but 13's big ball has station management hot under the collar.

Steamed enough, it seems, that management is considering legal action to kick 13's ball squarely off the airwaves.

The hullabaloo over the Weather Ball is somewhat comical, considering how "scientific" the original orb was.

Longtime radio disc jockey TonyGates often tells stories about the Weather Ball — and who really was in control. It seems the glowing ball was controlled by a simple toggle switch in the studios of radio station WLAV, the leading rock and roll station of its time in Grand Rapids. The LAV jocks thought the contraption nothing more than humorous (if not dangerous, due to its ponderous weight hanging over their heads), and often toggled the switch when the spirit moved them.

One particular New Year's Eve night, it seems, the Weather Ball took on a life of its own. Until the station manager called and asked the on-air staff to please refrain from making it into Grand Rapids' own disco ball.

But nostalgia often clouds people's memories, and the importance of the Weather Ball is somewhat dimmed in a recent WZZM13/Survey USA Poll, in which 500 West Michigan residents were asked whether they ever used the Weather Ball forecast when making travel plans.

The survey found 31 percent of those asked said they sometimes relied on it for making travel plans. Sixty percent of those familiar with it say they did not rely on it, however.

Presumably, the other 9 percent had no idea what the pollsters were asking.

For those who forgot, here's the real Weather Ball mantra:

Weather Ball red, warmer ahead.

Weather Ball blue, cooler in view.

Weather Ball green, no change foreseen.

Colors blinking bright, rain or snow in sight.

To which we'll add one of our own:

Weather balls of different sorts? We'll see you in court.

So to recap, just about everybody's got balls these days, and each wants to be the only one with balls.

Except The Grand Rapids Press. It has no balls.

Yet.

Stay turned to find out whose court the ball is in next.

BXJ

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