In late 2013, The Weather Channel offered Good Morning America’s beloved weatherman Sam Champion an opportunity to take the next step in his 30-year career — and better serve the legions who trust him to keep them safe in a storm, in the process — as a managing editor at the network. Beginning March 17, Champion expands that role as anchor of the new morning show AMHQ, short for America’s Morning Headquarters.
Champion says that AMHQ — which airs weekdays from 7-10am — breaks the morning-show mold, delivering both relevant news coverage and in-depth weather information in a way that acknowledges that most of us have already tapped into the morning’s headlines via cellphones and tablets by the time we’ve shuffled from our bed to the breakfast table.
“We wake up with our phones first,” he explains. “We already know what our text messages are. On the way to the kitchen, you’re checking Facebook or Twitter and you know a little bit about what’s going on in the day. And if there is a story that intrigues you, you may have already checked it online while you’re making your coffee. You already have an idea of the day’s headlines. … People are on an information hunt 24 hours a day, so our job becomes, ‘What didn’t you get, what couldn’t you get, when you were on that information hunt?’ Let’s give that to you.”
Champion also believes that weather — which affects everything from how we dress and protect our families to the cost and availability of our food and fuel — deserves more than a two-minute glossing over at the top of a newscast, trumped by hours of pop-culture coverage.
“We can spend so much more time on educating people,” he says of AMHQ’s fluid format. “As I’ve gotten older, I am so passionate about preparedness. If you live on the coastline, someone should be telling you what your floodplain is, statistically how often storms happen there, and how you survive it. Same thing if you live in a tornado-prone area or a wildfire-prone area. Instead of treating this kind of weather like a surprise, we need to start telling people, ‘This is a part of your reality. You have to build for it, you have to plan for it, and you have to be ready for it, so that when it happens — not if it happens — you can walk away from it with everything that is important to you. Your family. Your life. And if possible, your property.’”
Channel Guide Magazine: Can you talk a bit about the ongoing discussion about whether The Weather Channel is a convenience or a public service and potentially life-saving source of vital information that you can’t get elsewhere? Given Hurricane Sandy and the epic winter we are having and the drought in California, does it surprise you that some people are dismissive?
Sam Champion: Here’s the way I look at it. There’s a group of people who are concerned about public safety, no matter how it happens. And there’s a group of people who are concerned about weather and public safety. It takes an enormous amount of team work and different agencies and different groups to get the information out, to keep people safe and to come in afterward. The thing that I’ve noticed is that there is something in common with every one of those groups and agencies that are involved, and that is that the people who are doing it believe they have a calling for that. They’re very passionate about that. So when someone says that this is a public service — keeping people safe via weather — they’re doing that out of their passion.
I would love it if there was an entity that did it all — that did the forecast, that moved people, that saved people, that rescued people, that rebuilt. I would love that if there was one place that did that. But there isn’t. There are a lot of people that come together to get those jobs done. And they’re all very passionate about it. And they have to work together.
So it’s laughable to me when people suggest that we don’t have a good relationship with the National Weather Service. We have an incredible relationship with them! We’re in their building, they’re in our building, we’re talking all the time — because we have the same goal. And that goal is to inform people, and to help people.
CGM: The convenience-versus-necessity debate intensified in January when DirecTV dropped in The Weather Channel in favor of its own weather-centric station. Can you speak to that?
SC: Do I have an interest in The Weather Channel being available in every home in America? Of course I do. It’s who I work for. But if I set that aside, I don’t think there is an organization out there that does what we do with the quality that we do it and the immediacy that we do it. And when I see other products out there, I immediately start comparing quality. Who is on the air, who are your experts, how immediate is your response to breaking weather? I judge all those things. And The Weather Channel comes out on top. I think people should have The Weather Channel in their home if they want it and they shouldn’t have someone telling them they can’t.
CGM: The move to The Weather Channel seems like a very logical progression for you and a great way for you to build on the audience and experience that you’ve accrued throughout your career. Though you’re going from a broadcast network audience and environment to a cable network, do you feel like you finally have the ultimate platform for what you’ve made your life’s work?
SC: I feel like it’s been 30 years of training to do what I feel needs to be done — and that is this show. The world has changed and I’ve been lucky enough to watch that happen.
We know that people turn to [The Weather Channel] for weather. And they turn to us for the best weather — period. There is no place that does television that is staffed with the expert knowledge that we have here at The Weather Channel. It’s incredible to walk around and see the knowledge and experience that is in this building — the 220 meteorologists and climatologists that are here. So we’re going to give you that. And you need your news headlines, so we’re going to give you that, as well. No longer does our audience need to have a remote in their hands and hit a bunch of different sources to have the information that they need for their day. Heavy weather concentration … the information you need to start the day …. and get you out the door.
And I hope you like us along the way!
CGM: Tell me about the work that has gone into coming up with the format of the new show — are you keeping it fluid or trying to build some structure or a little bit of both.
SC: I think TV has changed, but I also think the industry has changed. If you look at how stories are shot, you can shoot a story on an iPhone and have clips sent out to social media right away, and I can edit that in my laptop. It’s not about having a 2-ton, ten million dollar mobile unit to cover something any longer. That’s kind of slow and cumbersome. So my plan for the show and my goal for the show is to keep that flexible. I don’t feel like we need to be planted anywhere. If there is breaking someplace — of course we’re going to be there and The Weather Channel is going to be there live.
We’re a proof of purchase society. I can’t have you just tell me that a hurricane is tearing apart a coastal community — I need to see it, I need to feel it. That’s why the most successful media applications are photo applications.
CGM: For the television audience, the power of nature — especially extreme weather events — is a spine-tingling, jaw-dropping thing. Is there a weather event — hurricanes, tornados, tsunamis — that can still scare you a little or since you know the science behind it, is it all part of the job?
SC: I think it’s worse. I think it’s worse than ever. I’m one who talks about aging a lot, because I’m in the process of it, and people will tell you all the bad things, like ‘Oh, my back hurts and my knees aren’t the same!‘ But one of the things that also happens is that I feel this connection with people and with the human part of the story even more. It is more difficult for me to be in a place like Moore, OK, because I am focused on how these people are and how difficult it was to survive that storm. And that comes more with age than just telling the story.
AMHQ airs weekdays at 7am beginning March 17 on The Weather Channel