Changing weather front at ABC 7

Tracy Butler, Jerry Taft, Mike Caplan and Phil Schwarz

Tracy Butler, Jerry Taft, Mike Caplan and Phil Schwarz

After 30 years at WLS-Channel 7, chief meteorologist Jerry Taft remains as solid as ever on Chicago’s top-rated 10 o’clock newscast. At age 70, the former U.S. Air Force combat pilot shows no signs of cutting back.

But whenever that rainy day comes, bosses of the ABC-owned station want to be ready with more than just an umbrella. So they’re turning to a select group of Chicago area viewers to aid in formulating a long-range weather plan.

One of the participants in the ongoing research study shared with me a copy of the online survey, which includes such questions as: “If Jerry Taft were no longer one of the weathercasters on ABC 7 News – WLS, how much more or less often would you watch the local news on ABC 7 News – WLS?”

Another question asks: “If Tracy Butler were no longer one of the weathercasters on ABC 7 News – WLS, how much more or less often would you watch the local news on ABC 7 News – WLS between 4:30 a.m. and 7 a.m.?”

In addition to focusing on Taft and Butler, the survey also inquired about ABC 7 meteorologists Mike Caplan and Phil Schwarz, and asked participants to compare and contrast all four of them against several of their counterparts in the market.

John Idler, president and general manager of ABC 7, confirmed that the station had commissioned SmithGeiger market research and consulting firm to conduct the survey. It is believed to involve between 500 and 1,000 participants.

“We’re always looking for ways to improve our product and serve our viewers,” Idler told me Monday. “It’s standard to ask multidimensional questions so we can fully understand our viewers’ affinity for the way we keep them informed.”

Here’s a gallery of other notable ABC 7 weather forecasters from the past. Click on the arrows to advance the photos: