Remembering P.J. Hoff: Chicago’s original weatherman with character

P.J. Hoff

P.J. Hoff

Long before Tom Skilling or Harry Volkman or John Coleman, Chicago’s favorite TV weatherman was P.J. Hoff.

With little more than an oversized sketch pad and his imagination, the amiable Hoff brought a wealth of talent as a cartoonist to his nightly weather reports over nearly two decades at CBS-owned WBBM-Channel 2.

Walter Jacobson, who started at CBS 2 in 1963, recalled Hoff as “a balding everyman who illustrated his forecasts with cartoon drawings of Windy City characters, including the ‘Vice President in Charge of Looking Out the Window.’ ” By that time, Hoff had been a fixture on the station’s top-rated late news with Fahey Flynn for 10 years.

The photo above shows Hoff along with the “Vice President” (left) and another frequent cartoon visitor to his forecasts, “Mr. Yell-and-Cuss.”

Starting in 1955, Hoff also starred in a children’s show, “P.J. and Patte,” co-hosted by Patte Preble. “As Preble narrated a story, P.J. would illustrate the events for the viewers,” according to Chicago broadcast historian Steve Jajkowski. “Not unusual were viewers who drew their own interpretations of the story.”

Children's play set

Children’s play set

But it was as weatherman that Hoff became one of Chicago’s best known television personalities. He’d often send his hand-drawn weather maps to young fans, who cherished them as treasures.

“He drew happy suns and angry clouds and giant raindrops on a big paper weather map with what looked like a Magic Marker with a one-inch tip,” former viewer Jan Knez wrote in a 2011 blog. “If ever there was a job I aspired to, it was that.”

Born Piercy J. Hoffstrom in Mounds, Oklahoma, Hoff studied electrical engineering at the University of Washington and worked for Pacific Telephone and Telegraph Co. before joining the St. Paul Dispatch in St. Paul, Minnesota, as a columnist and cartoonist. His radio work there eventually led to his employment at WBBM AM 780 and CBS 2 in Chicago.

On his retirement in 1968 (when he chose announcer and children’s show host John Coughlin to be his successor), weather played a big part in Hoff’s next move.

“In my 20 years as a weatherman for television and radio, I was asked many questions: the question most frequently asked was, ‘Weatherwise, where is the best place to retire?’ ” he later recalled. “The closer I got to retirement age the more I began to ask myself that question. I figured that in two decades of weather forecasting I had at least earned the right to retire to a place where I would be compatible with the climate. I was serious about it. I researched it. My wife and I vacationed in areas where we thought we might like to live. Always partial to the seashore, we visited coastal areas all around the edge of the United States and Canada. In the end, we picked Georgia’s Golden Isles as our home.”

Hoff died in 1981 at age 85 at Saint Simons Island in Glynn County, Georgia.

“P.J. Hoff entertained and informed legions of Chicagoans with his colorful nightly weather programs,” Chicago’s reigning weather king Skilling once wrote to a viewer. “He’s warmly remembered by all who viewed him over so many years, and, unquestionably reached Chicago broadcast icon status long ago.”