The newest weapon in Chicago TV’s weather wars is a radar system previously available only to the National Weather Service and the U.S. military.
ABC-owned WLS-Channel 7 has declared itself the first television station in the country to secure a dual pole S-band Doppler radar license from the federal government. ABC 7 will debut “Live Doppler 7 Max” on its 4 p.m. newscast Monday.
To install the new system, estimated to cost more than $3 million, the station constructed a transmitter and tower on a site it acquired in Kane County. Until now, among local broadcasters only NBC-owned WMAQ-Channel 5 and Fox-owned WFLD-Channel 32 have operated their own Doppler radars, which are of an earlier type.
ABC 7 has been teasing viewers about its new acquisition since Academy Awards night February 28 when it began airing promos hinting about a “showstopper” and a “game changer” in local weather reporting.
“It’s exciting to have the first commercial radar of its kind in the United States,” John Idler, president and general manager of ABC 7, said Friday. “Live Doppler 7 Max is a highly sophisticated radar with improved clarity, accuracy and the ability to see the storm system developing behind the storm. It can track storms from a greater distance than ever before, while also being faster to pinpoint weather down to the street level. There’s no doubt that this powerful radar will enhance our weather coverage for our viewers.”
The investment comes at time when weather has become a major battleground in the war for local news viewers. ABC 7 recently hired former NBC 5 meteorologist Cheryl Scott and soon will add Larry Mowry, chief meteorologist at CBS-owned KTVT in Dallas.
While Scott is expected to step up to ABC 7’s 10 p.m. Monday-through-Friday newscast in the coming months, chief meteorologist Jerry Taft will continue to have a prominent weekday role on the station’s weather team. Taft, 73, a former U.S. Air Force combat pilot, said in a statement Friday he is pleased to take command of the new radar system.
“As a meteorologist and someone who loves technology, I’m really looking forward to the state-of-the-art advantage Live Doppler 7 Max will give our team by providing dramatically faster updates on storm location,” Taft said. “S-band technology can also punch through an existing storm so we can see what’s coming next. This effective tool will help us bring our viewers the best possible information about weather in their area.”
Don’t look now, but ABC 7 may not be alone on the S-band frequency for long. NBC 5 is expected to up the ante later this spring a new high-frequency S-band Klystron radar, according to Frank Whittaker, station manager and vice president and news at NBC 5.
To hear Whittaker tell it, his station’s current radar is more powerful than his competitor’s — and the new one will have “100 times the power” of ABC 7’s Live Doppler 7 Max.
And the weather war goes on.