Tuesday, December 14, 2004The Plattsburgh-Burlington-Montreal broadcast area yesterday lost one of its legendary figures:
Local legend lostI just heard the news when I clicked onto my Plattsburgh-area friend Cindy's blog (EclecticEveryday) this morning.
‘Atlantic Weatherman’ Bird Berdan dies at 84
By STEPHEN BARTLETT, [Press-Republican] Staff Writer
PLATTSBURGH — Bird Berdan quickly discovered live television could be risky.
He was on air with his "Hot Dog Hound" puppet back in the 1950s when a co-worker lit a firecracker behind him, sending a frightened Berdan into the plywood set as viewers watched their program switch to a cartoon. "He had a great sense of humor," said Jim Gratton, production manager at WPTZ NewsChannel 5, where Berdan worked for 31 years.
The 84-year-old "Atlantic Weatherman" died at his home Monday afternoon. The cause of death has not been determined. Friends and family remembered the longtime Plattsburgh Lions Club member and local celebrity as a prankster, legend and gentleman. Born in 1920, Berdan grew up in a Depression-era suburb in New Jersey where his father worked odd jobs to support a wife, five daughters and three sons.
He planned to pursue an acting career while working part time at WRGB in Schenectady until he met and fell in love with an audio engineer named Dorothy Martin, who had been working there since 1943. The couple married on Sept. 9, 1947, settling in the North Country in 1948 at the home on Bailey Avenue that Dorothy grew up in.
Berdan spent seven years in radio, starting as an announcer and landing a job with WIRY in 1952 before moving over to television at WIRI, which became WPTZ. That station recently celebrated 50 years of broadcasting, and according to a timeline on its Web site, Berdan once reported using Polaroid snapshots in 1955. The "Weatherbird" made his television debut in 1961 and would become known around the North Country and as far north as Montreal where a radio DJ recorded a song about him. Berdan tried his hand in sports, news and weather.
Gratton, who started his career in radio, met Berdan at WPTZ in 1977. "He was famous back in the day when television was young and Channel 5 was one of the first stations on air in northern New York," said Gratton Monday evening. He remembered Berdan’s live afternoon shows, especially one in which a cow visited the station. After the animal’s exit, the "Atlantic Weatherman" joked that it had left its calling card on the studio floor.
"He became a cult figure," Gratton said. "When I think of Channel 5, it’s Bird Berdan and Tom Messner." Berdan retired in 1985, continuing to participate in church plays before returning to the tube as Rolla Parker’s sidekick in commercials for the Champlain car dealership. "He had a very dry sense of humor and was probably better playing the straight guy than the guy with the punchline," said Gratton, who sang Christmas Carols on Berdan’s porch Sunday.
In 2000, Berdan was inducted into the Vermont Broadcasters’ Hall of Fame. Dorothy, his wife of 56 years, died this past July at the age of 81. He never got over the loss, though he tried to look to the future and most recently kept busy filling out Christmas cards and decorating his home with his granddaughter, Anna Jolly.
He swam at the YMCA Monday around 1 p.m., as he did every weekday, stopping at the post office and store before returning home around 3 p.m. It was at that Bailey Avenue home, where pictures of his grandchildren adorned the walls, that Berdan passed away while hanging up his swimming trunks. His family of three children, four grandchildren and three great-grandchildren, received calls much of the day Monday. They had forgotten just how many people cared about Berdan. "People who didn’t know him felt like they did," said Jolly. "He was wonderful on camera and had the same personality off camera.
I remember working with Bird for a few years in the late 90's at WPTZ (that was the television station I was at back in Plattsburgh, NY as a commercial producer), with auto dealer/prankster Rolla Parker. We wrote, shot and edited a new zany "Bird and Rolla" TV spot each month, usually holiday- or current-event themed, and during the scheduled studio or location shoots, Bird was always the consummate, patient gentleman no matter how off-the-wall the action became.
(P.S.) Jim Gratton was my boss when I worked at Channel 5 - he's a true, unique creative and television talent as well.