Bob DeBardelaben, the affable WRAL weatherman who charmed a generation of viewers with a golden voice and whimsical delivery, died Monday after a brief illness. He was 88.
Part of the classic news team that included anchorman Charlie Gaddy, DeBardelaben’s face graced billboards in Raleigh under the slogan “the biggest name in weather.”
“He was the spark plug,” Gaddy said. “In our business, we have something called a Q rating. The grade you get is based on likeability, respect and so forth. Bob had a Q rating that was off the charts, not just in the local market, but in the whole country.”
Debardelaben had been in declining health since he breaking his arm badly in February, unable to spend time on his beloved golf links. He had recently developed multiple blood clots before being hospitalized Sunday, his daughter Allison DeBardelaben said.
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“All he wanted to do is sleep,” she said.
Born in Buffalo, N.Y., DeBardelaben started his career as an AM disc jockey, eventually getting hired by Raleigh’s Capitol Broadcasting. His career spanned three decades at WRAL, including a stint on the station’s “Dialing for Dollars” segment.
DeBardelaben took the weatherman’s job in 1976, an era when TV forecasters had no scientific background.
“He had a little bit of curiosity about it,” his daughter said. “The rest is history.”
At the time, WRAL promoted DeBardelaben in a series of short commercials titled, “As the Weather Turns,” complete with a soap opera-style organ. In them, he reluctantly agrees to take the job upon hearing that he’ll be allowed to take naps.
“OK,” he told his boss in the commercials, “as long as it’s rainy or sunny. No tricky stuff like volcano eruptions and locust plagues.”
His reports were peppered with colorful language. Twisters hopscotched across the state. Storms zoomed in from the coast. Hurricanes had the potential to become real problem children. Once, DeBardelaben delivered the weather news from atop the WRAL tower.
“They had a shot of him putting his foot on the first step of the tower, and it fell off,” Gaddy recalled Monday. “The promotions department had a field day with him.”
Throughout the 1970s and ’80s, before TV meteorologists were common in newsrooms, DeBardelaben aired his broadcasts based solely on information from the National Weather Service.
“The information is available to everyone,” he told The News & Observer in 1991. “It comes out of the same source, and it’s up to the interpreter. I never read any weather charts, and I’d never dare take it upon myself to analyze information and formulate a broadcast.”
He once joked about predicting a perfect golf weekend on a Friday night telecast with warm temperatures and loads of sunshine, only to wake on Saturday to rain.
At the golf course, friends accused him of spoiling their weekend, so DeBardelaben told them he’d see what he could do. He walked out on the green, raised his eyes and had a chat with the Heavenly Father.
Shortly afterward, he returned to the clubhouse, damp but smiling, and told friends they could play in about 30 minutes, never letting on that he had checked radar maps at the station.
“Within 15 minutes, the rain had stopped, and in another 15 the sun was shining,” he said. “And none of them doubted my power again!”
DeBardelaben was also recognized for his fundraising work for cystic fibrosis, which afflicted two of his children. Before retiring in 1989, he was well-known enough to appear as a grand marshal in Raleigh’s Christmas parade, along with Gaddy and other WRAL luminaries.
“They offered him a boatload of money to stay,” his daughter said. “He wanted to play golf.”
A memorial service will be held at 2 p.m. Wednesday at White Memorial Presbyterian Church in Raleigh. Visitation will follow.