Frank Billingsley – KPRC’s Chief Meteorologist
According to Frank Billingsley, “It’s coming, it is going to be a big one, and it is not going to miss us. This one is ours.” With Hurricane Ike charging toward the Texas Gulf Coast, his Houston audience filled bathtubs with water and piled blankets, radios, water, and dog beds into interior closets of their homes. They were ready to shelter in place.
Since 1995, Frank, the chief meteorologist at Houston’s NBC affiliate television station, has been guiding a city of over 6 million people through hurricanes, floods, droughts, and scorching heat waves. Viewers trust – and relate to – the likable guy with the athletic good looks who comes into their homes each evening for the early and late KPRC weather broadcasts.
Clad in workout gear, the Washington and Lee journalism grad is headed to the gym he owns with his partner. As we chat over breakfast at a neighborhood bistro, he’s already checked the technical websites and weather models he uses to see what he is facing today. And he’s also figuring out the story he’ll share with viewers later. How will the weather affect them in their daily lives? How does he bring the information home? “The story I prepare each day is a constant and evolving process,” he says.
Engaging and confident, Frank explains people like consistency when they tune in. They expect to hear the high and low temps for coming days, see the radar, get the long range forecast. And they want to hear how the upcoming weather affects their plans for a weekend bbq, a high school graduation, spring break. Are they heading to the Art Walk on Saturday night? The Astros game? “I try to be aware of what’s going on,” says Frank with just a hint of his Birmingham accent, “and it comes with being a part of the Houston community for a long time.”
Wondering if he uses a prepared script or a teleprompter during his forecasts, Frank’s response is an emphatic, “No, never.” Prompts or outlines sitting just off stage, in the rare instance when he may actually lose his train of thought? Nope again. When viewers hear about wind speed and flood warnings and the nasty Houston humidity indexes, it’s all ad lib.
The video wall he controls during a broadcast is like a big television set and consists of multiple monitors overlapping to form one large screen. Unlike a green screen, which he used for years, the video wall is relatively easy to operate and has a cleaner look. “Channel 2 was the first to use a video wall,” he comments, and, in fact, is the first with many new things. He feels “lucky to work for a station which welcomes innovation.”
He laughs again, in his infectious, warm way, when I ask about the important stuff – hair and makeup and wardrobe. Combing his own hair and brushing on a liquid foundation, – which he quickly points out he is not wearing right now – and he is ready for the cameras. No stylist selects his on-air attire everyday either. Along with a rotation of suits, he owns about a month’s worth of ties. “I wear a tie and then put it on a different hook in my closet,” he laughs. Otherwise, he admits you might catch him “wearing the same thing quite often.”
How do you encourage younger viewers to tune in? Join ‘em! Frank does his own Facebook Live videos and tweets.
Hurricane Harvey, Houston’s most recent “weather event” dumped an average of 3 feet of rain on the city in only 4 days. Running on adrenalin, Frank and his team covered last summer’s storm non-stop on the air. “If your baby is crying, how in the world can you sleep?” he jokes.
His proudest weather moment? Broadcasting live, he and the station’s chopper pilot flew over Hurricane Ike’s destruction of Galveston, TX. Viewers called in, directing him to their homes and businesses, and learned of their individual plights.
Frank took on another, more personal, job in December 2013. Adopted and raised by loving parents, he was always curious about where – and who – he came from. His year-long search to find his biological parents is chronicled in a book he proudly – rightfully so – wrote about his journey. Two years and 3 editors later, Swabbed and Found is an inspiring read about genealogy and DNA and prompts me to look into my own family history. “The search and discovery sort of completed me and brought a lot of closure,” says Frank.
Not home from the station until 11pm Monday through Friday, one of Frank’s tougher challenges is juggling the television schedule with family life. Married in 2012, he and his partner make time to meet for a quick Chinese or bbq dinner in between evening broadcasts. Frank loves to give back to his Houston community, and spare time is often spent emceeing a benefit for a favorite cause. “Most of our friends have a big social life, starting Wednesday and going through Saturday (What people is he hanging out with?!!), and we live a bit quieter,” he smiles. Kevin and he love to travel, spend time in Galveston, and simply share a cocktail with friends.
Besides delivering the weather, Frank hopes to write a novel someday. Promising my lips are tightly sealed, he shares his plot idea – and it’s a good one.