For the past few months, I've done a bit called 10 Questions with the radio superstars of ESPN 97.5 FM. We learned some interesting, some might say frightening, things, like AJ Hoffman doesn't enjoy being punched in the face, Lance Zierlein's "last meal" would be a 40-course meal at Pass & Provisions, John Granato prefers Chicago thin crust pizza and thinks that New York pizza "blows" (that's crazy talk), and Raheel Ramzanali is still haunted by losing a rap battle against WWE superstar John Cena.
Now, we're going outside the box (oops, wrong radio station) with 10 Questions with Houston's glitterati. Hopefully, readers will learn something new, unusual, lighthearted, or surprising about Houston celebs. First victim: Channel 2's ace weather czar Frank Billingsley.
Ken Hoffman: Eskimos have 50 words for "snow." How many words do you have for "hot?"
Frank Billingsley: First word is "Houston" — followed by "summer," "August," and all of the Channel 2 anchors.
KH: Have you ever blanked out on an anchor's name when you pitched it back to the desk?
FB: Yes! We have different anchor teams at 4, 5, and 6 pm, and often times there are substitutes filling in for them. Keeping them straight is a challenge. It's like having six friends in the minivan and trying to remember who ordered the low-fat caramel hazelnut latte.
KH: When did weather go from a quicky two-minute forecast toward the end of a newscast to the lead story of the day?
FB: About the same time you stopped making fun of the weatherman. I honestly remember having to beg to be the lead, and now I sometimes shake my head because I'm all over the newscast. But I love it. People want to know the weather and it's all I know, so it's a symbiotic relationship. (KH note: I will never stop making fun of the weatherman. It's a symbiotic relationship.)
KH: Do you believe in global warming?
FB: Yes. If you want to call it a belief, fine, but the bottom line is: we have warmer weather and more extreme weather than ever before. We are now recording 412 parts per million of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. That doesn't sound like much, but you know what? That is .04 percent. That is half of .08 percent. Our atmosphere is halfway to being legally drunk. "Get out of the car, Mr. Atmosphere, and follow my finger with both eyes." People need to lessen their carbon footprint before we lose our step — 400 parts per million is a lot.
KH: Studies have shown that the No. 1 reason people choose which local newscast they watch is by which weathercaster they like most. Is this possibly true, and approximately what time tomorrow will you demand a raise?
FB: I generally ask for a raise every day. So far, no dice. No weathercaster is liked unless the news team and station as a whole are liked — solid reporting, a full stable of likeable and trusted people, a strong line up of programming throughout the day. If you have that and are a decent weathercaster, people will naturally just like the whole newscast. I truly believe that. It's a team effort. (KH note: What Frank is trying to say here is, he's the only reason that people watch Channel 2 News and he deserves a huge raise.)
KH: Did you have opportunities in other cities before choosing Houston as your career home?
FB: Yes. I was offered the chief meteorologist position at KDFW in Dallas at the same time I was offered the job at KPRC. And for more money. But Houston is about a thousand times better than Dallas, so the decision was easy. In fact, KTRK's Tim Heller took that Dallas job before eventually figuring out that Houston is tops. Small weather world.
KH: Is it difficult to deliver an upbeat forecast for nice weather after the anchors just reported a tragic event?
FB: No. The producers do a pretty good job, if possible, not to put a horrific story right before weather. It happens occasionally, but I just focus on why people are watching me and not what they just saw.
KH: One of the most poignant things you've done on television was touring Galveston after the devastation of Hurricane Ike. You have a home on the island. Was it tough to keep your emotions in check?
FB: Yes, especially flying over Bolivar and seeing it all gone. I mean all gone. That was devastating. Galveston at least kept the infrastructure. Hearing people upset when I showed them their ruined homes wasn't easy, but it triggered me to assure them that they would get through it. I think most people just wanted to face the devil and see what they would be going back to after the storm. I was very happy I could show them that. And very happy I haven't had to show them that since. I'm proud of the people of Bolivar; their strength and resiliency is amazing.
KH: What exactly do you mean by good hair days and bad hair days?
FB: I have no idea. Apparently, a good amount of humidity helps keep hair in place, but too much frizzes it. Not enough flattens it and some wind tossles it, but too much wind tangles it — and a nice sunny day will burn your scalp. So who knows? You tell me. You still have a lot of hair.
KH: You have one of those jobs that demands a tie and jacket every day. How many suits and ties do you own?
FB: Six suits and I only wear blue and gray. About 50 ties, most of which I don't like. All white shirts. I was advised three decades ago to look like someone to trust, not too out there. Professional and a little boring. Good thing I make it up with my stellar personality. I can sell snow to an Eskimo.