Francis Davis

Taken in the display set up in the headquarters' window of Cities Service Oil Company in Center City Philadelphia.
They were the first sponsors of Davis' weather forecast which started on WFIL Radio and later went on WFIL-TV

Broadcast Pioneers member, Dr. Francis K. Davis, Jr. is a man of weather. His career in Meteorology started in the United States Army Air Corps as part of a research assignment, which culminated in his being a part of the D-Day forecast effort. "Maybe the most important weather forecast ever made," said Davis. This was during his days (18 months) stationed in Washington, D.C. Previously, he was based in Boston and San Antonio army facilities.

Secretly married in September of 1941, the Davis family had their first child, Richard, in December of 1945. Mrs. Davis once said, "never call him Dick!" Francis, often called Frank, was discharged from the Army in April of 1946.

A 1935 graduate of Chester High School, Francis Davis received his Bachelor of Science Degree in Physics and Math from West Chester State Teachers College (now West Chester State University). For a half year, he was a student at the Crozer Seminary in Upland, Pennsylvania. Then he transferred to Temple University and studied Chemistry for two years. At the same time, Davis was working for the Sun Oil Company as a research chemist. While in the service, he was sent to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology for three-quarters of a year. In 1943, the Army sent him back to M.I.T. (the Massachusetts Institute of Technology) to study weather. While there, he completed his requirements for his Master's Degree.

In September of 1945, it was Francis Davis who did the weather forecasting for the record breaking air voyage made by three B-29 airplanes. It was a military flight and the first non-stop voyage from Japan to the United States (almost 5,900 miles). While this flight has been written about for decades, most everyone seems to have forgotten who did the weather forecasting for the historic flight. It was Dr. Francis Davis who received a special United States government commendation for his efforts. His research work was published by the United States Army and the American Meteorological Society. At the 100th national meeting of that organization, Davis addressed the organization on the role of the weathercaster in radio and television.

Following the service, Davis taught Physics at what was then the Drexel Institute (now Drexel University). Roger Clipp at the WFIL stations hired him to be part of the news staff for WFIL Radio. That was in September of 1947. In that same month, WFIL-TV came on the air and two months later, in November 1947, Davis started doing weather on Channel 6. He was recommended for the position by the American Meteorological Society.

In the spring of 1949, Dr. Davis said: "Straight weather information usually is dry, even when the weather is wet." He had his own weather station at WFIL and his home, 18 miles away.

Davis said with a smile in 1950, "The fact that the executive secretary of the society was my officer during the war had nothing to do with my selection." When asked in 1950 about his first years in broadcasting, he said, " I was a bit afraid at first but I soon got used to it." In that same year he stated, "television will hardly make the weather man a better forecaster, (but) it could very well be the biggest aid in promoting good public relations the weatherman has ever had."

For years, his early radio broadcasts were sponsored by Cities Services (now CITGO). His TV weathercasts are well remembered as being sponsored by the Bell Telephone Company of Pennsylvania. During the early years, Francis ended each weathercast with "No matter what the weather, here's a good day to you."

In the late forties, he was doing a ten-minute weathercast on 560, WFIL. It was at that time, one of the longest, regularly scheduled weathercasts in the world. Early in 1949 he said, "I got into this field primarily by accident. I enlisted as a cadet in the Air Force during July of 1942. Very soon I fell into meteorological work and started doing weather as well as flying."

After the service, Francis went into the National Guard. In the late forties, he was the commander of the 117th Weather Squadron of the 111th bomber group. Even though he days start at four or five in the morning and didn't end until midnight (he took naps), he devoted one evening a week to the Guard. Later, Davis in the Air Force reserve held the rank of Captain. His Ph.D. studies were underwritten by the armed forces.

While teaching, serving as a Meteorologist and carrying our funded research (for the Air Force, City of Philadelphia, the National Science Foundation, the U.S. Weather Bureau, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Defense), he found time to earn his Ph.D. in 1957 from New York University with some courses taken at the University of Pennsylvania.

In the mid-fifties, his TV show was called "What's the Weather" and his theme song was "Italian Hayride" by Frank Cordell. During the summer of 1958, Francis Davis was in Iran testing for radioactive particles on a proposed site for a nuclear research reactor. Previously, he had performed similar tests for Rome and Tel Aviv reactors but the Iranian visit was the only one done on location. It was in cooperation with the Atoms for Peace Program. On his return from Teheran, he stopped in Italy and Israel to see first hand the results of his earlier efforts.

On Thursday, January 29, 1959, Dr. Davis became the first weatherman on television in the entire nation to be permitted to display the newly created "Seal of Approval" of the American Meteorologist Society. At this same time, WFIL-TV said that he was Philadelphia's "highest-rated, primetime weathercaster" with a 16.6% share. Channel 6 said that 800,000 were watching his weather program.

He was the city's first on-air Meteorologist and for the next 25 years, he did the weather at the WFIL stations. During that time, Channel 6 became the first station to use radar pictures in the weather reports and later the first to use live satellite images on television.

Francis Davis was the first area weathercaster to be licensed by the United States Weather Bureau "to receive weather reports, via teletype, from all over the United States." He was the first Philadelphia weathercaster to earn a Ph.D. in Meteorology. Dr. Davis was the first area broadcaster to use his own weather instruments that were installed at WFIL-TV at 46th and Market Streets. Similar equipment was also installed when the station moved to its City Line location.

In 1967, WFIL-TV bragged in 1967 that "he's the only area weathercaster who dares (to) maintain a daily accuracy chart, now at approximately 92%." That was an increase because in 1950, he was 86% correct. Broadcast Pioneers member Larry Kane is always quick to point out that when Action News became number one with Larry anchoring and Bill White doing sports, Davis was the weathercaster.

Francis Davis continued to serve at Drexel all during his WFIL days as Instructor, then Assistant Professor, then Associate Professor and finally as a full Professor of Physics. From 1963 to 1970, he served as Head of the Department of Physics taking on the additional responsibility of being the first Director of what is now the Institute of Environmental Engineering and Science. In 1970, he was named Dean of the College of Science.

During 1987, the President of Drexel University, William Gaither was accused of sexual harassment. The 18-member faculty council at the university along with seven academic deans, called for Gaither to resign. When Drexel's board of trustees, did not fire the President, Gaither dismissed all seven of the deans. Davis was one. Davis was a man of integrity to the last.

He has been a consultant to private industry, local and state government, the National Academy of Science, and the Atoms for Peace Program. He has been a member of the Sigma Chi honorary scientific society, the American Association of Physics Teachers, the Physics Club of Philadelphia, the Pennsylvania Association of College Physics Teachers, Phi Kappa Phi, the American Meteorological Society and the American Geophysical Union.

On November 16, 2000, the Broadcast Pioneers of Philadelphia inducted Francis Davis into our Hall of Fame. In our audio section, you can listen to the event and Dr. Francis Davis. Earlier in that year, Davis was the guest on our webcasts entitled, Pioneers in Broadcasting." You can also find that program in our audio section.

Before retiring, the Davis Family lived for many years at 60 Fairview Road in Swarthier, Pa. Previously, they lived at 103 Avonbrook Road. Francis and his wife, Gloria, now reside on Hilton Head Island in South Carolina where he taught Hilton Head High School's Advanced Placement Students for years. Dr. and Mrs. Davis have four children and four grandchildren.

In August of 2010, we asked Dr. Davis to compare the three major forecasters in Philadelphia in the last sixties. At age 91, Frank did his best to honestly recall his opinions. Here's what he said:

Let me jot down some thoughts for what they're worth.

Francis Davis: Program emphasizing science and accuracy. Presenter had degree in Meteorology from MIT, experience in weathercasting in US Army Air Corps Weather Service in WWII, and displayed weather instruments, radar pictures, and satellite pictures of clouds and precipitation on the air. In addition, his program carried the Seal of Approval of the American Meteorological Society.

Herb Clarke: Program based on serious interpretation of US Weather Bureau description of general weather picture and weather forecasts. Herb's presentation was knowledgeable, succinct and reflected his own pleasant and confident personality. I think the viewer would come away feeling he had an authoritative and dependable weather forecast.

Bill Kuster: Low key program based on a friendly conversational style. Easy to listen to, but may have inspired less confidence in the forecast than the first two.

From the official archives of the Broadcast Pioneers of Philadelphia
Photo originally donated by Broadcast Pioneers member Dr. Francis Davis

Written and researched by Broadcast Pioneers member Gerry Wilkinson
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