Henry Wallace Kinnan was known to Philadelphians as "Wally Kinnan, the Weatherman." Wally Kinnan passed away at the age of 83 of an aortic aneurysm on Friday, November 22, 2002 in Houston, Texas.
Kinnan moved with his wife Marjorie to the Texan city four and a half years before his death to live near his oldest son, David. Wally did his weather "thing" in Oklahoma City (WKY-TV), Cleveland (WKYC-TV), Tampa and Philadelphia (WRCV-TV). When he was here in Philly, he did the weather forecasting on WRCV-TV, Channel 3. The station was an NBC O&O (owned and operated) station. He was the meteorologist on the station and was teamed up with legendary news anchor Vince Leonard, a member of the Broadcast Pioneers of Philadelphia.
Broadcast Pioneers member Elliot Abrams, Senior Vice-President for Accu-Weather e-mailed in 2008:
(Dr. Francis Davis) ... and the late Wally Kinnan were my favorites when I was growing up. Wally almost came to work for AccuWeather in the 70s. I worked for Wally at the Franklin Institute when I worked there in the winter of 1965. I was in the last winter graduating class at Central, and started at Penn State in late March. That gave me as few months to work at the Institute in exchange for lunch and subway fare. I had just enough for a daily cheesesteak from a place on 22nd Street.
Born in 1919, Lt. Kinnan was a Second World War B-17 bomber pilot who was shot down while flying on a bombing mission over Schweinfurt in Nazi Germany. He was a prisoner for two years in Stalag Luft #3 in Sagan, Germany, about 90 miles southeast of Berlin.
Wally Kinnan wrote in the Ex-POW Bulletin, "We were forced to make the most of a very few musical instruments of dubious heritage, which had been acquired from the Germans, the Red Cross and the YMCA." Wally told the story of the classic among the instruments was a Polish trombone that Wally described as "a plumber's nightmare." He said that it could hit only six of the classic trombone slide positions. He wrote, "The seventh required the player to reach over his shoulder and pull a chain which, in turn, operated a rotary valve in a veritable maze of tubing to produce the desired result." Kinnan mentioned that the awkward trombone was "quickly retired from active duty when some of the more inventive lads determined that the extensive tubing of the old horn could be put to more popular use in a homemade still."
Near the end of 1943, there were many new prisoners coming into the camp. They produced a wealth of professional musical talent. Included in this group were pianist John Bunch who would later play with Woody Herman and Benny Goodman; Tiger Ward; John Brady; Hi Bevins; Nick Nagorka and trumpeter Vince Shank who later would play with Russ Morgan.
This group of Prisoners-of-War took part in an attempted escape that was immortalized in a book and the 1963 movie called, "The Great Escape."
The motion picture showed a choir singing while the escape started but in actuality, it was a band called "The Sagan Serenaders." Wally Kinnan (and Pilot Officer Leonard Whiteley of the British Royal Air Force) organized and led that musical group. Wally's youngest son, Timothy, a Lt. General in the Air Force, said that his dad through encoded letters to Marjorie, informed the United States War Department (now the Department of Defense) that fifty of the escapees were recaptured by the Germans and were shot by firing squad. The letters was decoded by the U.S. government and then sent on to Kinnan's wife. Wally was part of the United States' intelligence program. Kinnan and the band stayed behind as cover.
Timothy Kinnan, Wally's youngest son (U.S. Military Representative to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization Military Committee, NATO Headquarters, Brussels, Belgium) said, "she thought sometimes the language in these letters sounded a little stilted, a little odd. But it was a very complex code."
The Sagan Serenaders had four trumpets (one was his), two trombones, five saxophones, and four rhythm instruments. Wally Kinnan once said, "We were beginning to talk seriously about taking the band on tour in the U.S. when and if we could manage to survive the war."
Early in 1945, the Soviets were approaching the camp. The Germans marched 12,000 prisoners, including the band members, straight out of the camp. Wally thought they would be marched into a field and executed. However, they were led on a forced march instead, through a blizzard to Spremberg almost 200 miles away. Many of the POWs died during the trek. Pianist Bunch, said Wally saved his life by sharing a potato. Food was very scarce.
Kinnan and the rest were taken to a camp at Moosburg, 30 miles away from Munich. On April 29, 1945, General George Patton and the American Third Army arrived. They were free.
As an engineering undergraduate student at Ohio State, Wally helped pay his way through school by playing trumpet with such big band leaders as Jimmy Dorsey and Charlie Barnett.
His youngest mentioned, "He was kind of a Renaissance man in a lot of ways, with his love of music, his love of flying."
At the end of World War II, Kinnan stayed in the service and was trained as a meteorologist at M.I.T. He served during the Korean Conflict in the Pacific Theater. Kinnan in 1948 pioneered the Severe Storm Center of the Air Weather Service, which researched how to forecast severe weather conditions. It was the first time in history a tornado was ever predicted. He was a forecaster on Kwajelein Atoll and a member of the Typhoon Research Board on Guam, and later served as head of the Upper Air Forecast team at the Hickam Weather Center.
Vince Leonard & Wally Kinnan in the Gimbels' Thanksgiving Parade in 1958
Thursday, November 27, 1958
(Wally had been on the air less than four weeks at the time of this picture)
In 1998, Wally Kinnan wrote:
…Of all these duties, probably the most interesting and rewarding has to be the year or two that I was fortunate enough to share in the research of (then) Maj Ernie Fawbush and Capt Bob (Robert C.) Miller in the development of their forecast methods for severe thunderstorms and tornadoes. As Wing P.I.O it also fell to me to be the publicist for their activities, and, I'm proud to say that my writing for the news media led in large measure to the eventual acceptance by the general public of their forecasts in the face of the severest possible opposition from the U.S. Weather Bureau directorate (and a few theoretical physicists) who maintained that tornado forecasting was impossible and therefore unacceptable.
The break really came for more widespread acceptance of the Fawbush-Miller Severe Storms Forecast method in January 1950 when Dr. Robert Fletcher, the Air Weather Service civilian Science Director who had become a believer, arranged for the team to present a technical paper during the Annual Meeting of the American Meteorological Society in St. Louis. I was privileged to accompany them under orders as their Public Information Officer.
The AMS was as conservative as the Weather Bureau on the subject of tornadoes and the forecasting of severe storms since most research on the subject was largely theoretical and conducted by a few respected scientists who had little or no concern for preparing practical forecasts, and whose findings were considered to be the final word on the subject. Because of that, and hard to believe, they insisted that the AWS team present their paper behind closed doors to a few skeptics who would come to snicker behind their hands at the Air Force upstarts.
Well, as luck (and good fortune) would have it, Mother Nature played the trump card for us with a truly out-of-season tornado (naturally not forecast), accompanying a strong cold front, that struck East St. Louis, Illinois, just across the river, doing considerable damage the night before the meeting was to assemble in St. Louis. Since I had already prepared several press releases relating the success story of the Fawbush-Miller forecast methods in Oklahoma, I was hopeful that I might be able to get a little free space in the local press --- never dreaming of the coverage we would get as a result of the East St. Louis storm.
Our story made the front page of every paper in town and it went out nationwide on the wires of the Associated Press, tied to the story of the unusual out-of-season tornado. Needless to say the meeting doors were opened to the public and press and became the headline story of the 50th Anniversary National Meeting of the AMS.
In the meantime, strong local support for the AWS Severe Weather Unit helped keep it from being phased out in the face of opposition from a number of sources, both within the Air Force and without, who felt that the AWS personnel assigned to the project could be better utilized in other duties and that they were intruding in the domain of the Weather Bureau by engaging in more or less unsponsored research beyond the skill levels of the Air Weather Service officer. Colonel Harold Smith was a staunch supporter of, and believer in, the work that Fawbush and Miller were doing and by permitting me to work with broadcasters in the area as his PIO, he opened the door for strong support from some local community leaders in Oklahoma City who were sharing in the successful Tinker forecasts. Outstanding in this group for his leadership was P.A. "Buddy" Sugg, a retired Navy Captain, Vice-president and General Manager of WKY-TV, a pioneer TV station (who later hired me as Oklahoma's first TV Weatherman --- but that's another story) and a powerful voice in Oklahoma politics, who soon enlisted the aid of his good friend and political ally, Senator Mike Monroney.
When it became obvious that the Weather Bureau wanted nothing to do with issuing Severe Thunderstorm and Tornado warnings to the general public, (and even went so far as to try to suppress the activities already underway at Tinker), Sugg and Monroney went to Washington together and started pounding on some doors --- especially that of Mr. Reichlederfer, the Chief of the Bureau at that time, and other influential congressional leaders.
Obviously, this public and political pressure as a result of the success of the Air Force forecasts coming out of Tinker (initially, only for Air Force consumption), forced the Weather Bureau to ultimately bow to the demand for these forecasts to be made available to the general public, especially in the so-called "tornado belt" of the southwest. As a result of this pressure, the Weather Bureau found it necessary to finally establish their own severe weather center, to be located in Kansas City, to relay severe weather warnings using the "upstart" Air Weather Service officers methods. They really resented us --- but, grudgingly, had to call on Ernie and Bob to teach their techniques to the initial staff at Kansas City. (I might add that they later rewrote any number of the Fawbush-Miller findings and published them as their own, which added somewhat to the bitterness at Tinker over the cavalier attitude of the Weather Bureau, who considered AWS personnel as something less than professional in those days.) Happily, though, our relationships eventually improved with the Bureau because of a growing respect between our unit and some of the good guys they sent out to work with us, notably among them a fine gent and forecaster named Bob Beebe who was to become the original MIC of the Weather Bureau's Severe Weather Forecast Team at Kansas City. Eventually, the Tinker AFB unit was moved to Kansas City as a partner in the early direction of the Severe Weather Center as it gradually assumed responsibility for the nationwide distribution of severe weather and tornado forecasts.
From there, as they say, the rest is history --- but I felt that there are many AWS personnel today who might be proud to learn of the role played by the Air Weather Service in the development and growth of severe thunderstorm and tornado forecasting, especially since the ranks of those of us who were fortunate enough to have participated are thinning rapidly.
Wally Kinnan left the Air Force in 1953, and became one of the nation's earliest TV weathermen at WKY-TV in Oklahoma City where he stayed until coming to Philly. Of course, Broadcast Pioneers member Dr. Francis Davis pioneered that here in Philadelphia in 1948 on WFIL-TV, Channel 6.
Timothy Kinnan said of his dad, "He really could connect with people. Probably his greatest attribute was he was a person that people liked to be around."
Wally came to Philly in 1958 replacing the late Judy Lee, wife of Broadcast Pioneers member Dr. Charles Lee. He was teamed up with a mid-west journalist by the name of Vince Leonard, also one of our members. Wally's first weathercast was at 6:40 pm on Monday, November 3, 1958. (In between the time of Judy Lee's death and the time when Wally Kinnan showed up, Vince Leonard also did the weather). Kinnan stayed here in Philadelphia until the Federal Communications Commission ordered to reverse of a 1956 trade of TV and radio stations between NBC and Westinghouse Broadcasting. It was 1965 when Group W (Westinghouse) took control of Channel 3. Since Wally Kinnan's contract was with NBC and not Channel 3, he could not remain in Philadelphia, as NBC would have no position for him. He was transferred to the network's Cleveland station. At the same time, Westinghouse had to transfer Mike Douglas to Philadelphia, as the show could no longer originate from Ohio because Group W no longer had any facilities there. Broadcast Pioneers member and Hall of Famer Bill Bransome became Douglas' announcer throughout the show's life in Philadelphia.
However, Wally Kinnan did have great impact on this market. In 1960, he was the first meteorologist to use a five-day forecast. This drew criticism from his fellow meteorologists who didn't believe that such forecasts were possible. Today, it is commonplace. Wally Kinnan led the way. In 1963, he set up the Weather Service at the Franklin Institute on the Parkway in Center City Philadelphia. While Dr. Francis Davis was the first in the area to be certified by the American Meteorological Society, the AMS, Wally was second. Then there were few. Today, there are over 1200 nationwide.
While in Cleveland, Wally played occasionally in area big bands. In the mid-seventies, Wally was fired from his post at WKYC-TV. However, one year at a station Christmas party, Dan Zola's big band was playing there with Wally in the trumpet section, blowing solos. He eventually moved to Largo, Florida where he practiced his craft on a Tampa TV station and in a sixteen piece big band.
Broadcast Pioneers member Vince Leonard who anchored the news on Channel 3 when Wally was there, e-mailed:
Wally and I not only were partners on TV, we became close friends during the time he was with channel 3. Frankie and I kept in touch with Wally and Marge over the years and visited with them at their Florida home several years ago. He was always a true friend.
Wally was so proud of his two sons, one an Air Force Lt. General and the other a prominent attorney with Shell Oil in Houston. Since Wally and Marge were outstanding parents it was not surprising that their sons achieved so much.
I flew with Wally in his planes on numerous occasions and we and our wives spent many an evening together. He was one of those unforgettable people and as witty as anyone I've ever met.
Wally touched a lot of lives and all who watched his weather programs will remember him fondly. We certainly will.
Vince also e-mailed:
When Wally left Channel 3 in June of 1965, ...he did not have a choice. He was obligated to go to Cleveland. The man who replaced him was Dick Goddard. Goddard remained only a short time. He was very unhappy working and living in Philly and finally got his release. That opened the door for Bill Kuster.
...It was not Goddard's choice to go to Philly. Wally took his spot in Cleveland and it was a switch. Wally worked in Cleveland for several years, perhaps five or more, and then took a position in Tampa. He was on the air and later remained behind the scenes as the station's hurricane and severe storms expert. I don't how long he remained as an on air weatherman in Tampa....
...he (Kinnan) was in Cleveland for six years, 1965-1971. And I found a brief sound bite from an interview Dick Goddard did after he went back to Cleveland. He said he found the people at channel 3 to be very nice and that Philly seemed to be a pleasant city. But the situation wasn't right for him and he said to his wife, "this doesn't make any sense." They decided to go back to the life they had enjoyed. As far as I know they're still there....
After Judy Lee died, I did the weather for only a brief time. The station held auditions for a weather gal and an attractive brunette named Marilyn Grey got the job. Wally was brought in from Oklahoma City by our new station manager, Ray Welpott. He had been station manager in Oklahoma.
I replaced Taylor Grant and was still getting used to working in "the big city" when Judy died unexpectedly. She was loved by everyone and it was difficult to have to fill that slot
The situation at Channel 10, ...their 11 o'clock news segment (was) already well established when I got to Philadelphia. ...John Facenda on news ...and Jack Whitaker on sports. The reason I remember it well is a luncheon I attended shortly after I took the Channel 3 job. Those ...guys were asked to say a few words and were kidding about the fact that I was their new competition. I am going to check my scrapbooks and files.... But it's fun to recall those days and relive some of the experiences during my 22 years in Philadelphia.
Broadcast Pioneers member Glenn "Hurricane" Schwartz said, "he was one of my childhood heroes, but I never met him until decades later at a weather conference. I went up to him and said, 'Mr. Kinnan, my name is Glenn Schwartz, and I'm a meteorologist because of you."
On Friday, November 20, 2009, Wally Kinnan was inducted into the Broadcast Pioneers of Philadelphia's "Hall of Fame."
From the official archives of the Broadcast Pioneers of Philadelphia
Written and researched by Broadcast Pioneers historian Gerry Wilkinson
© 2009, Broadcast Pioneers of Philadelphia
All Rights Reserved
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