As a would-be photographer, I’ve got a list of certain things on a photographic “bucket list” I keep in my head. Last night I was able to get one: a perfectly straight-on shot of the Provident Life Weather Beacon.
One of the reasons I got into photography in the first place is that my video work takes me to places and shows me things that are so amazing that I wanted to be able to share them with others. One of the others is a love of North Dakota, particularly my home town area of Bismarck-Mandan. As a result, our local landmarks hold special significance for me.
While wrapping up a helipad photo shoot last night I noticed something that had almost escaped me: a perfect vantage point for photographing the Beacon! Naturally I took a few seconds to spring into action and grab a couple of quick shots. Since what I’d been seeking is a simple, direct, squared-up shot, I didn’t need to squander any time trying to brainstorm something funky. A few clicks later I had some different shots of one of my favorite local landmarks, just as I’d always hoped.
Here’s a refresher on my long relationship with the Weather Beacon:
It was fun to joke about the Beacon, as if it actually made the weather, during my KFYR days. The TV station control operator (me, five nights a week) was in charge of changing the weather beacon to reflect the updated forecast throughout the broadcast day. On our program log in the control room, in between entries for commercials and programs, were occasional reminders to update the weather beacon.
There was a panel in the weather room with six buttons on it: red, white, green, flashing red, flashing white, and flashing green. These switches are still in a rack at the TV station, even though they are have not been connected to the Beacon for quite some time. Last I remember, the KFYR Radio control guys switched it by dialing a phone number (no, I’m not posting that here).
The poor Beacon almost faded into history in 1997. It was showing its wear, and the cost of modernizing it was prohibitive. That was, however, until KFYR Radio rode to the rescue. Phil Parker and Mark Armstrong headed an effort to Save the Beacon!
At this time, Meyer Broadcasting was still intact. While I was hard at work on the TV side of the building, I also freelanced the website for KFYR-AM Radio. As part of the campaign to save the Weather Beacon, we had a couple of pages on the website urging people to help donate.
You can click here to see the original Save the Beacon page from my archives. Yeah, the Web has come a long way.
The campaign was a success in that it raised money toward the Beacon’s restoration, increased public awareness of its plight, and served as a rallying cry to its rescue. While the entire cost of the Beacon’s renovation was not raised, its importance to the community was indisputably proven. Through a matching grant from local government and plenty of donations, the project was underway.
As part of the KFYR website, we were happy to post that the Beacon would be saved. Cliff Naylor did a report on the Beacon that aired as part of a live telecast from the roof of the Provident Building, atop which the Beacon still sits.
You can click here to see the post-campaign page from my archives and watch the video.
As I recall, and the details in my head are quite murky, the Beacon was restored but still had some gremlins. I believe it was then refitted one more time and has functioned ever since. None of it would have been possible without Phil and Mark. To this day, the controls reside with KFYR Radio instead of the television station. In fact, why don’t you call the PH Phactor on KFYR 550 AM and ask Phil about it?
Oh yeah…the t-shirt. We had t-shirts made, and I still have mine. It has caricatures of Phil Parker and Mark Armstrong on the front, and a key to understanding the Beacon on the back:
Weather Beacon white as snow, down the temperature will go.
Weather Beacon red as fire, temperature is going higher.
Weather Beacon an emerald green, no change forseen.
When colors blink in agitation, there’s going to be precipitation.
Provident Life used to sponsor TV spots featuring the Beacon and its rhymes. Since they’re no longer doing business there, the ads don’t run. That means that the weather beacon itself is somewhat obscure now, with newer Bismarck-Mandan residents unaware of its history. For those of us who have lived here a long time, it’s good to see the weather beacon standing tall. No matter what the forecast, there’s something great about seeing it red in the spring, green when things are just right, and white when Thanksgiving and Christmas approach. Thanks to everyone who helped keep it up and running!