Beef Between Fort Myers Stations Started With a Hurricane

By Kevin Eck 

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WINK meteorologist Jim Farrell and WBBH chief meteorologist Robert Van Winkle are still trying to convince Fort Myers, Fla. viewers they were the first ones who said Hurricane Charley would hit Southwest Florida nearly 12 years after it really mattered.

The difference of opinion has created a beef between the Fort Myers NBC affiliate and the market’s CBS affiliate. A beef that has leaked into arguments about who had the first drone and who really has live weather doppler.

The News-Press of Fort Myers traces the disagreement to 2004 when Hurricane Charley was predicted to hit the Tampa region. Someone accurately predicted it would actually hit Southwest Florida. But who that was? No one really knows.

This June, WBBH aired a promo to “set the record straight,” saying its meteorologist, Van Winkle, made the call first. WINK fired back with a promo of its own that not only said Farrell was first but cast aspersions at WBBH’s ability to tell the truth.

We’ve written about WBBH news director Darrel Lieze-Adams going after WINK on twitter with attacks on its drone use and its claim to have live doppler radar.

“Where is the LIVE Doppler Radar touted by my competitor?” tweeted Lieze-Adams with a picture of a transmission tower sans that distinctive doppler radar dome. “Exaggeration got Brian Williams fired.”

“Why is that so important, 12 years later?” asks News-Press. “Because weather draws viewers, and viewers draw ratings, and ratings draw revenue. The battle to be No. 1 is paramount in the stations’ ongoing weather wars.”

“There are some people in this world who think that if you tell a lie long enough, often enough and convincingly enough, you will succeed and change people’s minds, or plant the seed of mistruth,” said Farrell.

“It’s tedious to compete with a company that thinks it’s OK not to be truthful,” said Lieze-Adams. “But the WINK counter-promo, which features Van Winkle on set, took it a step too far.”

“Their overreaction to our spot has been surprising,” Lieze-Adams said. “It’s disappointing to us that ethically this is how they responded.”

“Who was first?” said Wayne Sallade, Charlotte County’s emergency management director. “Who cares? At this point, what difference does it make.”

Bob Sheets, who retired in 1995 as director of the National Hurricane Center, watched the wall-to-wall Charley broadcasts from his Lake Placid home in Highlands County. He isn’t keen on the “first” promos.

“When lives are at stake, whoever made the call first is not what’s important,” Sheets said.

Click here to read the whole story about the Hurricane call and the fallout.

WBBH’s promo to set the record straight: