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Long-term forecast: Whatever the weather, Pete Delkus won't be cooling it

No longer green: Belo8's Pete Delkus has that well-weathered look. Photos: Ed Bark

Belo8 chief meteorologist Pete Delkus came right out and man-hugged sports anchor Dale Hansen last week upon his return from Cowboys training camp.

Their on-air embrace definitely wouldn't have been Troy Dungan's style. But the bow-tied weather legend, who retired on July 18th, already seems like ancient history at the station that first brought him to prominence 31 years ago. Delkus quickly has put his own stamp on North Texas maps, whether intensely taking viewers though severe weather or lobbing little broadsides at Hansen during what one observer has termed "Pete 'n' Dale's Playhouse."

"I think Delkus is one of the best hires 8 has ever made," Hansen says via email. "He's a little crazy, and as most people probably know, I like those kinds of guys. Dungan will always be one of the best people I've ever worked with. But Delkus is gonna get there."

He arrived in June 2005, jumping from the 33rd to 6th largest TV market after turning down a lifetime contract offer from WCPO-TV in Cincinnati, where he spent nine years. In an earlier life he had been a highly regarded minor league pitcher in the Minnesota Twins organization. But an elbow injury permanently ended that career and sent Delkus on the path to a "totally out of nowhere career."

Post-baseball, he planned on being a sportscaster after majoring in TV and radio communications at Southern Illinois University. But an executive at an Orlando, Florida TV station forecast a much brighter future for Delkus as a weatherman.

Delkus balked, and this time not from a pitcher's mound.

"My first response was, 'Man, I don't want to do weather. Those guys are a bunch of geeks,' " Delkus recalls from his perch at Belo8's weather center. "But here I am and I absolutely love it. I can't imagine chasing down athletes to get interviews."

Delkus, 41, took masters level meteorology courses at Mississippi State University. He prepped as a forecaster for WFTV-TV in Orlando before moving to Cincinnati in 1996. He had talked to friends about moving to TV's big leagues, with Chicago and Dallas-Fort Worth on his radar. But Delkus also figured that "they've got a guy in Dallas who's never gonna retire."

Then came the call from Dungan, who indeed was getting ready to call it quits and had hand-picked Delkus as his successor. So no cold fronts, just a warm breeze.

"I was very concerned about coming here and replacing Troy because I didn't want people to think I was the guy kicking him out," Delkus says.

For a while they tried a two-headed weatherman approach, often appearing together to divvy up highs and lows. It was all part of the "anointing" process, but Dungan says their five months as on-air teammates often felt a "bit awkward."

"That was not our favorite thing," Dungan said in an earlier interview. "We didn't mind working together, but every night at 6:30 we said, 'What the heck are we going to do tonight?' "

Delkus does some homework in Belo 8's downtown weather center.

Meanwhile, the station was readying a major promotional push with the tagline "Delkus Delivers." The saturation ad campaign, launched earlier this year, blanketedd the D-FW viewing area with billboards, bus signs and six tongue-in-cheek TV commercials that portrayed the newcomer as omniscient in all matters of weather forecasting.

"Rather than go with a typical chest-beating approach, we just did the opposite of that," says Jim Glass, Belo8's director of creative services. "We wanted to have some fun with him, and also play up credibility."

NBC5 president and general manager Tom O'Brien says he still has the hammer in veteran David Finfrock, now the "inarguable dean" of D-FW temperature takers.

"If you're trying to compete against that, that's a fairly significant uphill battle, because David is so good," O'Brien says.

Finfrock has never received this kind of star treatment, though. Some of the Delkus spots, currently being rested, co-star his real-life children, Emily and Peter. In one they encourage Dad to "do it again." He responds by parroting, "72 degrees, 32 percent humidity, Southwest wind at 10."

Another commercial has a garishly dressed golfer striding up to Delkus' house.

"Petie," he implores before Delkus gives him a look that says bad weather is on the way. The poor sap tosses his clubs as Delkus says, "Thunderstorms."

The timing proved fortuitous, says Glass. "We had one of our biggest talent switches ever. And here we hit the wettest May, June and July in history."

Delkus admittedly is sometimes overly earnest during severe storms, but says that bad weather has never floated his boat.

"If we never had ice storms or tornadoes or flooding, I'd be the happiest guy in town," he says. "Because I go out to these situations and see where people have lost everything they've worked their whole lives to have. So the only time I'm serious and not screwing around is when we have bad weather. Otherwise if it's sunny and 100, let's have a little fun."

Night in, night out, Delkus' principal foil is the always opinionated Hansen.

"I'm kind of like Eddie Haskell," he says, a reference to Leave It to Beaver's resident sandbagger.

Delkus says he initially watched Hansen in wonderment. "Oh my gosh," he thought. "He's so outrageous."

But he later convinced himself that Hansen is "really a big teddy bear. So I decided to give him a hard time one night and see how far I could push him. He comes over to me after the news and says, 'Hey, that's pretty funny. You know, nobody gives me crap here.' "

"Does that bother you?" Delkus says he asked. "And Hansen's like, 'No, not at all.' "

It's pretty much been open season ever since, with Delkus jabbing Hansen about his lack of hair, ample girth and Bobble-head doll likeness among other things. Hansen in turn has ridiculed Delkus' pitching prowess and close-cropped "Chia Pet" hairstyle.

Whether fair weather or foul, this is Pete's Playhouse.

Belo8 executive news director Michael Valentine says the Pete 'n' Dale sideshow is now officially incorporated into 10 p.m. newscasts as a vehicle to keep second-half ratings from sagging.

"It gives some life to the end of the show," he says. "it's not the identity of who we are, but in Dale and Pete you have two very dominating personalities. I don't think there's anything wrong with watching a newscast and at some point laughing during it. I think we go too far sometimes, but that's life. They miss each other when they're not together."

The banter between them is "not contrived," Valentine adds. "They don't work out any of their skits beforehand. It's as spontaneous as it can be. They like to give each other grief. You really love Dale or you really don't love Dale. And now we've got somebody in there who can kind of mix it up with him and keep him on his toes. It just provides something that you don't see elsewhere in the market right now. We have the luxury of those big personalities."

Delkus, a fitness buff who lifts weights and runs with his bird dogs five days a week, says he understands when Hansen occasionally exercises the option to lay out on him.

"Some nights it's better for Dale not to say anything. Because he may say something that gets both of us in trouble. But from what he tells me, he's having a great time."

As is Delkus. And if he wasn't . . .

"If I can't have fun at work, I'd want to go a place where I could," he says. "But I can have fun here. I don't want to imagine working anywhere else."