Percy Saltzman Essay: The Exhibition Weather Office C.N.E. 1949


I suspect this is the society's first subjection to a report on, of all things, advertising. For the Exhibition Weather Office (EWO) was, if nothing else, a bare-faced and very successful attempt to sell the public on the weather service. I might have put it more politely and cinched the idea in such words as: "fostering good public relations", or "performing a public service", or "meeting the people dressed in our best bib and tucker:, and I would not have spoken untruths in so saying. But the point is, we wanted to show the best side of the weather service to a good part of the 250,000 hapless souls lured annually between the gates of Princess and Dufferin.

But having put our aim thus bluntly, I hasten to add, our motives were pure and our methods purer. Forgetting our rights, remembering our wrongs, the public - for want on an antidote - has taken a dim view of the forecaster. It is necessary to do all we can at all times to show it the whole picture. And that includes our side as well as the side of the mother hubbard newspaper editors, halfwitted radio comics and micawber magazine cartoonists.

By means of usual media - the radio talk, the press and periodical article, the after dinner speed - we breast the opposing tide a stroke at a time. But for a truly deep plunge, give us your C.N.E. where 15 or 20 thousand people a day come see and are conquered.

Of course, I recognize the chief way to win the heart of the populace lies on the road toward accurate forecasting and applied climatology. To scale the inner citadel of public apathy, derision, hostility, we need the assault ladder of improved analysis and theory. Such efforts and Dr. Godson's professional paper are of course the real weapons of propaganda - the long range missile.

But for an excellent short-range nattering ram consider the EWO. Here for an expenditure of about $1000, the work of half-a-dozen attendants, and the support of a score of devoted workers at head office and Malton, we succeeded is telling some 250,000 people a few chapters in our story.

We could not have done this without the help of experience. Displays at airforce stations, at the 1946 Inter-Air Show, or the C.N.E. last year, guided up along wiser ways.

This time we made the layout pleasing, the color scheme no loud but attractive, the booth uncluttered with superfluous instruments and signs, the informative material as simple and one-thought as possible. Not being professional hucksters, we likely could have done better. I hope in time we will.

Last year we were located in the Big Tent, flanked by street cars and airplanes. It was hot and dusty and the canvas leaked. This year we sat on the mezzanine of the Automotive Building were it was - just as hot and dusty, and only things that leaked were an anemograph pens.

Our neighbours this time were T.C.A. [Trans Canada Airways, the old name for Air Canada] and R.C.N. We enjoyed the company. Both used our spacious backstage rest room for storage of food and drink. (During the run of the display, I counted 426 empty coke bottles stored there and nothing more suggestive.) The many empty empty cartons of McGuinnes Cherrry Brandy and Seagrams Gin housed nothing more potent than "Making the Most of the Forecast". T.C.A. were exceedingly friendly - they even let us drink water at their electrical cooler. No doubt because I lugged 5 gal. of the stuff 100 yards. For the rest of the Ex. My back was broken. (There are 277.418 cu. in. in the Imperial gallon.)

We knew that rubbing elbows with T.C.A. would confuse some of the people all of the time so we put an overhead sign between us and it read "The Meteorological Division is Part of the Dominion Government's Department of Transport". This guarded the northern approach with fair success, but our rear was vulnerable. Witness the lout who tagged me with: "Can you tell me what it costs, the round-trip to Bermuda"? I gave him the forecast to the T.C.A. booth and tried my best to forget. But the public can hardly be blamed if it swallows T.C.A. propaganda. In a lavish brochure, Horizons Unlimited, the weather service, not even given its correct name, is treated like another operating department of T.C.A. Nevertheless, our relations with T.C.A. were good.

Likewise with R.C.N. - at least until clean-up day after the Ex. closed, when, entirely inadvertently, we made off with half-dozen of their floodlites. A frosty phone call "We may have had our viewing trestle break down in the middle of the Ex, the Magnificent may have lost her bottom, but what gives you the idea that you can have our lights!" Shiver out timbers - restitution was made hurriedly.

Then there was Mr. Harris, superintendent of the Automotive Building, sheriff-of-the-High-Court on-ticket-of-leave, a pint-sized W.C. Fields with a Groucho Marx slouch. As opening day approached and the winds howled through he empty spaces of the EWO floor space, he would rattle his head and mutter "They'll never make, they'll never make it". Well, we thought so too, at zero give hundred, Greenwich of the 26th. (C.N.E., 1949, Aug. 26 - September. 10th incl. But until 5 a.m. of the opening Friday we had lots of company. Packard had just smashed half their ramp, AVRO was redoing their booth for the 5th time, T.C.A. was tacking up photos, Rolls were hanging their thousand dollar velveteen draperies and the Meteorological Division nighthawks were still painting, hammering and fixing. But 4 hours later, as the first sucker walked in, there we were - teletypes clacking, signs a-fluttering, lights a-flickering and a couple of dead-eyed dicks meeting the public. Every day thereafter for 14 days Mr. W.C. Harris would pay us a visit, rattle his head unbelievably and slouch away muttering "Unbelievable. They'll never make it".

There were times when we thought so too. We began planning this thing weeks before but such sticky details as getting the warrant through Ottawa held us up. Work commenced in earnest 3 weeks before curtain-time. Signs were drafted, painted, both and backdrop were cut and built. Teleypes and drop were arranged for. But progress seemed agonizingly slow. Finally the major structures were shipped, the furniture arrived and painting began. And here let me pay deserving tribute to the master painter of them all - Frank Benum. Never has one man with one brush and one can covered so much plywood in less time. Never had I seen, before Benum - a man apply 3 coats of pain with one stroke. But they were and he did, and thank to Benum we opened on the 26th instead of the 27th. O course, the lower 2 layers of paint aren't dry yet! Perhaps we can return them to the manufacturer and get a refund, Dr. How?

In short we opened in time, having cut and sawed some 1000 feet of plywood and 2x4's, splattered some 4 or 5 gallons of paint, hammered 5,000 nails and 3 thumbs.

By far the most popular feature of our display were the quiz boxes suggested by our Controller. Hardly a moment without the continuous buzzing and gonging and flashing of yes and no lights. I estimate 700,000 buttons were pushed on the glorious fortnight - what a training school for budding salesmen! By now there isn't a soul in Toronto or the Easter half of North America, who doesn't know that Henderson Lake is wetter and Lethbridge sunnier than nay other spots in Canada. Fame flys on the wings of T.C.A. and the Lethbridge Herald has published a picure of the sunnier Quiz box. Henderson Lake is taking us to the Privy Council. (Or would, if they could, but they can't - See Hansard.)

Human beings are funny - as proved by their reactions to the quiz. There are 3 types: (1) the sport; he tries 3 buttons and having fluffed, bows out: (2) the aggressor; he runs his finger down the line and departs with victorious mien; (3) the cheater; he spies the other guy's correct flash, saunters over, looks around disdainfully and presses the correct one right off - "there, aren't I smart?" and the sub-type - the introvert. Her tries one fearfully, fails and slinks away - a beaten man.

The flashing map, bearing "The Weather Right Now" in Lucite was a great favourite. People got a kick out of snow at Resolute and Calgary, or temperatures way down in Frisco. Popular too, were the teletypes - people were invited to tear off a piece of souvenir copy - sometimes they measured it by the yard. But when they took to tearing up the tape going thru the perforator, we had to call a halt. The teletypists - Madott and McConkey - help a beagle eye on all they surveyed. But what got them down was the re-reiterated query re the punched tape - "Is that in Braille".

We met many interesting people. It was amazing to see oldster and youngster pore over the synoptic chart as if they could read its meaning. Perhaps they were student of topography. Of course our sign said "Try Your Hand at Weather Forecasting" and some did. What got them was the question "Will this weather improve or worsen?" Worsen, they said? Is that good English. Well, it may not be good Webster but its good Oxford - See the Concise, p 1431.

There were many interesting questions - how do you make the pollen count? ("We don't"). What is the average rainfall for Canada? Why are the wind forecasts for the Great Lakes so often inaccurate? What is Victoria's average relative humidity? Will the grandstand show be cancelled? Shall I go home to Cobourg to harvest my oats or stay in Toronto and sow some? Why are the forecasts for Vancouver always wrong? Did you find my umbrella? Where is Killaloe? (We really put that one over - Canadian Press now plan to run a story on Killaloe). Did you know your Rockies are more beautiful than the Alps? Where are the French Cars? Where can I find the men's ...

We even got phone calls at the EWO about the Weather. The number was unlisted and heaven knows where people got it but calls would come through. Of course, some were wrong number. But when we would answer "EWO", they'd say "Is that so? How is the weather?" There are people in Toronto today who have had fireside chats with us and all through fingering the dial in error.

Many Americans visited our booth - some would inquire for their hometown weather, especially those from the hurricane belt. A Galveston youth and his North Bay sweetheart asked for their temperatures - back home. The mother of our chief observer at the Pas dropped in for a chat and the wife of the radio operator at Norman Wells was very happy to see us on exhibit. Directors, Controllers, Assistant Controllers and their baby-sitters fell under our spell.

It was always a pleasure to greet the old familiar faces of our fellow workers at Head Office and Malton and Ottawa and Montreal. We wish more could have come in - from Centralia, from Trenton, from Rockcliffe and elsewhere.

We distributed a lot of literature - 30,000 copies of "Making the Most of the Forecast", 2000 of "Meet Your Weatherman", 2000 pieces on "The Weather Map", 500 brief climatic summaries, 500 publication lists, 100 "Weather Facts and Fancies" (In printed form, at least). Many orders for classroom instructional material were taken on the spot.

I think we got quite a few worthwhile ideas across to the people. We told them what light winds were, how to read variable skies, when a shower is scattered, how the wind is measured, what a weather map looks like, what the lifeline of the weather service is, who is the backbone of same, and where the Meteorological Division fits into the state set-up. After all you can't have your teletypes drumming out a thousand times such classic as "Out in the storm-tossed Atlantic ..." and "At this moment thousands of miles form here, fur-clad weather men ....", without making some impression! Even if, by the end of the second day, the squibs were a little damp!

The people not only listened to us, they talked back. People want to know about:
(1) Wind forecasts on the Great Lakes.
(2) Frost forecasts for tobacco growers.
(3) The publication of the daily weather map in the press.
(4) The distribution of the daily weather map through the mail.
(5) The user of degree-days in selling of engineering equipment to companies who burn fuel oil.
(6) In forecasting, where does certainty end and imagination begin, (this was an hours talk with Milton Smith, Evangelist, Yonge - Shuter streets, Saturday night, 8 p.m. who snaps his fingers louder than any man now living, -- a talk that started on Meteorology and and ended 60 minutes later on Cosmology).
(7) Climatological data for City Planner, Waterloo. (Plans to be submitted to Ottawa).
(8) The ozalid map given to a cross-country motorcyclist.
(9) The effect of humidity on manufacture of carbon paper.
(10) The effect of humidity on deafness, of temperature extremes on asthma -- people wanted advice on where to move.

There were many more questions; in some of which we flopped -- the price of the anemometer, the present weather at Little Rock, Arkansas, and whether TO stood for Tofino (and was it still decommissioned).

Many came not to complain but to praise. They thought and said so, that it was about time the weatherman sold himself to the public. One distinguished looking business man, after asking for and getting the forecast for St. Agatha, said, "Your Montreal forecasters are good". Modestly we demurred, "Well, yes, but they don make mistakes sometimes". "No! No!", he said belligerently, "I said they are good!" We backed away hastily.

Oh yes - and our radio program. 5 times a day, we stepped before the mike and spoke our lines. There being no Hooperating in Canada, we don't know our success for sure! But we guess we were a success. People would come up at the booth and compliment us. We managed to convey a few good ideas in the 270 minutes of allotted air time. About the Moon, Killaloe again, Weather Ovservers, Teletypeists, the varied services of meteorology, etc. etc. We tried to make the current weather picture come to life. If we succeeded it was due to the the excellent cooperation of all concerned - the Malton forecaster and teletypists, Head Office observing staff, all who helped. C.N.E. regulations prohibit direct-from-the-booth broadcasts, but we swung it as a public service feature. (Certainly we have the Ex. and CKEY good advertising as well as ourselves.)

If we wish to repeat this feature next year, CKEY's approval is automatic, we are assured. As far as I know, this was Toronto's first sustained daily experience with a direct weathercast and Toronto liked it. There's only one way to prove it, and that's in the eating, so here is some of the pudding ---(At this point in Mr. Saltzman's dissertation of a 10-minute recording -- provided through the courtesy of CKEY was played. This contained the highlights of the very large number of weather broadcasts made from the EWO and is an excellent memento of the 1949 Weather Exhibit.)

Autographed copies of all scripts may be had on request.

Other course of publicity were (1) stories in the Telegram, Globe and Mail, Danforth Tribune, York News, Hamilton Spectator, (2) interview on Jane Weston's CBC morning program for tired housewives, (3) footnotes to the FP's issued from Malton, (4) Mention on the Bruce West, Jerry Burked, Mickey Lester shows. The CNE's official program did right by us - we had a double listing. As exhibitor, under T, Transport, Department of. After all that, it was was discouraging (but not surprising) to learn that some official CNE information booths could not direct inquirers to our booth.

The staff of EWO are slowly recovering from the psychological trauma of seeing 250,000 forms of protoplasm crammed into 14 dreary days. By next year, they'll no doubt be actually eager to meet more. At the moment the thought evokes nausea.

Much thanks are due those who had fingers in the pie. Rather than list the fingers by name, I shall cite the sections - the carpenter shop, instrument shop and lab, plotting room, stores, public works, teltype, office services, drafting, printing shop, forecast services, the teletype companies, CKEY, the newspapers.

No thanks are due those who (1) stole our broom; (2) unscrewed the top half of the anemometer with almost dire results; (3) ben the reference points of the radiosonde; (4) stole both ozalid maps one morning; (5) too a drink on our backstage - and didn't offer us any.

I mustn't omit hearth felt that to millions of children who considerately did not break our radiosonde balloon on display - it lasted the full 16 days, as full of Tom-How's-Eureka-Vacuum-cleaner's-hot-air as the day it was inflated.

Having thus slyly introduced the boss of the show, I wish to expatiate -- if there was on man responsible for EWO, in toto, that was Tom How. Talk about your ENIAC's and MANIAC's - we've got Tom. Who else could carry in his head and bring forth in proper sequence the myriad details that lurk behind the bland facade of a finished display. Look - here's the recipe in all its ingredients --- Take 1 space 20 x 20, draft 10 plans, discard 9, estimate costs and submit, win approval of a warrant, confer with section heads, allot preliminary tasks and mix well. Do not bring to a boil as you toss in 3000 feet of plywood and 2 x 4's, 5 gallons of paint, fuse foxes, fuses, romex cable, outlet boxes, plugs, nails and screws. Select color scheme, politely rejecting incongruous suggestions, get the booth prefabbed, and truck out to Ex., arrange for passes for personnel and Transport, draft signs, order same painted, design wall exhibits, supervise building of same, explore publicity outlets, draft press releases. Consider thumb tacks, where to buy, what color, what size, fireproof draperies, arrange for pony-loop traffic, prepare souvenir pamphlet, proofread it, watch budget, reject impractical suggestions (such as painting the anemo cups red, white and blue), scrounge free help, spend 30 hours overtime painting, sweeping, hanging arranging, worry about D.A.S. Visit, begin a new series of broadcasts, buy fishline, bristol board, bring own tools down, dissipate pressure for free passes, order telephone, arrange daily duty runs (HO to EWO), who mislaid key to storage cabinet?, be interviewed by lotta reporters, approve courtesy sign display, fend off creditors, screw typewrite to desk, and-to come round full cycle -- remember to bring down Mrs. How's vacuum cleaner with extension and to inflate radiosonde balloon. Oh yes -- in between, carry our regular administrative chores. Ay yes, and everything to be planned for possible use in succeeding displays -- in other towns, at the Exhibition next year.

And next year? We hope to profit by criticism and experience. Some said there weren't enough instruments on display, others said too many signs and too dull, not enough eye-catching posters. Some said not enough emphasis on the special uses of forecasts, other said not enough stress on the work of the climatological section. Some wanted to have the broadcasts p-a'd so that visitors to the booth could hear as well as those at their radios. Others want more quiz boxes. The lights in the wall map should have been brighter. We should have prepared a really novel. designed-to-be-read-and-kept souvenirs. We should have had - in short - ideas. Well, we want, we solicit your ideas: we'll have to try to use the better and remodel the impractical. of the latter, I have a couple myself - a phytotron for instance now - the weather-making machine at Cal Tech where at a push of a buttons you have quote "rain, shine, smog or storm, arctic cold or tropic heat". Wouldn't' that be something now - "Now, Madam, won't you come into our cyclone chamber" .... Or imagine a catacomb of labyrinthine tunnels, pitch black, save for faintly luminous quiz boxes, and labelled "The Tunnel of Weather" with peepholes .... If only I were in charge now ....

But even granting every criticism. I wish to say without fear of successful contradiction - that this year's EWO was an unqualified success. Very few who passed by the N.E. corner of the Automotive mezzanine bypassed the EWO. Very few failed to come inside. Very few failed to show some interest in quiz box or forecast board or illuminated map. Very few failed to gain the general impression that the weatherman - like his wife - is human and long-suffering. Very few.