By DANIEL P. FINNEY | Copyright The Des Moines Register
Sept. 26, 2012
Iowa lost two treasures in less than two days. First, Wall Lake native and famed singer Andy Williams died late Tuesday. Wednesday, word came from KCCI-TV the station was switching off its beloved Weather Beacon for good.
The beacon was to flicker off a final time at dawn Thursday. Station owners decided costs and upkeep of the colorful icon outweighed the benefits of keeping the beacon lit — much to the anguish of central Iowans who grew up with the forecast lights.
“We are losing a true landmark,” said Bernard Harmeyer of Altoona. “I always looked to the tower to see what was going on with the weather. It made (KCCI) stand out from the other stations.”
First lit in 1960, strings of colored lights at the edges of the downtown transmitter tower for Des Moines’ CBS-TV affiliate gave an at-a-glance forecast on the capital’s skyline.
But the traffic light bulbs used to create the colorful forecast are no longer manufactured. Station officials ordered custom-made bulbs, but the color flaked off the red and green bulbs, which regularly forced engineers to scale the 500-foot tower to replace bulbs.
The tower, KCCI reported Wednesday, was built to meet 1980s code, and any remodeling would have forced expensive repairs.
The Weather Beacon went dark in 1973 because of high energy costs. When KCCI moved to its current location at 888 Ninth St., the tower was rebuilt and the beacon returned in 1987.
Former Des Moines Register Iowa Boy columnist Chuck Offenburger rallied the station to return the beacon in many columns through the 1970s and ’80s. Now retired and living on a Greene County farm, he was ready to sound reveille in the 21st century.
“Occupy KCCI!” he said Wednesday. “Look what other fine restorations there are around Des Moines — the World Food Prize headquarters, the Temple for Performing Arts, Terry Branstad.
“Surely the Weather Beacon can be made over and given extended new life, too, can’t it?”
Connie McBurney Percival, a reporter and forecaster with KCCI for 24 years, flipped the switch on the resurrected beacon.
“It was extravagant at the time,” she said. She planned to take a last look at the beacon while visiting friends in Des Moines on Wednesday night. “A lot of people really liked it, but it’s probably about the electric bill. I’m sure it was quite costly.”
The Weather Beacon became a beloved fixture. A “Save the Weather Beacon” group sprung up on Facebook. And a post on The Des Moines Register’s Facebook page about the beacon going dark generated more than 100 comments in less than an hour.
Some remembered the beacon’s first light.
“I know when it was first turned on 52 years ago,” Allen Taylor-Turner of Des Moines recalled. “I had just had my son on Oct.18 and was in Methodist hospital. I walked down to the end of the hall and saw it turned on. I will never forget.”
Others believed it was a monumental loss to the capital.
“The Weather Beacon is to Des Moines as Big Ben is to London,” said Melissa Vorel of Des Moines.
A few called for an updated rhyme.
“Weather beacon dead, no weather ahead,” said Joseph Louis Vaughn of Ames. “We should start fund raising for a more efficient beacon with LED lights and bring it back to the Des Moines skyline.”
The beacon was green on its final night.
WHAT THE COLORS MEANT
The Weather Beacon was backed by a catchy rhyme the news station used in promotions for decades:
Weather Beacon red, warmer weather is ahead.
Weather Beacon white, colder weather is in sight.
Weather Beacon green, no change in temperature is foreseen.
Weather Beacon flashing, night or day, precipitation is on its way.