Beloved children’s show host turned meteorologist MJ McDermott hangs up her barometer
When meteorologist MJ McDermott retires this week from Channel 13, few will remember her early years as the host of a children’s show on Channel 11.
McDermott was the human star of Channel 11 Rosco & Ronnie in the early 1990s, before returning to school at the University of Washington to earn his degree in atmospheric science and become a broadcast meteorologist.
âI was Ronnie, the delivery guy who brought Rosco stuff to his little house over there in the woods,â McDermott told KIRO Radio. “I will never forget working with Rosco T. Raccoon.”
Rosco was a raccoon puppet who lived in a ranger station, dispensing wisdom and sarcasm to a young audience in person and live from a perch on a conveniently located window.
âThe hand within Rosco and the voice behind Rosco was Winslow Barger, who is one of the sweetest and most creative people on television,â McDermott said. âI loved working with Winslow and doing this children’s show. We were the last children’s show on the market to have a live children’s audience.
âEnd of an era,â she added.
Television “watchers” – such as radio historians and other introverts who pay a little more attention than mere “viewers” – will recall that MJ was actually the third human host on the show. , which was originally called “Ranger Charlie” when it premiered on longtime television station Tacoma in the late 1980s, and later became “Ranger Charlie and Rosco.”
That KSTW decided to start a new local kids’ show around this time – with its satellite streams of subscribed programs and ubiquitous toy-focused cartoon franchises – seems like a counterintuitive throwback. It is perhaps not surprising, then, to learn that credit for making it possible, says Winslow Barger, goes to the legendary host of the KSTW children’s television show “Brakeman Bill” McLain, host of ‘a children’s show on KSTW from 1955 to 1975, and later responsible for the station’s promotions.
âHe kicked off for us and was behind the start,â Barger told KIRO Radio.
Barger also says that before there was “Ronnie” – that name, by the way, was inspired by Barger’s childhood friend Ron Jensen – there were two different performers who portrayed Ranger Charlie at KSTW.
âThere was Charlie Bird, then Robin Nicholson, or Robin Lee Noll now,â Barger said. âAnd they were both great to work with them. It’s something I’ve been very lucky to be – every co-host I’ve had has been wonderful to work for.
When Charlie # 2 Robin Lee Noll left, Rosco T. Raccoon – with help from Barger – helped find a replacement and reworked the show’s format and name.
âWe’ve had a lot of success so far, so it was a big problemâ to find a new human host, says Barger. âWe probably auditioned at least close to 50 people, I think, for this. [M.J.] ended up getting the job. She blew us away. She was very funny.
âIt was an easy choice,â said Barger.
Like so many thousands of people who grew up in the Puget Sound area at the turn of the 20th century, Barger grew up watching JP Patches on KIRO TV, and the numerous YouTube clips of “Rosco and Ronnie” reveal a fair amount of “JP DNA”. Rosco and Ronnie showed cartoons and performed stunts and slapstick skits involving members of the young audience gathered outside the ranger station, and before MJ joined the show, the invisible delivery boy who became Ronnie was inspired. , says Barger, from Bob Newman’s âMiss Smith’s Delivery Service,â as seen on The Patches Program.
But, as had also happened a generation earlier, the rules of television changed in the early 90s and forced many programs to shift gears. Rosco and Ronnie have adapted, ditching the live audience and turning into the production of public service announcements and educational material on topics such as famous people in history. Production of the show ended in 1995.
Soon after, MJ – which means “Mary Jean” – enrolled at UW to study the weather. She was born in Florida and raised in many places as an Air Force kid, but always loved science and wanted to be an astronaut. Early in college, MJ studied theater at the University of Maryland.
While finishing her meteorology studies at UW in 2000, MJ landed a television job as a weekend weather forecaster for Northwest Cable News and KING 5.
âAnd then the CIO over there, Bill Kazarba, came to Q13,â McDermott said. âAnd because I wasn’t on a full-time contract with Northwest Cable News / KING 5, he said, ‘Do you want to come to Q13? And I said, ‘Yes’.
âAnd so I started doing weekends here in January 2003,â McDermott said. “Wow. It’s long!
And MJ says that during that “long time” the morning weather forecast on TV consisted of three or four basic things.
âNumber one, I want to make sure people are safe if there are dangerous weather conditions, and second, how to make sure people are just ready for their day,â McDermott said. “If it’s going to rain, I want you to go outside with your hooded jacket on.” I want you to be prepared, and I want the children to be prepared when they go to school. I want people to know if the roads are icy or [if thereâs] fog, they needâ¦ to be reminded to slow down and use your low beam.
Rain or shine, McDermott is now 62 and doesn’t like getting up early in the morning and doing all the hair, makeup and wardrobe needed for TV. She’s not ready to slow down much, but she’s ready for a different sleep schedule.
But that doesn’t mean there aren’t things MJ is going to miss working the first shift at Channel 13.
âStrangely enough, I’m actually going to miss seeing the sky early in the morning,â McDermott said. “I like going out when I get up in the morning to look at the sky and the weather, and I like the early mornings – but not this early.”
What time is âearlyâ for MJ McDermott?
âWhen a viewer asked me what time I wake up and I said ‘2:15 am’ he said ‘Oh, it’s almost yesterday’,â McDermott said with a laugh. “[I said], ‘You know you’re right. It’s not even today.
McDermott is respected and admired by other meteorologists with whom she has worked and by her colleagues at other stations. Contacted by KIRO Radio, former KING 5 meteorologists Larry Schick and Jeff Renner shared congratulatory messages, as did Kristin Clark of KOMO TV and Nick Allard of KIRO 7.
And although he wasn’t a meteorologist by training, there was another former colleague who wanted to congratulate MJ McDermott.
âOh, MJ, I just wanted to let you know how excited I am that you are retiring,â Rosco T. Raccoon said over the phone earlier this week. “And it’s gonna be really fun too, because all you have to do is sit down and eat liver pizza all day and you don’t have to do anything.” And you can get your husband to take care of manicuring your feet and all those kinds of things. If you want to come visit me at the ranger station, drop by anytime, okay? I love you! Good luck on this retreat.
Although she is officially retired Thursday morning, MJ will not be hitting the golf course or becoming a regular at the senior center anytime soon. Her next project is a musical she’s working on based on a children’s book she published a few years ago. The story tells where Frankenstein really went at the end of Mary Shelley’s novel when he vanished into the frozen confines of the Arctic, not far from the North Pole. She’s working with a songwriter and they’ve recorded a number of songs for a call-out show, like McDermott’s previous book, Frankenstein meets Santa Claus.
Meanwhile, MJ’s replacement on work mornings at Channel 13 is Brian MacMillan, whom she coached during her final days at the station. As far as is known, MacMillan, who recently worked as a meteorologist in Portland, Ore., Has never appeared on a children’s TV show.
But if he did, we’ll have the story here on KIRO Radio and MyNorthwest in a few decades, when MacMillan retires.
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