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Meteorologist Leon Hunsaker steps down

Forecaster has been in the business since the 1940s
 Posted: 12:50 PM April 08, 2009

Leon Hunsaker is retiring — again.

Today marks the legendary meteorologist's final forecast on KDOV-FM (91.7), ending a 19-year association with the radio station.

His retirement comes more than 15 years after he put a wrap on a 30-year television career and nearly half a century after serving as chief meteorologist for Pacific Gas and Electric in San Francisco in the 1940s and '50s.

Hunsaker, who turned "jet stream" into a common term, was honored during an hour-long tribute from 8 to 9 this morning on KDOV as the station interspersed comments from listeners recorded earlier this week with big band-era music.

"I think it's time," said Hunsaker, who turns 86 in May. "I left TV because I was getting so many wrinkles that I looked like isobars on a weather map. Now my voice is beginning to sound like a fog horn. I've punished the people of this area long enough and they have been great."

KDOV General Manager Perry Atkinson signed up Hunsaker when the meteorologist ran his own syndicated Jet Stream Weather Radio network, which grew to 28 stations. That gave him a reach from north to Corvallis, south into California and as far east as Wyoming. When Hunsaker left television in 1993 his audience remained faithful and generally checked up on his whereabouts during prolonged absences.

"I knew this day was coming and tried to avoid it in so many ways," said Atkinson. "I wanted to make sure he made the call and not me."

Hunsaker earned both a bachelor's degree in aeronautics and a master's degree in meteorology from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Television wasn't on his radar until he was coaxed into the studio by the news director at CBS-affiliate KPIX TV — then San Francisco's top station.

He sandwiched a brief teaching career at Sonoma State University between two stints with KPIX.

In 1974 he bought property in Josephine County and built what he affectionately refers to as the "Hugo Hilton." When he returned to KPIX he crafted a contract that gave him complete control over weather content. A clause granting him $500 a week for six months was included if the station decided to go another direction.

When a new news director arrived at KPIX he was ready for a permanent move to the Rogue Valley. From 1976 to 1980 he discussed jet streams, Harry the High and Louie the Low on KTVL, jumped to KOBI for a four years and then worked another seven years at KTVL before exiting.

"There were a couple times when I was on television where various news directors wanted to replace me," Hunsaker admitted. "Then they'd run a little poll and each time the folks came to my rescue."

At KDOV, Hunsaker had reduced his routine from two weathercasts to one and more recently reduced his appearances to three times a week. Now he'll no longer have to rise at 5 a.m. to prepare his report.

As for the future of the morning weather report, there is no clear forecast.

"We haven't decided what to do next," Atkinson said. "That's like trying to replace Uncle Sam, an icon not easily replaced."


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