SALT LAKE CITY — Bob Welti, the longtime KSL-TV weatherman known as a magnet for top ratings and silliness, died Tuesday. He was 94.
Welti, a weatherman of 41 years, retired in 1991. His career spanned a different time, when Utahns tuned into his broadcasts for a look at local weather instead of turning to cable or glancing at their smartphones.
"Bob was the guy that everybody turned to to figure out if they needed a jacket — or an umbrella or whatever — as they planned their work week," Welti's self-described sidekick, Kent Norton, also a onetime KSL-TV weatherman, recalled Tuesday. He praised Welti for "a great life well-lived."
The scientific tools used to determine the forecast were also much more rudimentary during Welti's time, Norton added.
A pilot trained by the U.S. Navy and who flew in World War II, Welti was schooled in meteorology during his time in the military but continued to study the science. Other components, like his charisma, couldn't be taught.
"It's not an easy thing. It's not an acquired skill. It's something you're born with, to be able to connect with people one on one, through the camera," Norton said.
Welti became so popular that for a time, market research indicated that 98.8 percent of people in the Salt Lake area could look at a photo of Welti and say who he was and what he did, Norton said, a rate higher than any U.S. president in history.
Welti first got his foot in a TV studio door at Utah's Ch. 4 (then called Experimental Station W-6XIS) in 1947. He stayed there until 1965, when he joined KSL-TV, and the station's No. 1 rating followed him.
At Ch. 5, he teamed up with Paul James, the voice of the BYU Cougars and longtime KSL anchor, plus anchorman Dick Nourse. The three became known for their colorful chemistry and worked together for 24 years, earning praise as the longest-running tenure by any trio in TV history. They were inducted into the Utah Broadcasting Hall of Fame in 2000.
Last year, James died after a long battle with illness. Decades earlier, he and Welti became famed for their stunts, with James once lighting a TV set on fire and planting an 8-foot Frankenstein that spooked Welti on air.
Nourse on Tuesday recalled the easy and happy relationship the trio had, almost from their first day together. He laughed as he recalled the pranks that sometimes took place, like a day one winter when Welti predicted a series of snow storms was over and viewers could expect sun the next day, only to wake up to heavy snow fall.
To get back at Welti for his miss, Nourse said he and James slipped a bucket of snow into the studio.
"While Bob was doing his weather forecast, his weather report, we made snowballs and we fired them at him," Nourse remembered with a laugh. "We were going 'here is your 4 inches of partly cloudy, mostly sunny.' Bam! Bam! Bam! We peppered Bob with snowballs. We did that, and you know, today I'm not sure you could do that anymore."
With Welti on the team, Nourse said, "every day was a laugh."
"Bob was the kind of guy that, you wondered if anything really got to Bob. He just had this glow about him and this sense of humor. He would walk in and right away you would start laughing with something he said or did, and that would continue through most of the newscast," Nourse said.
The easygoing weatherman was also a fiercely loyal friend, Nourse said. During the first of Nourse's three battles with cancer, Welti and his wife would visit weekly to cheer and help him, while James kept in regular contact with Nourse's doctor.
"It was then I guess that I realized that I really had a couple of brothers sitting next to me, and how much I loved them," Nourse said, emotional.
Welti hardly slowed down when he retired from KSL after 26 years at the station. He continued to counsel inmates at the Utah State Prison and ran a public relations and advertising firm.
About a year ago, Norton visited Welti, who was using a walker and could not move around easily, but said his longtime colleague retained his humor.
"His body was worn out. But his spirit, his personality, the Bob we all know and love, was still there."
Welti's wife, Georgia Welti, who loved gardening and reading, passed away in 2007 after a longtime battle with health issues.
Contributing: Marc Giauque