Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 26/7/2018 (507 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
The old-school Environment Canada weather channel — you know, the one burned into the memories and TV screens of generations of Winnipeggers — is back, in all of its red, blue and green glory.
Brandon Martel, 30, and Craig Midwinter, 32, are the brains behind Weather Channel Winnipeg, an online re-creation of the iconic Channel 9 from the halcyon Videon days.
The weather information is current and the medium is modern, but the look is delightfully vintage, hearkening back to a time when information was consumed slowly and windchill values were expressed in thousands. (Well, heat loss in watts per square metre, if you want to get technical.)
Both men are software developers, and they came up with the idea during what’s known in the tech sphere as a ‘hack day.’
"The thinking behind these days is for us as developers to solve problems that we don’t normally be exposed to within a normal day and to work with technology that we wouldn’t otherwise work with in order to keep our us sharp," Midwinter says.
"Craig comes up with really awesome hack-day ideas, one of which was this idea to build a replica of the old weather channel," Martel says.
"I saw the perfect opportunity to try out some new web-tech ideas using this project as the canvas, so we combined efforts and made it happen. I think both of us have fond memories of this channel, it just made it that much more of a no brainer."
Midwinter also has a professional connection to the old weather channel: he used to work as a master control operator at Shaw TV Winnipeg, which acquired Videon in the early 2000s. One of his responsibilities was maintaining the weather channel.
"By this point, it was blue and white instead of the red, blue and green, and it had been relegated to Channel 48, but it was the same channel," he says. "It didn’t require too much maintenance, but if the holiday music didn’t come on right after Remembrance Day, it was probably my fault."
Which brings us to Tuesday night. Midwinter was testing the live stream on his personal Facebook page. "Before I knew it, there were a ton of people sharing it and watching," he says.
Their for-fun ‘hack’ project, which is streaming off an old laptop Midwinter had lying around, has quickly gained traction.
"I was kind of unprepared for that, but I’m not completely surprised that it resonated with people," Midwinter says. "When I started in master control (at Shaw), my station manager at the time, Allan Sayegh, warned me about making changes to (the weather channel). He said the last time they changed the font, a lot of people called freaking out. But I was surprised by how strong the reactions have been."
The attention to detail is what sells it. The colours, font, and layout look authentic, and the music selection is spot-on — so much so, that one viewer commented on the fact the music "hasn’t changed."
"There are a lot of little bug fixes and changes that need to be made to get it to more closely resemble the older layout, and we need to add a few features like the upcoming forecast slides, the clock, and that crunchy weather advisory sound"
"Right now, the music loop is pretty limited," Midwinter says. "There’s a bunch of these lo-fi, hip-hop 24/7 radio stations on YouTube that I listen to while writing code at work, and they all play music just like this, music that has these chill shades of smooth jazz and a sort of distant texture to it, which has always reminded me of the weather channel, even though the weather channel actually usually played a variety of non-abrasive pop from over the decades.
"One of the online labels that runs one of the stations has a royalty-free pack of tracks it offers, so I just grabbed that for now."
Expanding the music loop is just one plan that pair has for Weather Channel Winnipeg going forward. They’d like to keep the streams going on Facebook, and maybe add one to YouTube.
"There are a lot of little bug fixes and changes that need to be made to get it to more closely resemble the older layout, and we need to add a few features like the upcoming forecast slides, the clock, and that crunchy weather advisory sound," Midwinter says.
"Eventually, I’d like to add support for the original windchill numbers, and then hopefully I can see if there is anyone locally who wants to submit some holiday music."
For now, though, Weather Channel Winnipeg is a space in which Winnipeggers of a certain age can relive flashbulb memories of being at grandma’s house, or getting ready for school in the morning, or doing holiday baking to a soundtrack piped in from Channel 9, or deciding whether we need to add a snowsuit under our costume for trick-or-treating. The weather channel is there, in the background of our childhoods.
It’s often said that Winnipeg, in particular, is a nostalgic town, one resistant to change. But Martel has another theory as to why people have had such a strong response to their project.
"Winnipeg is a passionate city," he says. "We see that in everything this city does. So it’s a shock that this took off as suddenly as it did — but, in a sense, it isn’t. We really just aimed to scratch an itch for ourselves of a great memory, and I think it resonated in the same way with others.
"Call it ‘nostalgia’ or just a good memory, I think a lot of people have their own bookmark in time with this, which is fuelled by the same passion the city always has."
firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @JenZoratti
Jen Zoratti is a Winnipeg Free Press columnist and co-host of the paper's local culture podcast, Bury the Lede.
Updated on Thursday, July 26, 2018 at 8:07 PM CDT: fixes typo