The thermometer says it's 22 degrees, but "it feels much, much colder than that," Doug Johnson of New York's WABC-TV is reporting one bitter January night. Standing outside for a live feed, Johnson trips over his words. His cheeks are pink. He approaches a woman wearing fur earmuffs and asks, in the same amazed tone with which he might once have interrogated Carmen Miranda, "Is that your normal headgear?"
"Yes, in the wintertime," the woman replies. She doesn't ask Johnson what most viewers are thinking: "Where the hell is yours?"
The reporter seems to have forgotten his hat. And a quick scan of the TV dial finds that the same is true of Cindy Hsu, who's doing a cold weather story for WCBS, and Pablo Guzman, who's doing one for WNBC.
In the meantime, anchors at each station are urging viewers to cover their noggins. "Don't worry about messing your hair," scolds one. But if it's so cold, why aren't reporters in the field dressed for it?
"Vanity," Guzman admits. "You wear a baseball cap and you look at the tape and it looks stupid." The reporter insists he won't even open an umbrella if it's raining. "It looks dorky. I'm aware of people at home who say, 'What a moron.' I'd rather get wet." (Cindy Hsu insists she's changed her ways after getting letters from concerned viewers and now wears a hat.)
Jeff Flock, CNN's Chicago bureau chief, argues that caps can actually detract from a weather story. He says they make the reporter look as if he or she is trying too hard to show how cold it is.
Guzman's cold weather plan, a common one, is to warm up in the news truck just before he goes on the air. But he recalls one bitter night when "it took me, I'm not exaggerating, a good 10 minutes back in the truck until I could unclench my fist" from holding his microphone.
Ti-Hua Chang, another WNBC reporter, says he'd rather look foolish than blue. "When it gets below zero I'm more concerned with freezing my butt off" than fashion statements, says the reporter, who wears a cotton Yankees cap. Before one report, Chang even slipped a wool ski band around his head to cover his ears. "A lot of my friends made fun of me," he says. "But the viewers don't mind."