A legendary weatherman known to many in the Rock Hill and Charlotte areas as “Thunder-Boomer” has died.
Jerry Peterson brought weather reports to audiences along the Catawba for more than 35 years, first with WSOC-TV in Charlotte, then with radio station WRHI for more than 21 years.
Peterson died Friday. He was 76 years old.
He got his start with a Texas radio station while still in high school. Peterson said he replaced Dan Rather as a disc jockey.
He (Rather) put a long play record on and left the station that night. The record stuck and it just went round and round and, of course, the boss found out about it. I had an application in for a summer job there and I replaced him.
After attending the University of Texas (and playing a short-lived minor league baseball career), Peterson went on to sports broadcasting careers in Wichita Falls, Texas and Oklahoma City. However, it was a move to Tampa that shifted his career.
At that time, weather broadcasting was still an inexact science. Prior to the mid-1950s, stations would read airport data on the air as their weather coverage. While in Tampa, Peterson became one of the first TV reporters to study meteorology as a science, obtaining a degree from Penn State University.
From Tampa, Peterson moved to Houston, then to Chicago’s WBBM. He was the first meteorologist in the country to use a “chroma-key” system. That’s when a reporter stands in front of a blank wall as graphics are displayed behind him. It’s now the standard method used by television meteorologists to report on the weather.
From Chicago, Peterson moved to Charlotte’s WSOC. After his contract was not renewed in 1986, he left television for good. Having constantly moved from city to city throughout his life, Peterson wanted to stay in the area. In 1990, Allan Miller of Rock Hill’s WRHI radio station (and SCRN affiliate) approached him to offer what would turn out to be Peterson’s longest career.
Miller is a managing partner of Our Three Sons Broadcasting, which owns WRHI. He describes meeting Peterson at the weatherman’s home.
I knocked on the door and here Jerry Peterson swings open the door. He’s got a glass of wine in his hand and says, “Come on in!” We talked shop for awhile, talked about his philosophy of broadcasting. By the time I left that night, we hired him. I shook his hand and that’s the only contract we ever had for 21 years.
Peterson was affectionately known as “Thunder-Boomer.” Not due to his booming voice, but because of Peterson’s own colloquial weather terms. A “thunder-boomer” meant thunder and lightning, and he frequently used the expression.
Peterson often covered local events as part of his radio job. Miller says one of his favorite stories was when Peterson covered a high school fundraiser that involved “cow chip bingo.” For those who’ve never witnessed such an event, it involves a live cow being released on a giant checkerboard pattern. Wherever the cow “did its business” would be the winning square.
This particular year, the contest instead involved a bull. Peterson, well-known for his red vest, unwittingly attracted the bull’s attention during his broadcast. The bull became aggressive, as Miller recalls.
Imagine Jerry Peterson turning around and seeing this bull and running around the mobile unit with the bull chasing him. He continued to broadcast, never put the microphone down, and continued to describe what was happening until he was able to jump into the van.
Peterson was inducted into the South Carolina Broadcast Hall of Fame. He received a lifetime achievement award last year.