David Zurawik

Weatherman Justin Berk out at WMAR - Station cites contract differences

UPDATES AGAIN 6:10 p.m. Wednesday with more comments from Berk on reaction to his departure.

UPDATES Wednesday morning With Berk comments at end.

Weatherman Justin Berk is no longer with Baltimore's WMAR-TV, according to Bill Hooper, the station's general manager.

"Friday was Justin's last day," Hooper said in a telephone insterview with the Sun Tuesday. "We have been going back and forth for months on terms of a contract, and the two sides just couldn't come together. So, we decided to go in a different direction."

Berk had been with Baltimore's Scripps-owned ABC affiliate since 2003. Before that, he spent five years at  WBAL-TV.

On his Facebook page, Berk mentioned a bet he had with a weathercaster in Houston that involved the loser wearing the other team's jersey on air.

In the online world of media rumor, that bet has been linked to Berk's departure.

Here's what TVSpy, for example, wrote in reporting the move Tuesday:

On Friday, Berk made a bet with Gene Norman, the chief meteorologist at KHOU in Houston, on the outcome of the Baltimore Ravens-Houston Texans playoff game. Terms of the bet dictated the loser had to wear the opposing team's jersey on the air.

"About that bet w/ Texas weatherman," Berk wrote on Facebook, "there is more to the story. I won't be in on Monday, so hang on here for more."

Berk's departure from WMAR "had nothing to do with that bet," Hooper told the Sun.

"It was one of those media bets -- you know, 'I'll send you crab cakes if you win, and you'll send me barbecue if you lose,'" Hooper said. "His bet had our blessing. Anyone linking his leaving to the bet is just wrong."

For now, part-time weathercaster Lynnette Charles will fill in. But Hooper says the station will begin looking for a full-time replacement right away.

"We've had a massive amount of people asking us to look at their tapes, and we will be filling the job," Hooper said.

UPDATE 9:15 PM Tuesday: Berk reponded to an email request for an interview aimed at ascertaining the facts of his departure by saying that he planned to post an explanation on his Facebook page Wednesday and would be happy to talk after that. He says he feels he owes it to his Facebook community to handle it in this manner. I respect that.

Here's part of what he said: "I have been preparing a statement (rather long send off) that I will post tomorrow morning on my Facebook page.  That community has been very engaging.  I've been on TV in Baltimore for 14 (5 at WBAL), so I wanted to do this the right way...."

Here's a link to his Facebook page. 

UPDATE 7:40 AM Wednesday: Berk posted his statement. You can read it at the link above. What matters to the facts of his departure from Channel 2  is that it essentially agrees with Hooper's account reported here last night as to why Berk is no longer with the station.

But I definitely encourage you to read Berk's statement in full, because the longtime Baltimore meteorologist really does try to capture some of the ambiguities and mixed feelings of leaving a TV job -- and they are the kind of nuances that rarely get included in news stories about comings and goings at local stations.

Berk says he and his family are staying in Baltimore -- and he's staying engaged with social media.

Here is a some of what Berk wrote:

... WMAR and I were unable to come to an agreement. It is that simple. First I want to be clear, it had NOTHING to do with that Ravens bet on TV with the Houston Meteorologist last Friday. That was pure coincidence and man, did Gene Norman got off easy. . It wasn't money. Oh, and it definitely had nothing to do with a couple of missed calls for a dusting to an inch of snow near the beltway this winter ;-) I may love and push snow, but I stand by my record as a forecaster. I learn from every event, hit or missed. Those who have followed along on this page have seen me offer up a discussion after many big storms with hopes that you will grade my work. This includes the good AND bad comments. Anyway, the details with the station I am sorry I can't get into. There is a little sadness as this chapter closes, but nothing good can get accomplished if I focus on anything bad here. What I can say is that I had a real smile on my face that day and since. This is a GOOD thing, and I truly believe that.

... This platform on Facebook is more valuable than I can explain. This has never been about me as TV guy to fluff my own feathers. This is just me, a guy who loves science, nature, awesome photos, neat or quirky stories, and the opportunity to share a little of myself (off camera) with anyone who wants to join in. I am grateful of how many of you have taken the time to share a bit of your world with me and make this part of your daily routine. I love the opportunity to help generate a conversation with so many that have not met, and share important information as a storm moves through our area. That happened with a tie on in the morning, at my gym, in my boxer shorts on the couch at night, or just out on the weekend. Guess what? THAT WILL NOT CHANGE! I AM STILL HERE! This social media thing is the future and I intend to continue to be part of it. For now it doesn't pay my bills, but it's something I enjoy. Whether you like it or not, we are friends- even if that sounds cheesy. So if you live out of the area or just don't wake up early, NOTHING WILL CHANGE. I will still be on Twitter as well @JustinWeather ...


UPDATE 6:10 p.m. Wednesday: Berk responded further with an email to Sun talking about his reaction to the day's events and future plans. Here is some of what he said:

I have not had a chance to dive and and absorb what has happened, but I appreciate your simple take and respect for my approach.

We in this biz, know this biz. This was not a surprise to me and I am honestly doing very well with it.  What I can say is that I am proud to hold firm to the integrity of my work and that Facebook page. The overwhelming response proves that this was the right move. I own my end, what I stood up for and am proud of that.


I really am just a guy who loves weather and maxed out every avenue, even created a few- including the radio show on WCBM Tony Pann and I created 6 years ago called Weather Talk.

I am most proud that in this media business, it is easy to get lost as a talking head. I'm glad my sincerity has come through to many people. Whether I end back on TV or not, that will be among my proudest accomplishments.

My plans... So far to keep rocking on with my other venues and online. Social Media is the invitable future for all media and at some point someone will find a way to make it work.  I'd like to be there on the cutting edge.