Longtime Fort Wayne weatherman Jay Walker died Wednesday just shy of turning 75, according to former employer Indiana's NewsCenter.
Former colleagues described Walker, who delivered weather forecasts for 30 years at local ABC affiliate WPTA, Channel 21, as one the station's most popular on-air personalities of all time.
“He was one of the most popular personalities we've ever had,” said Nicole Hahn, an assignment manager for Indiana's NewsCenter. “He just appealed to everybody. It didn't matter how old you were.”
Walker started at Channel 21 in 1976 and later worked for Indiana's NewsCenter after WPTA merged with WISE, Channel 33. He also did a stint hosting WOWO radio's morning show in the mid-1990s. He retired in 2006.
Known for his ad-libbing skills, Walker, who was not a meteorologist, often coined his own phrases for weather events, such as “spritzel” and “leaky skies,” while on the air, Hahn said.
“He always used all kinds of fun words when he would talk about rain and snow, and he would make up words,” she said.
On clear nights, Walker would frequently tell viewers it was a good night for “snipe hunting,” a mystery phrase his former colleagues still haven't quite unraveled, Hahn said. And on windy days, he would declare a “small person alert” lest they blow away and warn people to “hold on to your babushkas.”
For many years, Walker also hosted Channel 21's broadcast of the annual Three Rivers Festival parade and reported live from the downtown festival. For many Fort Wayne viewers, however, some of Walker's most memorable high jinks may have come when he broadcast live throughout the blizzard of 1978.
Walker, who had diabetes, broke into a WPTA vending machine live on the air during the blizzard, and the station asked for food and insulin to be delivered by snowmobile, according to Hahn and News-Sentinel archives.
Walker would have turned 75 on Monday, according to Indiana's NewsCenter. No cause of death was available Thursday morning, Hahn said.