Buffalo, N.Y.-bound meteorologist Patrick Hammer had some low points after word came down in November 2013 that he was getting bounced from the KSTP-TV morning show.
He left the air in January 2014 and remained on the Hubbard Broadcasting payroll until his contract expired in May. Hammer was determined to hold onto his 18-year-career in meteorology, applying for jobs over the summer — but his family of four had bills. In October 2014 Hammer took a seasonal job with a distribution center in Woodbury to which he bicycled 4 miles round trip. This year he landed two months of pivotal fill-in work at KARE 11, then took a Jos. A. Bank job, a familiar detour because his family owned a men's haberdashery in San Francisco for 50 years.
"I left KSTP obviously a lot sooner than I anticipated and no sour grapes, but they were very good to me while I was there. I held out and started waiting for weather jobs. I got very close a couple of times, but nothing was hitting. All of a sudden, my wife [Kimberly, said] Buddy, what's your plan? What are you doing?
"This is not a 'poor me' story. This is what you go though when you're not the young Sven-like body. I'm a middle-aged guy, it's a little more challenging to find that great job," said Hammer. "You know, I could have done something else, another career in the Twin Cities. I wanted to do a job that would allow me to keep the heat on as well as leave in a moment's notice if that great job ever came. So I went to work at a Target distribution center. You package stuff and load it on a truck all day."
It started out rough.
"One poignant moment happened on my first day and I was getting my photo ID taken. I am sitting in the waiting room and the Channel 5 morning show is on the TV. I wanted to look up at the sky and say, 'Who's messing with me?' It was kind of humbling, as you can imagine.
"I went in there [thinking], 'You know what? This will be good for me. It will be exercise.' Nothing's beneath me. When I went in there, 12-hour shifts six days a week, I was recognized quite a bit. Everybody would do a double take: 'What the hell are you doing here?' "
Hammer also had days when he thought, " 'This sucks.' Then the more I did it, I realized I was working with cool people. I kind of embraced it: This is where I am and I can't be bummed. I mean whenever I walked in, the security guards were like Hey, Channel 5! It became fun.
"It was a seasonal thing, so I was there October, November, December. I rode my bike there because we were down to one car. Working there is how we stayed afloat. There were great people there."
Hammer has an 8-year-old daughter and 6-year-old son, and his wife runs a small in-home business.
"I had to get them insurance. I had to look at getting assistance … if you know what I mean," said Hammer, who declined to elaborate. "The income at these other jobs was not the kind of income that can really support a family, but I knew it was hopefully just short-term."
In early January, KARE 11 offered Hammer a fill-in gig while meteorologist Laura Betker was on maternity leave. That was a turning point.
"Belinda [Jensen], Sven [Sundgaard], Pat [Evans], Julie [Nelson], I didn't expect them not to be, but they were just so cool. I found myself ribbing Randy Shaver from the first day I was on the air. It was comfortable. That's what made me say, 'I want to stay here.' "
KARE 11 news director Jane Helmke took note of the viewer response to Hammer, but had no opening. She told me she made a call to Buffalo's WGRZ, another Gannett station.
"I did not even know about the job," said Hammer. "Kevin O'Connell is retiring, and I'll take his position whenever he decides to retire," said Hammer, who is eternally grateful to Helmke.
"I know she won't admit it, but my new news director, Jeff Woodard, told me, I got a call from Jane Helmke. For that reason we're talking to you. Come out and let's have an interview. The rest is history. I do not believe I would have this job without her input. She doesn't want to take credit for it, that's not her personality. But she gave me a nice recommendation."
So is Hammer taking a more Sven-like physique to Buffalo, thanks to all that biking?
"Here's the deal," said Hammer, as if dispensing secret details. "That dude is cut. I'm a little more fit."
C.J. can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and seen on Fox 9's "Buzz." E-mailers, please state a subject; "Hello" does not count. Attachments are not opened.