SPRINGFIELD — A popular meteorologist has been absent from local television newscasts since criticizing a corporate weather-alert brand last week, prompting an advertising boycott, social media protests and a complaint from a U.S. senator.
Joe Crain, a WICS-TV staff member since 2004, disappeared from the weather report after ad-libbing June 5 about the "Code Red" moniker that station owner Sinclair Broadcast Group implemented as a severe-weather alert.
Reflecting the frustration of a community that believes the brand is overused and often alarms viewers unnecessarily, Crain said, "It's all-inclusive, it doesn't recognize that not all storms are created equal."
"When you hear 'Code Red,' you think, as they say, the feces is about to hit the fan. We understand your concerns," Crain said. "It's not us. This is a corporate initiative, the 'Code Red' alert, and behind the scenes, many of us have tried to dissuade it for the last few months, to try something that's less controversial."
Crain declined comment Monday.
It's unclear how Maryland-based Sinclair, which owns 191 television stations in 89 markets, directs its local affiliates to use "Code Red." Messages left for two Sinclair representatives and the WICS general manager were not returned. Critics say it's overused and blankets the entire viewing area regardless of how isolated a storm might be.
The reaction was immediate, with online petitions demanding Crain's return and ubiquitous social media posts with hashtag-stamped protests. A journalist for a local weekly newspaper penned a song, "Joe Crain," set to the tune of the century-old radical-labor anthem, "Joe Hill." The online video begins with a parodied warning, "It's a 'Code Red' alert. A Code Red. Everybody, hide!"
Even Democratic U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, a Springfield resident, said at a weekend news conference that Crain is "reliable and said something that was obvious."
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"When someone sticks his neck out the way he did, those of us who believe he's right need to say so," Durbin said, according to The (Springfield) State Journal-Register.
The incident is the second media dust-up in a month in this city of 115,000, part of the nation's 82nd largest television market. The State Journal-Register's executive editor, Angie Muhs, resigned May 10 in part hoping to spare more layoffs ordered by its owner, New York-based GateHouse Media.
Several prominent businesses have pulled their advertising in support of Crain and in protest of "Code Red." The owner of one former advertiser, Mark Coats of Marx Fireplaces and Lighting, said the alarm needlessly keeps would-be shoppers at home.
"The 'Code Red' thing is a joke to start with and he called them out on it," Coats said of Crain. "It's unbelievable the amount of business dollars they hurt. The only ones who benefit are the grocery stores and the gas stations."
At Grab a Java, a popular drive-thru coffee joint known for its changing banners capturing current events with coffee-themed puns and pithy catch-phrases, a painted image of Crain holding a cup of coffee looks out at passing traffic headed downtown under the legend, "Code Red? The only thing brewing is our coffee. #SupportJoeCrain"
Bill Legge, who owns Grab a Java with his wife, Viktorija, said he agrees with Crain that the National Weather Service has a more reasonable and understandable system — a color-coded weather-map gradient to distinguish varying degrees of storm threat.
"It's fear-mongering. It gets people excited over nothing," Legge said of "Code Red." He added that he saw Crain's on-air explanation and thought Crain was "extremely professional."
"You could tell he didn't agree with it," Legge said, "but you could tell he also cares a lot about our community."