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John Yates, longtime Channel 5 weatherman, dies at 86

Updated: 2014-02-12T19:59:00Z

By TIM ENGLE

The Kansas City Star

Update: Following the death of John Yates, meteorologist Tom Wachs has written an article about the history of Channel 5.

Find it on the KCTV weather blog.


John Yates, a solid, unshowy weatherman for more than 20 years at Channel 5, died Tuesday at an assisted living facility in Overland Park. He was 86.

Yates joined the station then known as KCMO-TV (now KCTV) in 1958 and stayed on the air there until 1981. In the 1970s he was one-third of a popular weekday anchor team that included newsman Don Harrison and sportscaster Bruce Rice. Later in that decade he worked alongside Wendall Anschutz, Anne Peterson and Jack Harry.

Yates “was a consummate professional,” remembered Harry, now KSHB’s sports director, who joined Channel 5 in 1974. “He was one of the most conscientious people in the business that I’ve ever been around. He was just meticulous about everything, and that’s before they had all the (weather) equipment and everything else.

“He was just kind of a weatherman’s weatherman.”

Today’s TV meteorologists, who more often than not deliver their forecasts from inside a warm studio, have it easy compared to Yates. For a period in the late 1970s he had to do the weather from out in the elements. Even in December.

The Star’s TV critic at the time, Gerald B. Jordan, wrote that Yates ought to have complained to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration about poor working conditions: “The station’s outside weather forecast does nothing more than make it seem the poor man doesn’t have sense to come in from the cold.”

Yates was born and raised in St. Louis, where he got a job in radio right out of high school, said Jill Bagby of Overland Park, one of Yates’ two daughters. He also worked in radio while serving in the Army during the Korean War.

His first television job was at KQTV, Channel 2, in St. Joseph. Then he joined Channel 5.

“He always did weather, but back then especially he did a lot of voice-over work, promotional and commercial-type work,” Bagby said.

If a movie star was coming through town, Yates was sometimes the interviewer.

“He had a great voice, so he was kind of a natural in broadcasting,” Bagby added. “And he was definitely a science nerd.”

Yates told The Star in 1979: “I have done an awful lot in broadcasting — news, variety shows, quiz shows, entertainment and live specials from theaters. …

“Sure, it gets monotonous to program my head with this stuff,” he said, pointing to his weather maps, “but fair or foul, wind or rain, I have to go on.”

He had a good sense of humor, but Yates the weatherman was not one for “a lot of antics” or goofiness, his daughter said.

Although he wasn’t a meteorologist (his degree from Washington University was in science), Yates was a member of the American Meteorological Society and had served as chairman of the local chapter.

Fred Broski replaced him as weekday weatherman in 1980. Yates was moved to weekends and, three days a week, the noon news.

When he resigned from KCMO in 1981 he said: “I felt it was time for a change. You have to keep in mind you can’t stay young and beautiful forever.”

He semiretired after leaving Channel 5 but continued his involvement with a local astronomical society, Bagby said. He also started a business making high-end custom optics primarily for telescopes.

Her father had Alzheimer’s disease, Bagby said.

Yates, who was divorced, is also survived by daughter Jan Soptic of Leawood.

Funeral services are being finalized under the direction of Amos Family Funeral Home of Shawnee.

To reach Tim Engle, call 816-234-4779 or send email to tengle@kcstar.com. Follow him on Twitter at tim_engle.

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