Ex-KMBC weatherman Joel Nichols starts his new gig on Channel 41

07/07/2014 3:16 PM

07/07/2014 3:16 PM

Monday wasn’t Joel Nichols’ first official day on the air at KSHB, Channel 41 — that’d be Tuesday — but he just couldn’t resist popping onto the set of his new show, “Kansas City Live.”

He chitchatted with fellow host Michelle Davidson about his 26 years in KC — “We’ve raised all our kids here. All my debt is here. So that makes it home,” he told her — and showed pictures of the four Nichols offspring.

She has a daughter named Stella; he has a dog named Stella. “My Stella has fleas. Your Stella probably doesn’t,” he joked.

And he dragged Davidson over to a computer monitor to see what she thought of a possible new “KCL” opening. It featured his name with a picture of George Clooney.

The station called his Monday appearance a cameo, but Nichols, now sporting specs, had another word for it.

“In the terminology of the youth — photobomb,” he deadpanned in an interview with The Star in the “Kansas City Live” green room after the show.

Nichols, 53, has been out of sight of the TV viewing public since the first of the year, when he left KMBC, Channel 9, after 25 years.

KMBC management wanted to move the affable weatherman from weekday mornings to a Tuesday-Saturday evening schedule. He would have “tag teamed” with chief meteorologist Bryan Busby three nights a week, then flown solo Friday and Saturday nights.

He insists he didn’t quit or threaten to quit. But he also wasn’t willing to sign a multiyear contract to stay with Channel 9, he says.

One factor was that his youngest son had one semester left in high school. Another son was home before starting grad school. Nichols didn’t want to miss out on time with them.

Plus, “I liked mornings,” he says. “I liked the family that we had built in the morning,” not just on the Channel 9 set but with viewers.

So, at loggerheads on a contract, he and the station parted company. In the days and weeks afterward, he chose not to talk publicly about his former employer.

“There wasn’t much to say,” he explains. “People lose their jobs every day and in every walk of life.”

Even though “the ending was a little murky,” his overall experience at KMBC was positive, he says. One thing he got to do there probably helped prepare him for his new gig on “Kansas City Live,” Channel 41’s hourlong lifestyle and entertainment show (10 a.m. weekdays).

That would be “AfterWords,” a talk show Nichols launched in 1992. Until 2005 it was a half-hour program that Channel 9 usually aired late at night.

His first guest didn’t have to travel far: KMBC sportscaster Len Dawson. His second guest: actor and KCK native Ed Asner.

Other guests over the years included Ellen DeGeneres, Michael J. Fox, Steve Allen and almost everyone who appeared at the New Theatre.

After 2005, Nichols started producing mini-versions of “AfterWords” that aired on KMBC’s weekend morning newscasts.

He likes interviewing people. He’ll get to do a lot of that on “Kansas City Live,” a program that in his view showcases the good news around town. He replaces departing co-host Michael Mackie.

Down the road, his new bosses have said, he may take on other assignments, although Nichols shakes his head when asked about stepping in front of a weather map again.

He’d be happy to help if a major weather story develops, but KSHB chief meteorologist Gary Lezak is “about the best and most enthusiastic weather person” in town, he says. He praises other members of the weather team as well.

As for how Nichols has spent the last half a year …

“I should have a great answer for that. ‘I learned how to parasail.’ Or ‘I became a gourmet chef.’ ”

After the Channel 9 job ended, his second oldest son advised him to catch up on his sleep, take it easy.

“Because I’m an overachiever, I did that for six months,” Nichols jokes.

He also read a lot. And hung out with the family, of course. He and wife Jessica’s kids range in age from 18 to 25.

Initially he thought he might teach more — he already teaches broadcasting at Johnson County Community College. (His college degree is in education.)

But Jessica told him something good would come along, and it has.

“I am so grateful to the viewers of Kansas City for being such great friends for so many years,” Nichols says. “And I’m grateful that we can continue this relationship through ‘Kansas City Live.’

“I really could not have asked for a better place to land.”

To reach Tim Engle, call 816-234-4779 or send email to tengle@kcstar.com. On Twitter: @tim_engle

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