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Occupation: Meteorologist, "Good Day Chicago" morning news, Fox 32 Chicago (WFLD-TV)

Degree or certificate program at CLC: Associate in Arts transfer degree, 1982.

Transfer school: Illinois State University; graduated with a B.S. in mass communications in 1984.

Additional education:  Broadcast meteorology certificate, Mississippi State University.

Interests and hobbies: Portrait, commercial and wildlife photography, teaching photography, travel.

Mike Caplan

Q & A with Mike Caplan

What prompted you to enroll at CLC?

I attended Northwestern University for my first semester of college, but I just wasn’t ready for the experience. So I withdrew at the end of the first semester and enrolled at CLC. It was close to Gurnee, my home, and it had small class sizes and offered students individual attention. CLC became a wonderful place to regroup, and it certainly changed my life for the better. With the help of caring instructors, I later narrowed my choice of careers to meteorology and television news.

Which courses did you find especially helpful?

In a journalism course taught by Jerry Pinkham, he handed out a list of common grammatical mistakes that some reporters make, such as incorrect subject/verb agreement. One example is incorrectly using a plural verb after the word “neither,” instead of a singular verb. Most of Jerry’s grammatical pointers were intended for print journalists, but I found the tips to be eye-opening, and I use them to this day.

I also enjoyed physical and cultural geography courses taught by Noel Stirrat. Geography plays a big role in meteorology, and Noel had a combination of unbridled enthusiasm for the subject matter and a refreshing way of conveying the information. The geographical terms and concepts stayed with me 20 years later, when I was enrolled in an oceanography course at Mississippi State University.

If you have an instructor who has a passion for subject, you have more successful learning environment. Just about all of my CLC instructors had that passion, and the small class sizes allowed me to get to know the instructor and ask questions before or after class. 

What did your CLC broadcasting experience consist of, and how did it help you?

I was a disc jockey for the campus radio station, WCLC, and I was “on the air” for an hour or two, three days a week. Our audience was those in Lancers cafeteria, where the studio consisted of a small closet with a couple of (record) turntables and a microphone.  I was able to parlay that experience into DJ gigs at local nightclubs and a Zion radio station. Those broadcasting experiences, beginning at CLC, gave me a foundation and were stepping stones for later work in television.

How valuable was your experience as a reporter for the Chronicle, CLC’s student newspaper?

I was a reporter who did enterprise stories, which are not based on press releases or news conferences, but stories that I uncovered on my own. It was another great experience, and I later discovered that writing for the eye (print journalism) is different from writing for the ear.  In a newspaper story, sentences can be longer with many clauses.  The audience can re-read at its discretion.  For TV, points must be made concisely and in a manner that holds the audience’s attention.  When visuals are added, the TV news writer must take care to match the picture with the words.  If I’m writing about rescue crews arriving on the scene, I don’t want to show video of people playing in the nearby park. With both forms of reporting, you learn to boil down your information to what’s pith, or essential. When I moved into television news, it was a fairly natural transition from print.

In addition to your work as a meteorologist at Fox 32 Chicago, you now teach part-time at CLC, correct?

Yes. For two years, I have been co-teaching at least two personal enrichment courses in photography each semester. This spring, one course focuses on iPhone photography and the other covers portrait lighting. I enjoy being in a creative setting and sharing with others what I’ve mastered in photography.

How important is it to keep building one’s skills to stay employable, especially in mid-life?

It’s really important. In fact, deepening my knowledge of social media played a big part in my return to TV. Research has shown that the number one source of news in the U.S. is Facebook, and at Fox 32, there is a high priority placed on social media to augment the audience.

When ABC7 Chicago released me in 2014, my wife, Laura, and I embarked on a campaign to reconnect with viewers, and we decided that we’d amp up our Facebook presence. So we created a social media weather space unique to this market. Competitors who had social media outlets amounted to using video forecast replays from their TV news programs. 

In April 2015, when there was a notable severe outbreak in the Chicago area, Laura and I set up a studio in our basement. All that day and night, we recorded one- to three-minute video updates, showing radar, and we posted these on our Facebook page. We had thousands of engaged viewers. It demonstrated the success of social media, in that it is an immediate, two-way, interactive communication—compared to television, which is unidirectional.

When a tornado went through the Chicago area in August 2015, I was updating our Facebook and Twitter page all afternoon.  A friend who is a weather geek and a regular contributor to my page was in the Round Lake/Grayslake area that evening and saw flashes of sparks coming from transformers. That’s almost a telltale sign of a tornado touching down. He and I were in almost constant contact during the height of the storm, enabling me warn my followers of the tornado one minute before the National Weather Service issued a tornado warning.

I give my wife, Laura, a tremendous amount of credit for doing the research on social media and providing a great deal of assistance in enhancing my Facebook page and the level of engagement from viewers. She also has given presentations to area business groups on how to build a social media presence and build customer engagement.

What advice do you have for a new or incoming student at CLC?

Don’t just show up for courses. Do everything you can to maximize your experience at the college. Get involved in extracurricular activities. Besides working on the campus newspaper and radio station, I played trombone in the jazz band and was a member of the Phi Theta Kappa honor society. Today, there are so many more student clubs and things to do outside of class than in the early 1980s, when I was on campus. You want to learn and pass your courses to earn credits, but at same time, college has a social component that is important.