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Our Keynote: James Spann

Session Details

  • Date: Monday, June 29
  • Time: 11:00 am - 12:00 pm
  • Room: Russell Hall Auditorium
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If you’re at all familiar with James Spann, he needs no introduction. He’s a big deal in this part of the country because he understands the weather but, more importantly, he’s a great communicator who understands his audience.

James is the Chief Meteorologist for ABC 33/40 and has been a television weather anchor for 36 years.

James has over 145,000 Twitter followers, and is the most followed local television personality in the nation on social media.

Q&A With James Spann

  • What is your first memory of the Internet?
    • First memory of the Internet was around 1990… when CompuServe opened up the potential of sending others email that weren’t CompuServe account holders.
  • Outside of weather-related websites and social media, what is your favorite website and why?
    • Good question… most of the sites I visit are related to weather or social media; guess one of my favorite’s is Leo Laporte’s This Week In Tech network.
  • What current technology, web-based or otherwise, do you wish existed when you were in college?
    • My college days were in the 1970s; the ability to see live radar, real time weather data, and the ability to interact with others that loved weather was unthinkable. Other than amateur radio.
  • You’re a pretty busy person. What are your favorite productivity tools to help plan your projects and get everything done?
    • I use Evernote, Google Inbox, and the Google set of online docs extensively.
  • Which common website elements, features, or functionality do you like? Which ones could you live without?
    • When it comes to web sites, simplicity is very important to me. Most sites are full of graffiti that I totally ignore.
  • I saw that your son just graduated from high school. Congrats! As a parent of a prospective college student, what feedback would you give to higher ed web professionals to help them provide a better user experience to prospective students and their parents?
    • I think it is important to understand that most now access web sites from phones and tablets; they need to be user friendly for mobile, and also the option to easily access the full site need to be available. About 70-75 percent of users now access our sites from a mobile device. And, keep it clean and simple.
  • What do you think is the biggest struggle we face as communicators in the Information Age?
    • We tend to be disconnected with people. Remember, most that access your site don’t look like you, don’t live where you live, and don’t vote for the same people you vote for. We are in a very polarized society unfortunately, but it is our job to reach as many people as possible. Not just those like us.
  • Have you ever built a website?
    • We run on the WordPress platform, and is run on Drupal. I am very familiar with both platforms; years ago I attempted to use Front Page and iWeb, but I preferred to hand code those early sites.
  • You’re a pretty big deal on social media. What would you say is the reason for your success?
    • Any social media success is simply related to being available, answering questions and engaging with your followers, and treating people right. You have to have a servant’s heart.
  • If you could make a living outside of meteorology, what career would you create for yourself?
    • My next career choice would be teaching elementary school (main choice would be second grade, the last grade of innocence these days). Those are my people… I connect kids easily, and enjoy getting them motivated.

Get to Know James Spann

James has received the two highest awards in the nation for a broadcast meteorologist:

  • “Broadcaster of the Year” by the National Weather Association, which he accepted in September 2012. According to the NWA, James was selected to receive the award “For his passionate dedication to serving the Central Alabama community with critical weather information for over thirty years, especially during the deadly April 27, 2011 tornado outbreak.”
  • AMS (American Meteorological Society) “Award for Broadcast Meteorology” in January 2013. The AMS stated he was the winner in part because of “his tireless efforts to advance the public’s awareness of and engagement in the science of meteorology, particularly severe weather forecasting and response”.

James won an Emmy for best television weather anchor in the Southeast U.S. from the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences in June 2014.

James was also elected to the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences Silver Circle in 2013. Essentially, it is the ultimate Emmy Award. It represents outstanding achievement spanning at least 25 years in the broadcast industry with a proven record of mentoring and community involvement. In 2001, James received another Emmy for live coverage of the deadly tornado which hit Tuscaloosa on December 16, 2000. His work during that storm also helped ABC 33/40 earn a prestigious national Edward R. Murrow award for spot news coverage.

Readers of Birmingham Magazine have voted James as “Best TV Personality” and “Best Tweeter” multiple times over the years. He has also been named “Best Weather Anchor” in Alabama by the Associated Press, and winner of the Alabama Broadcasters Association ABBY Award for “Best Weathercaster in Alabama” many times over his long career.

James was one of the first weather anchors in the nation to earn “Certified Broadcast Meteorologist” status from the American Meteorological Society. Among television meteorologists, the CBM designation is sought as a mark of distinction and recognition. To earn the CBM, broadcasters must hold a degree in meteorology or equivalent from an accredited college or university, pass a rigorous written examination, and have their on-air work reviewed to assess technical competence, informational value, explanatory value, and communication skills. He also has been awarded the seal of approval from the National Weather Association and holds a certificate in broadcast meteorology from Mississippi State University.

He is the host of WeatherBrains, a weekly weather podcast.

The University of West Alabama conferred an honorary doctor of laws degree to James in 2013.

In his spare time, James enjoys tennis and amateur radio. He earned his first ham radio license at the age of 14, and holds an extra class license.