Spinks Megginson has a rare mix of entrepreneurial spirit and love of weather. He also really can’t stand that weather app you have in your pocket right now and has little patience for national weather sources.
He has a bit of a radical idea- that people want to get good weather information and a sense of community while receiving it.
He launched RedZone Weather, a hyperlocal weather and information brand in early 2015. It has quickly grown into a sustainable business by serving the communities that dot Southwest Alabama and Northwest Florida. But he has dreams for bigger things as well.
Here’s 10 questions with Spinks Megginson:
1) RISE NEWS- Where did your whole fascination with weather come from?
Spinks Megginson: I’ve wanted to study weather and teach others about meteorology for as long as I can remember, and that’s no exaggeration. I am incredibly thankful for my family and their support even when I was quite young. I can remember when I was 3 or 4, they would ask me to point to the “red spot” on the television screen. That’s one of the reasons why my company is RedZone Weather.
Also when I was super young, I was learning states and geography by putting glass stick-on puzzles together on the back door. They bought me maps, atlases, and books.
We also went through Hurricane Opal in 1995 as a family, and that was a defining experience. Nine years later, I had a Gateway (remember that?) desktop computer and I was able to track Hurricane Ivan as a seventh grader.
I think there’s a natural interest there and there always has been. That, in combination with my family fostering the development of an interest, has been a real blessing.
2) RISE- How did that development continue when you got to high school? Did you ever express your weather love in class?
Spinks Megginson: I can see #weatherlove trending!
I worked at WEBJ Radio in my hometown of Brewton, Alabama during high school. This allowed me to learn quite a bit not only about communication during severe weather events, but also about announcing news, daily weather, and sports. I also became a student member of the National Weather Association. That gave me some insight into the weather enterprise through their publications.
I didn’t ever really express how much I enjoyed meteorology to others in class during high school, but it definitely was a known fact that I was interested in the subject. People would often ask me about weather, even then.
3) RISE- What about your college experience? How did it help you on your path?
Spinks Megginson: College was an integral part of my growth, both personally and professionally. In addition to learning a tremendous amount about the broadcast communication industry, I connected with many different people across the nation. I am thrilled to maintain these connections even now, more than two years after graduating from The University of Alabama.
My professors at UA were truly spectacular. Dr. Chandra Clark and Dr. Jason Senkbeil are the two professors that really stand out. I learned a vast amount of knowledge and acquired “real world” experience just by taking their classes. Dr. Clark is a former television producer, while Dr. Senkbeil is a former television meteorologist.
I think the specific opportunity that helped me most was being able to work on staff at WVUA23-TV during and after college. It was an honor to be one of the only weather interns to ever be offered a job at WVUA. The staff at WVUA, particularly Chief Meteorologist Richard Scott, involved me in daily operations and also in multiple severe weather events. That enabled me to learn so much more than being in a class ever could. I also worked with WVUA-FM, furthering my radio résumé.
4) RISE- How long have you been thinking about something like RedZone Weather then? Because it seems like you had other career options coming out of school.
Spinks Megginson: It’s true that I’ve had several job offers to do TV weather, right after college and as recently as a few weeks ago. I’m grateful to have those opportunities and I’ll certainly consider each opportunity I’m given. I consider it an honor to even have the chance to work with some of the great people in television in Alabama and beyond. I still occasionally do fill-in work on the evening newscasts at WVUA. I like to “keep my feet wet” in the TV world. Moreover, I like to be reminded of just how wonderful my current schedule is outside of television.
RedZone Weather is a bit of a culmination of my life experiences and a grandiose opportunity that I couldn’t ignore. I’ve been thinking about the concept for years, and that’s not an exaggeration. No “old media (for now, anyway).” Simply “new media.” That’s the goal. Meet people where they are already. People aren’t watching 10 o’clock newscasts. For many reasons, but that’s a discussion for another day. People ARE, however, increasingly on their smartphones and tablets all the time. The initial thought was to build a company around that. My time at UA helped me form the initial thought process on how to successfully do something like this. Ten months after graduating college, I started the company.
I didn’t, and still don’t, have all the answers. It’s a day-by-day learning experience. I’m having a blast though. I’ve done so many presentations about RedZone over the past few weeks and months that I can’t even tell you how many people I’ve met. That’s been a highlight. It’s truly a wonderful company with hopefully a bright, sunny future.
5) RISE- What has been the hardest part of starting your own media business?
Spinks Megginson: I’m the “everything” for this company. That means I’m the weather guy, sometimes the producer, director, janitor, PR man, IT coordinator, CEO, editor, “you name it, I do it” individual. That fact has its perks at times, but overall, I wish there were more people involved. It’s a fine balance though because I’m not interested in having a massive company right now, either.
Bruce Thompson has been with me since the start… I told him about what I wanted to see with RedZone, and he helped me set up the company as a Limited Liability Company (LLC). Bruce also has been active on severe weather days with the company. He and Leigh Margaret Bostic, who is one of my best friends, have been phenomenal at producing on-screen content during the severe weather events of the past few months. I’m thrilled to not only call both of them friends, but also have them involved in RedZone Group, LLC.
It’s certainly difficult being a “one man band” at times, but so far, thankfully it hasn’t been an insurmountable challenge.
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6) RISE- So you’ve been active with it for over a year now and things have seemed to go well. Have you been happy with the response from the community?
Spinks Megginson: For me to simply answer yes would be an understatement. I’ve had so many people from around the region rally around what I’m doing. I think it’s obvious, based on the comments that are publicly accessible on Facebook and Twitter and based on the large number of positive comments people have said to me in person, that this service is truly beneficial for our community and our region.
RedZone Weather is one of those things that people didn’t realize they needed until it benefited them directly. Like on February 15 and 23rd, when two EF3 tornadoes moved across our region. It’s a hyperlocal weather service designed with rural communities first in mind. This isn’t about putting profits at the forefront, like most radio and television stations have to do. This is about helping people. Communicating urgent weather information that has the potential to save a life. Being present in the community across the region and actually caring that people know what to do during severe weather. That’s what it’s about.
“People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” I don’t know who said that quote, and evidently the Internet doesn’t either based on my Google search, but it’s exactly what I want RedZone to be about. So far, I think we’re doing alright with that.
WATCH: RedZone Weather report on the start of Hurricane Season.
7) RISE- How do you compete with the notion that some people have that apps do a fine job of giving local weather information?
Spinks Megginson: Great question. Why should weather guys like me still be a part of a person’s life on a regular basis when he or she could easily look at the free iPhone weather app that comes preloaded on every device?
That means I’m competing with the app in almost everyone’s pocket. Android has a weather app. I assume Windows/Blackberry phones do too. I assume even most feature/flip phones have some type of weather access. That’s a pretty daunting challenge.
The difference with what I’m doing versus the apps is huge.
What most people don’t realize is nearly every weather app (including the iPhone weather app, by the way) is a view of raw model output statistics. No specific model is always right. Not one. They all have individual flaws. I take a blend of individual models AND incorporate what I know about specific recurring model errors. Models can’t do that. I can. TV weather guys can. I then apply corrections and refinements and produce a forecast.
Don’t even get me started about how many times I’ve seen the stock iPhone weather app be dead wrong. I can communicate “a line of storms will move through around 6AM Tuesday, followed by cooler temperatures and clearing skies.” The iPhone app displays nothing but a lightning icon for days in advance. The same holds true for many other apps. This isn’t a far-fetched example… It happened recently!
The media for how we communicate weather information is changing — and always will be changing. What doesn’t change is the need for people to communicate weather patterns. Weather-related models, computers, and apps are getting better. Slowly, but surely. I’m convinced that there won’t be any time in our lifetimes, no matter if you’re 4 years old or 84, that we don’t need people to communicate weather info, especially in the high-risk, panic-prone moments of a tornado or a hurricane.
8) RISE- So in a way, you are trying to push back a bit against the blandness of automated information sources like apps and broad ones like the Weather Channel?
Spinks Megginson: I view the network you mentioned and others like it as entertainment/broad information sources. Certain large weather vendors seem to have lost the local connection and the targeted focus of their past. There are a few large weather vendors that do a nice job, but that’s also a discussion for another day.
9) RISE- Right now you are entirely focused on a specific geographic area (Southwest Alabama and Northwest Florida). How do you keep up with everything happening in your region?
Spinks Megginson: It’s impossible to keep up with a massive number of events. I do try to keep up with as many events as I can. People seem to really like the hyperlocal forecasting for specific events, so I try to incorporate as much of that as feasibly possible.
Some events are regularly scheduled, like high school and college football games. I had many encouraging comments about providing specific forecasts for those last year, and I would imagine we will do some of those again.
I’ve had requests to do forecasts for other sports and miscellaneous events. There’s a balance, though, of keeping things generalized to cater to a wide audience from across our ten county dedicated coverage area as well.
10) RISE- Where is RedZone Weather going? What do you think the future of it will be?
Spinks Megginson: I have somewhat of a grand vision for RedZone Group, LLC. I think the next step is continuing the daily grind of building the company. What does that look like? I think visiting and being a part of our local communities — and not just my hometown. I think the exposure and brand recognition in my hometown (where RedZone started) has been fantastic. I am SO appreciative to everyone who supports us in Brewton, Alabama. I think there’s more to it than strictly Brewton, however.
Presentations, lectures, helping people with weather radios, seeking opportunities to help communities around the region and around the state.
This next step isn’t as “sexy” as other things we do. It’s not necessarily “in the spotlight” for everyone to see, but I think it’s a necessary step. Getting to know people takes time and letting them know how much you care takes time.
I can’t imagine ever retiring from something like this (says the 24 year old who probably doesn’t realize what he’s actually saying). I’m having a blast. Another ill-defined quote that I love… “Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.”
I truly love what I do. It’s sometimes not the most agreeable or pleasant job, but it’s always worth it. What an honor it is to be able to talk with people about something that affects literally ALL of our lives. 100% of us are directly and indirectly affected by… Weather.
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Cover Photo Credit: Spinks Megginson.