Penn State student chases childhood dream with TV internship

Emily Morrison
November 06, 2017

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — When he was just two years old, Johnson was fascinated by snow storms and developed a passion for the weather. A Philadelphia native, he grew up watching the local news and knew from a young age that he wanted to be a meteorologist.

In 2003, when Johnson was in first grade, he attended a camp called Kidcaster hosted by Kathy Orr. Orr, who was the first female meteorologist in the Philadelphia weather market, has won numerous awards for broadcasting, including eight Mid-Atlantic Emmy awards for “Best Weathercaster.”

“She was my favorite meteorologist when I was growing up,” Johnson said. “I was so excited to meet her.”

At the end of the Kidcaster program, he shyly posed for a picture with Kathy.

It would be more than a decade before he would have the opportunity to meet Orr again. In the fall of 2016, Johnson, then a sophomore double majoring in meteorology and atmospheric science and journalism, received an email from Jon Nese, the associate head of the undergraduate meteorology and atmospheric science program at Penn State. The message informed him that Kathy Orr would be facilitating a workshop at the University and that there was limited space available for students. Johnson responded immediately.

“Luckily I had gotten up early that day and checked my email. Professor Nese needed to know pretty quickly which students were able to attend, and, had I waited a few hours, I could have missed the opportunity,” he said.

One of the activities in the workshop involved an impromptu weather forecast on Facebook Live, and after his mini-broadcast, Johnson had the chance to speak with Orr one-on-one. He was the only sophomore in attendance at the event; all of the other students were seniors.

During their conversation that day, Orr offered Johnson a position at the FOX 29 station in Philadelphia as her intern. Again, he responded immediately.

“Kathy asked if I would be interested in interning with her the following summer,” Johnson said. “Of course I said yes.”

Throughout the summer, Johnson worked closely with Orr and meteorologist Scott Williams. From his very first day in the studio, Johnson was making weather graphics and forecasts as well as producing weather “teases,” or clips shown at the beginning of a newscast.

While the tasks he completed throughout the summer remained regular, the sometimes chaotic changes in weather allowed him to develop precision and confidence in his skills.

Johnson recalled one specific instance when the studio received a report of two confirmed tornadoes right before the five o’clock news. The confirmed tornadoes became the top news story of that broadcast, and he had to race with other producers and meteorologists to assemble the information and graphics that Orr would need. In this way, he had to both interpret the data that the weather center was receiving and also determine what information was the most important for viewers of the broadcast.

“It was all really exciting and fast-paced,” Johnson said. “I didn’t just watch other people work. I was an intern who was getting real hands-on experience.”

At FOX 29, Orr hosts her own segment called Orr down the Shore where she travels to different beaches in the greater Philadelphia area, reporting on both the weather and the local events. During his time as an intern, Johnson was able to travel with Orr and help produce the segment on-site.

Johnson feels a strong connection to his hometown of Philadelphia and hopes to build his career there. He and Orr still keep in touch. While he is no longer the shy kid from the Kidcaster program in 2003, he still has that same passion for meteorology, and now is doing what few people get to do: making those childhood dreams a reality.

  • Robert Johnson FOX 29

    Johnson posing in the FOX 29 newsroom during his summer internship.

    IMAGE: Robert Johnson
  • Robert Johnson and Kathy Orr FOX 29

    Meteorology intern Robert Johnson and his mentor Kathy Orr having lunch in the FOX 29 studio.

    IMAGE: Robert Johnson
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Last Updated June 02, 2021