UNI alum aims for Guinness Record
Jym Ganahl (’70), an Associated Press Broadcasting Hall of Famer, credits his studies in geography and math at the University of Northern Iowa with giving him lessons that helped propel his successful 55-year career as a TV weatherman.
“I loved college and I loved UNI,” said the 72-year-old Cedar Rapids native, who started working as an evening news weatherman at age 17 and continued doing so while he attended UNI. Two of Ganahl’s seven siblings also graduated from UNI — Jeff (1973) and Joe (1985).
Ganahl’s prolific career, which took a brief hiatus during a 2016 retirement that didn’t take, will be considered by the Guinness Book of World Records for its longest-serving TV weatherman record in September when he hits his 56th broadcasting anniversary
To celebrate, he’s applied to be on a Virgin Galactic suborbital space flight.
It’s been quite a journey for Ganahl, the on-air meteorologist for Columbus, Ohio’s ABC 6/FOX 28 News at noon. Looking back, he said regretted missing night-time labs at UNI because of his work schedule.
But his work conflicts had upsides, too, particularly the time he missed his advanced calculus final exam because he was reporting on two F5 tornados — with winds exceeding 200 mph — that hit Charles City and Oelwein, Iowa, at about 5:20 p.m. on May 15, 1968. (Yes, he remembered those details.)
“I wasn’t the smartest [student],” he said. “I was a B minus person. But I remember everything. I loved it so much, it benefited me really well. My daughter can’t believe she can ask me about something 50 years ago, and I can still recall it.”
“Weather affects everything — insects, geology, terrain, erosion, and geography,” said Ganahl, who, as a student, worked closely with his UNI professor of geography and economic development, the late Lowell Goodman, and absorbed nature’s lessons for himself by taking long walks in the Cedar Valley’s woods. He remembers flying with Goodman, who was a licensed pilot, to watch his professor’s off-campus lectures and presentations.
"We're proud of all our alums and it's exciting to see the success Jym has had in his record-breaking career," said Geography Department head Mark Welford, also a professor of geography. "Geography is a major with applications in many different fields including weather forecasting, mobile maps and even aerial drones."
If you’re wondering about the unusual spelling of his first name, Ganahl said his mother didn’t want him to be called “James,” so she thought that “Jym” would see to that.
Ganahl’s insights — did you know that the number of times a cricket chirps in 14 seconds, plus 40, will give you the current temperature? Or that the number of foggy mornings in August roughly equals the number of the following winter’s snow days? —inform the folklore and witticisms that have kept Ganahl’s fans glued to his broadcasts all these years.
And about those snow days. As a teen, Ganahl got angry at the local Waterloo TV weatherman’s unimpressive forecasts that left Ganahl disappointed when a promised snowfall never happened — and his hoped-for day off of school evaporated.
“I walked into the TV station in Waterloo and told them that I could do a better job,” he said. It just so happened that the weatherman was leaving, so KWWL-TV hired Ganahl at age 17 for a six-day-a-week evening news shift.
After graduating from UNI, he served in the Army, where he earned the Spirit and Honor Medal, “Most Outstanding Scout” and #1 Marksman with an M-16 rifle awards. He worked in flight operations with a National Guard helicopter unit.
Weather again played a role in Ganahl’s fate when the blizzard of 1978 helped him take a new role as night-side weatherman at WCMH-TV/Channel 4 in Columbus, Ohio.
“I love winter,” both for the beauty of snow and ice, Ganahl said, but also because it is less hectic to report on snow systems than fast-developing summer storms. He stayed at WCHM-TV for 37 years, until 2016, where he developed a following, often interrupting primetime shows with breaking news on threatening tornadoes and imminent weather dangers.
After Ganahl unsuccessfully tried retirement — he got bored — he returned on-air at WSYX-TV, Channel 6, in March 2019.
He enjoys forecasting the weather on radio, too, and has mastered the secret of making his weathercasting work in differing formats.
“The weather forecast has to match the music of the station,” Ganahl said. “My forecast has to be 7 seconds with fast music; 12 to 13 minutes with slower music, and it can be 20 minutes on country stations.”
Ganahl served as the on-air meteorologist on WNCI 97.9-FM for 40 years while at NBC; today he does the same for WTVN 610-AM and WCOL 92.3-FM.
Though Ganahl loves his work, he believes in staying open to new experiences.
He did just that in Columbus when a science teacher in his parish school quit, and he took up the role, teaching sixth, seventh and eighth-grade math and science at St. Agatha School for three years during the day, while continuing as the night-time TV news meteorologist. He also taught science for a gifted-student program for nine summers at Ohio Wesleyan.
“We spent a lot of times in the woods, since I incorporated the same things [about nature, geology and geography] that I learned in my college days,” Ganahl said.
Ganahl also has performed in the cast of Tecumseh, an outdoor drama in Chillicothe, and for Shadowbox Live, a comedic troupe.
So what’s Ganahl’s advice for young people?
“I would tell everyone, make sure you do something that you like. Every day will be fun,” he said. “Money has to not matter at all. It’s the only way you can [have a career like his] and have a happy life. You can’t contradict or fight it. And make sure you’re not one-dimensional.”
He’s worked with 28 news directors throughout his career, so he’s straightforward about how to succeed.
“The boss is always right,” Ganahl said. “Pick your battles. You have to ask yourself, ‘Does this matter in the grand scheme of life?”
Ganahl’s insights have certainly served him well.
“I have the same excitement, enthusiasm and desire to go to work as I always did. I’ve never tired of it,” he said.
And he still aspires to reach higher — in this case, into space, in keeping with his love of astronomy.
He has applied to go up into sub-orbital space and will find out in late September if he can realize his dream.
“I would ask Mark Hamill, aka Luke Skywalker, to go up with me,” Ganahl said, and it would be on the Richard Branson’s spaceplane.
“That’s my dream,” he said.