Richmond’s favorite fried-chicken-fueled weather report has clucked its last.
On May 20, Richmond Magazine senior writer Harry “the Hat” Kollatz Jr. posted his final Lee’s Chicken Sign Weather Report video online. With the magazine moving its offices from the Book Bindery building to Willow Lawn, Kollatz says it would be difficult logistically to continue the report. The Book Bindery is across Broad Street from Lee’s.
For more than a decade, the journalist, novelist and raconteur sporadically filmed goofy, off-the-cuff weather reports underneath the sign of the local Lee’s Famous Recipe Chicken franchise. A standard episode featured Kollatz theatrically rattling off jokes of varying quality as the sign above cycled through chicken advertisements, store hours and the current temperature on an LED screen.
In the middle of a winter storm of the same name, Kollatz got on his knees to shout “Khaaaaaaan!” a la William Shatner. Amid another snow event, he explained that bombogenesis, a weather phenomenon, was “not the genealogy of a hobbit!” One episode featured a female Richmond Magazine employee wearing shades and a floppy hat to portray a “European Weather Model.” One of his better “It’s so hot” jokes admonished that the temperature was so high that “even in the Fan District, the hipsters can’t keep cool.”
Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night foiled Kollatz from filing, including one occasion when he had to film across the street from the sign because of flooding. Kollatz has taped reports for a birthday party, a wedding, at Times Square and even from Savannah at the request of late Richmond city planner T. Tyler Potterfield, for whom the pedestrian bridge at Brown’s Island is named. Among Kollatz’s favorite episodes – he estimates there have been 90 in total – are ones that costarred his father and a jazz episode with saxophonist Roger Carroll.
The Lee’s Chicken Sign Weather Report came about in late 2010 when Kollatz saw the temperature listed on the sign across the street and asked Chad Anderson, then-editor of Richmond Magazine, to film a short video. Steve Hedberg and Jason Smith, Kollatz’s former colleagues in the art department, were integral to the report. Kollatz says just about everyone at the publication played a role in filming over the years.
Though Kollatz has been a part of the city’s cultural life for three decades – including co-founding the Firehouse Theatre – he says people stop him in the street for his zany weather reportage more than anything else. “People I don’t know [shout] “You’re the Lee’s guy!”
While there has never been any official communication between Kollatz and the head honchos at Lee’s, he did interact with the person who runs the local franchise.
“He said, ‘The corporate guys love you,’” Kollatz recalls. “I’ve never gotten a cease and desist from Lee’s Chicken, nor have I ever gotten any free chicken. Then again, I never asked.”
On social media, many have expressed grief at the report’s passing.
“I didn’t think it would affect me like it has,” says Kollatz of closing down the report’s weather bureau, which he claims is disguised as a Whole Foods. “It’s wonderful that people found it entertaining. Apparently, they needed it. I enjoyed doing them.”
Fans of the report include some of the city’s better-noted meteorologists.
“I’m sad the Lee’s Chicken Sign Weather Report has come to an end. It was a must watch for me! And by ‘must watch’ I mean ‘Harry told me I must watch or he’d trash me in the pages of Richmond Magazine,’” says Andrew Freiden, chief meteorologist for WWBT-NBC12, via email. “Great job, Harry, keeping this storied institution alive. Your jokes were always bad, but the weather reports were always perfect!”
“This is really devastating news, leaving me both emotionally crushed and at a loss for words,” says Zach Daniel, chief meteorologist for WTVR-CBS6. “Where will I go for my pre-show forecast info? How will I know the latest in meteorologist fashion? How will I entertain friends and family without an arsenal of ‘how hot is it’ jokes? I’m broken. #prayforhealing.”
Even Dave Tolleris, the enfant terrible of Richmond weather, gives his regards.
“It’s a sad day for America,” says the independent forecaster of WxRisk.com. Tolleris’ favorite joke? “‘It’s so hot that Andy Freiden is a 7.’”
Is there any chance of a new weather sign report at Richmond Magazine’s new location? Kollatz is doubtful. Though the signs of two nearby businesses report the weather, neither is suitable: “One of them is a bank, and I don’t think they want dubious characters hanging around banks with a camera. The other one is a law office.”
Still, there’s the iconic Markel Building, which has a textured aluminum exterior inspired by a baked potato wrapped in foil. Noting that the Pentagon has recently acknowledged UFOs – and the Markel Building’s likeness to a spaceship – Kollatz floats the possibility of a new incarnation.
“Maybe I should just do an outer space report,” he says before emitting a series of space noises.