Known as “The Biggest Name in Weather,” Bob DeBardelaben was one of WRAL-TV’s best known on-air personalities, gaining fame as the primary weather anchor of the station’s dominant “Action News 5” broadcasts.
DeBardelaben was born in Buffalo, NY, but moved to Greensboro, NC at age 11. Following tours in the Merchant Marine and US Navy he enrolled at UNC-Chapel Hill. That’s where he discovered a talent for broadcasting and he soon switched his major to communications.
Following graduation from UNC, DeBardelaben landed a job at WTIK-AM, a Durham radio station owned in part by Floyd Fletcher, son of Capitol Broadcasting founder AJ Fletcher. From Durham, Bob moved on to on-air and management positions at a series of radio stations outside North Carolina.
In 1959, DeBardelaben was lured to Raleigh to work for an AM station that would soon revolutionize the local radio market. The station was WKIX, which became one of the most popular and successful radio outlets in the South.
As one of the early “KIX Men,” Bob handled on-air shifts under the name “Bob Kelly.” Listeners grew familiar with the station “jingle” that introduced him: “Time for the Bob Kelly Show, time for the man on the go!” Bob also created a signature sign-off phrase that many remembered years after his KIX days: “This is Mrs. Kelly’s little bald-headed boy, Rapid Robert!”
As DeBardelaben’s success grew, Capitol Broadcasting management was paying attention, and a job offer was eventually extended. Bob joined CBC in 1966 as a sales rep for Tobacco Radio Network. He began voicing commercials and handling a variety of on-air and off-air jobs, and by the late 60s he was doing the morning show on WRAL-FM.
It wasn’t long before DeBardelaben’s talents would move to the world of television, where he gained instant popularity as the host of “Dialing for Dollars,” a daily quiz program on WRAL-TV. Bob would spin a big wheel, make random phone calls and challenge viewers to win money if they could recite “the count and the amount” of the contest totals at that particular moment.
Bob’s popularity continued to grow, and in 1976 his career was forever changed when he was named the primary weathercaster of WRAL-TV’s weekday newscasts. DeBardelaben replaced long-time weatherman Bob Caudle, who was focusing on a growing career as a wrestling announcer.
DeBardelaben and Caudle joined forces in a series of satirical promotions that announced the on-air change. The campaign was dubbed “As the Weather Turns,” and featured appearances by a wide variety of characters, including CBC executive Jim Goodmon and professional wrestler “Black Jack” Mulligan.
Bob wasted little time making a big name for himself in weather. Although he wasn’t a trained forecaster, he adapted quickly and spent hours learning from the friendly meteorologists at the local weather bureau.
Despite his growing weather knowledge, Bob admits he never had a great grasp of US geography, so he resorted to his own version of cue cards. Bob couldn’t remember all the state names and locations, but the WRAL weather map was large enough so he could lightly pencil in each state’s initials and readily identify them on air. Bob smoothly and accurately referenced all the states in his weathercasts and loyal viewers never knew the difference!
In 1984 Bob traveled to New York City for a guest role on the ABC soap opera “Ryan’s Hope.” It was all part of a promotion between ABC and WRAL, and Bob played the role of an underworld “heavy.” He spoke only three lines, but he remembers them to this day: “Well, well, look who’s here;” “Isn’t that John’s girlfriend?” and “That girl better watch it!”
Bob was always up for a weather stunt, as well. In the mid-80s he broadcast the weather one evening from a platform near the top of WRAL’s 2,000-foot tower. All went well, but when he came back down after the newscast he kissed the ground and said “never again!”
DeBardelaben retired in 1989 at age 62. Always an avid golfer, he says he wanted to spend more time on the links.
In 2006, Bob DeBardelaben returned to the WRAL studios to take part in a reunion newscast to mark the station’s 50th anniversary. He joined newscasters Charlie Gaddy and Bobbie Battista and sportscaster Tom Suiter in a memorable newscast that reminded viewers of one of the most successful on-air teams in history.
For years after he retired, Bob was still recognized in public, and when complete strangers wandered up to ask “aren’t you Bob DeBardelaben?” he had a ready answer: “Yes, I used to be!”
Bob DeBardelaben died October 6, 2014 following a brief illness. He was 88.