In an overwhelmingly male market, 31-year-old Jodi Saeland stands out as the only female meteorologist broadcasting in Salt Lake City. In spite of her youth, she gives the undeniable impression of mastery of her medium.
Her approach is natural, she shuns false enthusiasm and she is so petite she looks tailored to the TV screen.By doing the 9 p.m. newscast on Fox, Channel 13, she gets the jump on the competition at channels 2, 4 and 5. But contrary to the conventional wisdom that a woman must work twice as hard to compete for recognition in a man's world, Saeland is remarkably laid back.
"I learned that from the Weather Channel," she says. "I can't be someone I'm not. The way I am on the air and the way I talk in person are the same. Some forecasters are kind of 'in your face.' I'm not. I hope it works to my advantage." Saeland's clear strength is her ability to make what she does look easy. She seems unaffected and completely conversational.
Many TV stations around the country have at least one woman on staff now, but to secure a main position, as she has at Fox, "is pretty hard."
Originally from northern Minnesota, Saeland comes from a family of seven. She attended the University of Minnesota thinking she would get an engineering degree but had some doubts.
After taking a little time off, she became interested in meteorology. So she transferred to the University of Wisconsin at Madison, one of the best known schools in the field.
Meteorology is a small field to which few women are attracted. Saeland says there were 33 members of her graduating class and only three were women. "A lot of women do weather, like the bimbo types who used to wear short skirts, but that's changing now. You want them to think of you as more than just a pretty face."
As a senior, she had still not considered the possibility of pursuing a career in television, but some of her classmates were doing TV internships, so she decided to try it. She did a summer internship at a station in Minneapolis, but found no job when she graduated.
"My first love was the weather, and television came second."
Saeland took a little hiatus to Hawaii ("I drove my parents crazy!"), then in 1990, she got her first job at an NBC affiliate in Hastings, Neb. "They hired me over the phone while I was in Hawaii. When I got there, everyone expected me to be Hawaiian."
For a year-and-one-half, she worked the 6 and 10 p.m. newscasts, then moved to Evansville, Ind., to help start the 9 p.m. news for a Fox station. After only 10 months, she left for a position at the 24-hour cable Weather Channel in Atlanta, where she stayed 3 1/2 years.
"It was in Atlanta that I really developed the on-air thing, because you're on the air ALL THE TIME! We were on for four hours a day. If the equipment was down, you had to be quick on your feet. They lost their computer one time, and they were talking to me in my ear, saying, 'Just keep going.' I had to go nine straight minutes."
Once she got the giggles on the air. She did a live local forecast for New York City while the other local stations cut away for their local reports.
"I was sitting at the desk and realized my mike was off. I was reaching back to get my mike on, and the guy I was working with turned around to see what I was doing, and he fell down the stairs and knocked over the garbage can. I just lost it, but I had to keep going. For three minutes I didn't do much but laugh. It was pretty awful."
She loved the Weather Channel, because it helped get her experience and exposure. "Besides, if you had a bad show on the Weather Channel, you could redeem yourself in a few minutes."
When she moved on, she tried the big city, Chicago, doing the morning newscast for the CBS affiliate, WBBM, but she was discouraged by the urban jungle.
She could tell very early that she had no desire to be a reporter or an anchor. She did a bit of reporting once while in Chicago, and says she was "lousy."
While doing the weather, she read from the teleprompter for a promotional ad, and her general manager said, "Do us all a favor and just ad lib your promos, because your reading is horrible."
That advice had a powerful effect on her style. In January 1997 she accepted the position she has now at Fox, Ch. 13, where she carved out her casual technique.
"I don't even look at my stuff before the broadcast," says Saeland. "I put my maps together and put things in sequence, and then I never look at it. Some people cycle through the graphics and rehearse what they'll say with each one, but I never do that. I just do it cold."
That's because she learned several years ago that her first take is likely to be her best. "When I did promotional things, I would memorize a script, and it just got worse each time I did it. I have a horrible memory, too. Some people want to be extremely prepared or they stumble, but for me it seems second nature. I don't want it to seem rehearsed."
Saeland had visited Utah before moving here -- as a teenager to stay with her uncle in Ogden -- but she has still noticed a severe cultural adjustment, "especially in the dating department." A single woman, she is a practicing Catholic and is determined to marry in her faith. "To find someone out here who is Catholic is a challenge."
An outdoor person who likes hiking in the mountains, she regularly enjoys the beauties of Utah. She also enjoys reading fiction and biographies. Ever since moving to Salt Lake City, she has been determined to accomplish great things in the mornings, but that never happens. She's "a good sleeper on this schedule."
A competitive personality, Saeland takes pride in her work, so she is happy when people call or stop her on the street to talk. "Mark Eubank's been on the air as long as I've been alive, so I feel good when I get compliments."