Growing up in New York City, Field went to school to be an optometrist, but World War II intervened: he served as a meteorologist with the U.S. Army Air Corps, flying over German-occupied France to get on-the-spot weather observations before bombers followed. Once discharged, Field worked for the U.S. Weather Bureau in New York, and on the side continued to study optometry, eventually earning his doctorate and teaching at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine. In 1958 he took a job as a meteorologist at WRCA-TV (now WNBC), and stayed for over 25 years. “Weather forecasting used to be in a class with reporting real estate transactions for the newspaper,” Field said in 1966. “The networks figured it had to be all jazzed up with pretty girls and other gimmicks.” Until Field hit the air.
With his scientific and teaching background, Field didn’t just talk about the weather, he explained it, and on the side pioneered medical reporting, including a syndicated medical show in the 1960s, Project Research, which ran to nearly 500 episodes. One covered a kidney transplant — live. Field won an award for the segment, and 4,000 viewers signed up as kidney donors. In the early 1970s, he had a guest on his show: Dr. Henry J. Heimlich, who talked about and demonstrated the Heimlich Maneuver to save victims of choking. “Two days later we got a call from someone in Brooklyn who said he had used it to save his brother, and wanted to send a check to Dr. Heimlich for $10,000 and needed his address.” It’s a good thing Field publicized the technique: in 1985 he was having dinner with WCBS sports anchor Warner Wolf when suddenly, “I tried to swallow and could not. I tried to cough. I was perfectly calm, until I realized I couldn’t breathe,” Field said. Wolf was asking what was wrong, but Field couldn’t speak. “So I pointed to my throat and stood up, to give him access.” Wolf saved his life. “Warner had never done it, but he had seen me demonstrate it on television.”
Until 1972, Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show was filmed in New York, and Field was Carson’s frequent guest in the 1960s. News people “weren’t allowed to go on entertainment programs in those days and I was told that if I did go on, they’d fire me,” Field said after retirement. He went on anyway. Carson ribbed the weatherman, and when Field couldn’t get his licks in on Carson’s show, he would sometimes roast Carson during his weather segments. “He may have given NBC management ulcers,” WNBC said, “but the viewers loved it.” Field even agreed to be a substitute sidekick when Ed McMahon was away, but it’s unclear whether he actually ever did.
“He was a perfectionist, and his opinions mattered,” said WNBC anchor Chuck Scarborough. “He worked very hard to make sure he was precise in everything, whether forecasting or science reporting. He was meticulous to make sure it was spot on, and he would share that passion for precision with the rest of us.” Field was the first professional meteorologist to do weather reports on New York television, and the first to use weather radar on TV. He jumped to WCBS in 1984, and finished his career at WWOR, retiring in 2004 after 46 years on the air. In his later years he lived in Boca Raton, Florida, to be near his son, Storm — who is also a retired TV meteorologist. (Field’s daughter, Allison, also followed him into the business.) “I have been blessed,” he said. “I opened the right doors, but it was just plain, ordinary luck.” Dr. Franklyn Field died in Florida on July 1. He was 100.