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Dirt Sports + Off-Road Goes In Depth With The Famous “Weatherman”

Posted in Features on March 2, 2015
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Anyone who has raced Baja has heard the voice of the “Weatherman.” He is such a mainstay that his radio frequency channel is programmed into most every radio whether it’s installed in a race car or chase truck. Some may have even had to call him on the radio for assistance or status checks. So, who is behind the famous voice that has been booming the two-way radio airwaves up and down the Baja peninsula for decades?

Who Is The “Weatherman”
The “Weatherman” is Bob Steinberger. Now a resident of Parker, Arizona, Steinberger has been doing radio relay at off-road races for decades. He is famously known for spending days on the top of Mount Diablo. In Baja the peak is called Picacho del Diablo and is the highest peak on the peninsula. Diablo stands 10,157 feet tall. There is an observatory located there. Naturally, it’s the best place to run a radio relay that can be heard from almost anywhere. Steinberger says, “On a clear day you can see the Sea of Cortez on one side and Pacific Ocean on the other [from Mt. Diablo].” During the winter there can be several feet of snow on the mountain. “I would put my feet on the radio which was warm from all of the communications to thaw [my feet] out,” Steinberger says. In the early days, Steinberger would camp in a tent and power his radios from a generator. When the famous Dust to Glory movie came out showing 70 mph winds nearly destroying his tent, Steinberger decided it was time to switch to a camper. During long peninsula runs where the race runs into Baja Sur, Steinberger is up in an airplane orbiting Baja. His call sign becomes “Weatherman Air.” He still sends a crew to the top of Diablo to help split the duties. They are known as “Weatherman Diablo.” “During the Baja 2000 in 2000 I was in the airplane for 80 hours.” Steinberger says that’s the longest off-road race he’s ever done.

Bob Steinberger in his Jeep responding to a retrieval for Best in the Desert.

Steinberger comes on the air when the first bike leaves the starting line and stays on the air until the last race car is accounted for, and the course has closed. Steinberger has been the voice of help for many emergencies on the Baja peninsula. He has been the link to dispatch medical crews to chase truck accidents, downed riders, and rolled over race cars. One of the most memorable accidents in recent years that sticks with Steinberger is a head-on collision involving friends Rick and Brenda Johnson and Tony Talbert in their prerunner on the highway. As the reports came in that Brenda was ejected from the vehicle and had multiple injuries, all Steinberger could do was call in medical resources for help. It was Steinberger’s radio communication and quick response getting medics on scene that saved Brenda’s life that day.

Steinberger’s Jeep has no shortage of tow straps to pull vehicles off of the course.

How It Started
Bob Steinberger started off early in the communications industry selling car telephones. It wasn’t long before he invested in a company out of Los Angeles that repaired the phones. After a short time Steinberger bought the company. Steinberger started PCI radios at a Long Beach airport hangar in 1966 before moving off the property to a tilt-up–style building. Steinberger’s first radio service clients were oil companies in the Long Beach area. He would get called in the middle of the night to fix repeaters and base stations, keeping companies’ communications going. Over the years, Steinberger bought the building units next to him, expanding the size of the company. In the late 1970s Steinberger began selling radios to racers. One year Steinberger recalls he sold 370 radios. Today PCI sells more than that in just a month. PCI has also expanded to on-site race support and now sells everything from helmets to catheters, GoPro cameras, and GPS units.

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Naming The Weatherman
Bob Steinberger got involved in off-road racing through a friend who introduced him to Bill Stroppe. Stroppe had 18 different vehicles racing at the time and naturally Steinberger began doing communications for the team. It was during the 1976 Mint 400, Steinberger would be named “The Weatherman.” Steinberger says, “Bill Stroppe had a friend at Bower Ambulance in Long Beach who could get us helium bottles. I got a 20-foot weather balloon with coaxial cable and tied an antennae off the bottom of it.” Steinberger sent it up into the air. “People understood I could [communicate] all over the course,” Steinberger says. During the race, teams began coming up asking for status checks on their vehicles. Steinberger would write the numbers in the dust on the hood of his car. As Joe MacPherson came around the infield, he got on the radio and called out, “Hey, Weatherman” on the radio. Steinberger says MacPherson couldn’t remember his name. From there, “Weatherman” stuck with everybody. When Jim Conner became the race director for SCORE, Steinberger was asked to help with the communications for their races. Steinberger had the ability to directly dial in the race teams frequency and get status updates in seconds.

Modern-day Weatherman relay setup atop Mt. Diablo.

How To Properly Call “Weatherman”
Hundreds of racers, chase crews, and locals have the “Weatherman” channel programmed into their radios. During race day the channel can get overloaded with status checks, code reds, and other race traffic. Steinberger has some tips for properly using the radio channel. One of the most annoying things for Steinberger is the open or “stuck” mic. This is caused by not properly securing the microphone, allowing it to transmit a carrier signal. Open mics prevent others from getting on the channel to broadcast traffic. Steinberger says, “If you are not going to talk on the radio, you don’t need your mic plugged in.” Anybody who has listened to the channel long enough knows Steinberger is going to award those with a stuck mic the famous “Richard Cranium award, as well as tongue lashing!” When calling “Weatherman” on the radio, remember the who, what, where, why, when, and how. These are especially important during an emergency so that Steinberger has all the information to properly dispatch help to a specific location. When a team needs a status check, they should listen to the channel for a while and not burst in. Sometimes Steinberger may communicate with another team or checkpoint, and you may only be able to hear just Steinberger on the air. It’s also important to know your team’s radio frequency so Steinberger can directly contact team members and the race car.

Steinberger hanging out in the PCI Radio Race Support trailer before a race.

Weatherman Today
Today Steinberger calls himself semiretired, having given up day-to-day operations of PCI to his son Scott. Steinberger lives in a decent-sized house on the river in Parker with his wife. He spends time hunting and attending events with the Parker four-wheel club. When the Best in the Desert races come to Parker, Steinberger is out on the course with his notably yellow Jeep retrieving stuck vehicles on the course. His Jeep is equipped with everything. There is a winch to roll over vehicles. Endless tow straps to drag cars through sand and silt. He also has an onboard air compressor for filling up tires, and, of course, a radio with every frequency to communicate. “I still get people who come up to me and thank me for pulling them out of a ditch two years ago,” Steinberger says. In 2013, Steinberger was inducted into the Off-Road Hall of Fame. Known for speaking on a radio channel, Steinberger silently accepted his award with a simple “thank you” sign. Despite being retired from his day-to-day businesses, you can still raise Steinberger on the “Weatherman” channel on your radio to get a status check or call in an emergency. If you listen to the channel long enough you’ll hear the famous joke of the day. Steinberger says he is always taking submissions for the joke day. He says, “It has to be clean and really funny.”

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