(I wrote this piece for the Concord Monitor. It’s not in the usual Granite Geek vein but certain readers might enjoy it anyway.)
When you talk to old-time New Hampshire folks about “that funny guy who used to do the weather on TV,” there’s a split. In the southern part of the state, they’ll probably think of Al Kaprielian from WNDS, but in the northern part, it’s “Marty on the Mountain.”
For almost four decades until retiring in 2002, Marty Engstrom, who died on Thursday at age 86, would give the nightly weather broadcast from atop Mount Washington for WMTW in Maine, where he worked as a broadcast engineer.
His thick New England accent and the funny little grin he gave at the end of every broadcast endeared him to viewers – including all the guys in my college dorm, who couldn’t have cared less about the news but would gather around the TV set in the lounge when Marty appeared on Channel 8, giving a cheer when that grin appeared.
Although WMTW is based in Maine, its transmission from atop the highest point in the Northeast produced a strong signal in New Hampshire.
In the days of rabbit ears and rooftop antennas, before cable became popular, many homes could receive it better than they got WMUR out of Manchester or other local stations.
As a result, Marty’s celebrity became established in the Granite State as well as the Pine Tree State, where people would stop him in the street and ask for pictures together right up until the end.
“He was very matter-of-fact,” said Jonathan Van Fleet, editor of the Concord Monitor, who interviewed Marty a couple of times, both in the broadcast building on Mount Washington and at Marty’s home in Fryeburg, Maine. “He didn’t crave the fame, but he sort of relished it. He enjoyed it.”
Unlike Al Kaprielian’s exaggerated “Good eeeevening,” there was nothing forced about Marty’s accent: “He wasn’t self-conscious about it. It was thick as butter, but that’s the way he spoke. He was a very genuine person.”
And the accent reflected his personality as “a true, thrifty Yankee,” Van Fleet said. “If anything broke at his house, he’d fix it himself. … He even packed his own ammunition.”
Marty Engstrom began his career in 1964 when weather reports on local TV stations were only starting to become professional. He wouldn’t get on the air today because he was not, as he said repeatedly throughout his life, a meteorologist. He merely read the weather forecast as compiled by the folks in the Mount Washington Observatory in the building next door.
His real job was to be an engineer. He was hired by WMTW after getting out of the Air Force and traveled up and down the Auto Road every week to maintain the broadcast equipment and the generators that powered them.
As he often told it, Marty didn’t learn that he’d be doing the weather on TV until he showed up to work. “First day on duty I was told: ‘Here’s a script, you’re going to be on camera.’ Who, me?” he said in an interview with WMTW when he retired.
And that grin? He started it after his boss said he looked too serious, never imagining that it would make him into a minor New England institution.
Just goes to show how a little levity can make all the difference in life.