Johnny Beckman, Atlanta meteorologist, has died at age 90

John Beckman, the meteorologist known as “Johnny the Weatherman," passed away on Sunday at age 90. Beckman was a fixture on Atlanta TV from 1962 until his retirement in 1995, working first for WSB-TV, then WXIA-TV. (AJC FILES)

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John Beckman, the meteorologist known as “Johnny the Weatherman," passed away on Sunday at age 90. Beckman was a fixture on Atlanta TV from 1962 until his retirement in 1995, working first for WSB-TV, then WXIA-TV. (AJC FILES)

He was a fixture on Atlanta TV from 1962 to 1995.

John Beckman, the Atlanta TV meteorologist known as “Johnny the Weatherman,” has died at age 90.

He passed away suddenly on Sunday at his home in Stone Mountain.

Beckman was a fixture on Atlanta TV from 1962 until his retirement in 1995, working first for WSB-TV, then WXIA-TV.

John Pruitt, the former WSB-TV and WXIA-TV anchor, worked alongside Beckman for decades. “He had schtick,” Pruitt said. “He had comic timing that was modeled after Johnny Carson. We’d watch his monologue after the 11 o’clock news.”

At the same time, Pruitt said, “he was no nonsense when it came to weather. He was well trusted. He knew when to draw the line. He wouldn’t mess around when something was serious. His demeanor would change.”

Wes Sarginson, another retired 11Alive anchor who worked with Beckman for many years at both WSB and WXIA, marveled over Beckman’s ability to go without a script or teleprompter whenever severe weather was happening. “If a producer gave him an update in his ear, he’d work it in seamlessly,” he said. “He was a master at it.”

Beckman began his broadcast career at a tiny radio station in Rock Hill, South Carolina, where he earned $25 a week. He turned to TV in 1954, “before color, before videotape, before slow-motion TV, before all of that,” with WSJS in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, he told the AJC in 2006.

“There were three of us, and we all did multiple jobs: the weather, commercials, a teenage dance party. We were all scrambling around trying to make a living,” Beckman said.

Beckman then found a new job in Jacksonville, Florida, before coming to Atlanta in 1962, where he built his reputation at WSB-TV, which was the top-rated station even back then.

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Johnny Beckman when he worked at WSB-TV in 1976. ARCHIVAL PHOTO

Credit: ARCHIVES

Johnny Beckman when he worked at WSB-TV in 1976. ARCHIVAL PHOTO

Credit: ARCHIVES

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Johnny Beckman when he worked at WSB-TV in 1976. ARCHIVAL PHOTO

Credit: ARCHIVES

Credit: ARCHIVES

Glenn Burns, who worked briefly with Beckman after joining WSB in 1981, said Beckman was part of a new generation of weather forecasters with actual degrees in meteorology. Beckman built up the station’s first official “weather center” with radar and weather gauges galore.

“At the time, the weathermen were there to entertain and just rip and read forecasts,” he said. “Johnny could tell a great weather story. He’d explain why things were happening.”

Burns said Beckman left for 11Alive in 1982 for more money but later told Burns he ultimately regretted the move because WSB remained the more popular station.

Nonetheless, Atlantans from that era knew him well because, as current 11Alive anchor Jeff Hullinger noted in a Facebook tribute, “he anchored when Atlanta local television had massive audiences with only a few viewing options.” Sarginson said they would go out in public and people would be constantly swooning over Beckman, treating him like a big-time celebrity.

Hullinger recalled Beckman’s “deep resonate voice, full eyebrows and calm measured delivery.” Hullinger remembered Beckman used to ride around on a big Harley motorcycle with the “coolness of uber masculinity.”

“When I exit 11Alive at midnight and step into my 12-year-old Honda CR-V with 130,000 miles,” Hullinger mused, “I often think, ‘Johnny didn’t do it this way.’”

Jocelyn Dorsey, former WSB public affairs director and anchor, said in the 1970s, after sports anchor Jim Biondi’s two-year-old died from a brain tumor, Beckman started an annual motorcycle Ride For Kids charity event that led to the start of the Pediatric Brain Tumor Foundation. That charity event continues to this day in multiple cities nationwide, said Dorsey, who later took over as the Atlanta Ride for Kids grand marshal for Beckman.

As Beckman approached retirement age, he said he“ felt like Johnny Carson did... I didn’t want to be a wobbly old man on TV, and TV didn’t want a wobbly old man.”

After he did his final forecast in December 1995, he wrote five novels and numerous short stories as well as a column about politics, humor and restaurants for several Georgia newspapers. He also became a web designer and pursued hobbies such as photography, oil painting, flying, sailing and radio repair. He was also an avid ham radio operator.

“My wife says I’ve had every hobby that there is, but I think I’ve missed one or two,” Beckman said in an interview in 2017.

And he continued to blog his thoughts until as late as last month on topics such as Easter, voting and Elon Musk.

He is survived by his wife Deborah and daughters Constance and Joanna.