Employee Spotlight: Cliff Windham
Cliff Windham, Manager of Public Safety Solutions at Baron, is no stranger to severe weather. “I’ll never forget the afternoon of November 15, 1989,” said Cliff. “An F-4 tornado ripped through Huntsville, Alabama, claiming 23 lives and injuring hundreds of others.” As a former News Director at Huntsville’s WAAY-TV, Cliff worked with a dedicated team that stayed live-on-the-air continuously for two days following the devastating tornado. “Even though electric power was out to about half of the city for an extended period of time, we kept the coverage coming.”
Cliff is now approaching his 20th anniversary at Baron and sat down in a recent interview to discuss his history in the broadcast industry, the greatest rewards of his career and his passion for helping people prepare for notable weather.
How did you become interested in weather?
When I was a child, I had a job delivering newspapers on my bicycle—in all kinds of weather. I became more fascinated by the beauty and awesome power of weather. Ever since then, I’ve wanted to help people prepare for significant weather events. My past experience in television news, and my current position at Baron, has given me the wonderful opportunity to reach a mass audience with the critical weather information they need to stay safe and informed.
How did you hear about Baron?
I knew and worked with Bob Baron in the Huntsville TV news business for a number of years. WAAY-TV became one of the first stations to start using the powerful storm tracking and other technology the company developed and patented. I remember the first time we tracked storms live-on-air. The station’s phones rang off the hook from viewers praising such never-before-seen accuracy. It was a great feeling to know we were helping protect people then, and still do today. In early 1996, I came to work with Baron; I’m approaching my 20th anniversary here.
What was your education like?
I was a Journalism major at Georgia State University in my hometown of Atlanta, in the early 1970’s. Many of my college courses involved print media, which was prominent at the time. This helped me learn how to communicate effectively in writing. I also double-minored in speech and marketing, and soon realized that proper marketing techniques are a very important part of effective communication. Additionally, I took a few broadcasting courses that were offered at the time, but I learned the most about broadcasting from real-life experiences. Being in a big city like Atlanta was most helpful in this regard.
My first broadcast experience was working on-air at WRAS-FM Radio, a 50,000-watt station owned by GSU. At the same time, I also worked part-time in various capacities for the news operation at WXIA-TV in Atlanta, beginning as an intern. One of my most memorable assignments as a cub reporter was interviewing the great action-film actor John Wayne about the 1976 premiere of his last movie called “The Shootist”. He was a gentleman in every respect. Sadly, he died 3 years later of cancer at the age of 72. This quote from him sticks with me, especially during severe weather events: “Courage is being scared to death… and saddling up anyway.”
What was your career like before Baron?
After college, I worked in Columbus, GA at WTVM-TV’s Action 9 News as an assignment editor, producer and reporter. In 1982 I moved to Huntsville to work at WAAY-TV where, for 14 years, I managed the award-winning and highly rated “31 Eyewitness News”. I’ve also worked for brief times in media relations at the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta and Ft. Benning Army Infantry Center in Columbus. However, the most satisfying part of my work has always involved helping people during severe weather—before, during and after an event. Baron gives me the opportunity to do what I love.
How has your career progressed while at Baron?
When I started in 1996, I was a sales and marketing representative for the television market because of my broadcasting experience. When we started expanding our products and services to the public safety sector, I jumped at the chance to help. I was on the design team for Threat Net Plus, a pioneer weather monitoring and storm tracking tool. Soon afterward, Baron teamed with what is now SiriusXM Radio to develop a satellite-delivered weather data service. Baron’s Mobile Threat Net was one of the results of this partnership; it delivers high-resolution radar display and patented storm tracking to people in mobile environments. Both systems are widely used and appreciated by a vast array of clients, from storm chasers to government agencies and commercial businesses.
What’s next on the horizon for public safety solutions at Baron?
There are many great projects being developed here. I’m personally excited about our next-generation weather technology for public safety called Baron Threat Net. It truly advances weather monitoring, forecasting and storm tracking into a whole new realm. I believe people will be amazed at the accuracy and timeliness of the data they’ll see. I’m really looking forward to helping grow Baron Threat Net in the in the weeks and months ahead.
What’s been the most memorable day of your career?
The day of the November 1989 tornado. At WAAY-TV, we had a massive back-up diesel generator that General Manager M.D. Smith IV had the foresight to install after a devastating ice storm a couple of years earlier. It made all the difference. As a result, we were the only one of three local TV stations able to continue broadcasting Huntsville’s plight to the community and the world. Unfortunately, there was no publicly available Doppler radar in Huntsville or elsewhere at the time, so we couldn’t really detect the twister until it had touched down and started wreaking havoc. Bob Baron also worked through this disaster as a leading TV meteorologist in Huntsville. Not long afterwards, in early 1990, he made it his mission to make America safer by starting the Baron company.
What is the greatest challenge you face in your job? Greatest reward?
My greatest challenge is helping people realize how much they need to have the right tools available for times of severe weather, before it’s too late. Sometimes after a devastating weather event, I get calls from public safety personnel who survived it. But some of the public they serve did not. Dangerous weather is something we all need to prepare for. Getting that message of urgency across can sometimes be a challenge.
Gratefully, I get many rewarding comments from clients who experienced the benefit of being properly prepared and want me to know about it. I’m a small part of helping so many people keep themselves and their loved ones safe. That is why I enjoy coming to my job each and every day.
What are your interests outside of the office?
My home life is every bit as busy as my work life. After raising four children to adulthood, God once again blessed my wife and me by bringing four little boys into our lives. It’s like deja vu all over again. Needless to say, we stay on-the-go with their many activities. But, we do enjoy the occasional date night when we can think, and talk about something other than Rescue Bots and Minecraft. Coincidentally, the elementary school our four boys go to was destroyed in the 1989 Huntsville tornado. It reminds me daily of how precious life is, and how much we need to prepare for anything nature can throw at us.