One of the most peculiar events in Portland's history began in 1985, when a woman named Sheilagh Conroy found a stray cat hobbling down the street. The cat had just been in a fight and was rather roughed up, so Sheilagh took him home and gave him a bath.
After a vet's examination (and neutering), the cat was adopted by Bob Foster and his wife. His name became Hank, and he developed an affection for warm laundry--he would stand around the dryer as towels and clothes came out, and he'd often walk away with a pair of toasted underpants on his head.
In response, Sheilagh began making clothes just for Hank to wear. Bob took pictures of Hank wearing the clothes, and he also happened to work for KATU, so he asked then-weatherman Jeff Gianola if he could throw some shots of the dressed-up cat in with his forecast that evening.
Gianola liked the idea, but as he introduced the pictures to the entire state, he forgot the cat's name. "I wanna show you something...this is....um....." His mind went to the pet's owner. "BOB! Bob the Weather Cat!" The name stuck like Krazy Glue, KATU was buried in "Bob" fan mail the following day, and Bob the Weather Cat's career was launched....even though Bob wasn't his name, and never officially was.
Sheilagh continued to make Bob's clothing.
You get the idea. By the time he showed up as Willie Nelson, Bob had gained an army of loyal fanatics.
Every week Bob appeared wearing something different, and the bland task of waiting for the weather became a treat. It was one of the most ingenious gimmicks to grace local news, even if it started by accident. Because of Bob, KATU gave off a personality no other station did when I was a kid. Sure, KGW had Tracy Barry, but she wasn't a cat.
Bob's apperances gradually had more elaborate production values. At this point, Hank looks absolutely sick of it all--watch how ticked off he is as they parade him through this one.
Bob eventually got national attention, starting with a National Geographic World issue in which his visage made the front cover. That followed up with an appearance in 3-2-1 Contact and, eventually, People Magazine. Bob was given his own set of merchandise: T-shirts, bumper stickers, calendars, greeting cards....and his pawprints were set in cement in front of the Oregon Zoo.
KATU continued to play dress-up with Bob well into the 90's. Bob as a Blazer was a surprise, but Bob as Elvis was inevitable.
He remained active in his un-self-appointed career choice until March 10, 1993--the day he died. KATU replaced him for a time with a "copy cat" named Tom, but Tom was never as popular. And when Gianola left the station, gussied-up cats stopped appearing on KATU altogether.
There's a lesson to be gained from the phenomenon that was Bob. News stations don't need scary headlines, ten helicopters or pretty weather-gals to succeed...all they need to do is put stuff on a cat. It's been PROVEN. Although if this really had caught on, the nation would have been full of local animals in costumes by 1989, and it would have gotten annoying. That Bob was one of a kind, and thank heaven for it.
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