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Margaret Orr, beloved WDSU meteorologist, prepares for her final broadcast

Margaret Orr, WDSU TV chief meteorologist, stands inside the WDSU studio in New Orleans.
Matt Bloom
Margaret Orr, WDSU-TV chief meteorologist, stands inside the WDSU studio in New Orleans on March 18, 2024.

Margaret Orr has graced television screens across New Orleans and southeast Louisiana for 45 years. During that time, she’s become a household name, spreading joy on good weather days and comforting residents during hurricanes and other crises.

On March 29, she’ll make her final weather report as chief meteorologist on WDSU-TV. Orr sat down with Louisiana Considered host Bob Pavlovich ahead of her retirement.

This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity. 

Bob Pavlovich: Margaret, thanks for speaking with us.

Margaret Orr: Oh, I'm delighted to be here, Bob. Thank you. I get verklempt over this. I mean, it's really sad. This has been my life. Can you believe this is happening?

Pavlovich: Well, that's why I'm here talking to you because you hinted at this last September. You have the date set of March 29 as your last broadcast. What are your thoughts and feelings right now?

Orr: So, it really is a double-edged sword. I love my job, I love the people I work with. They're my family. I spend more time here than I do anywhere else, so it's really hard to leave them. And we've got the best equipment. I mean, to say I love my radar is an understatement, and it's getting to be more and more fun. And as you get older, people say you can't teach an old dog new tricks. But that's what makes it fun. They truly help tell the weather story.

Pavlovich: I understand that it was the eye of Hurricane Betsy that got you interested in meteorology.

Orr: I was very young. I was 10 or 11. I can remember all hell broke loose. I was unprepared for this. Our house was actually rocking back and forth. My father was a civil engineer. He opened up the windows, opened up the doors, just let everything blow in. Today we know you do not do that or you will lose your roof.

And we lost part of our roof. It was probably the scariest thing I had ever been through. And then all of a sudden it stopped and my father said, “No, we're in the eye.” Well back then I didn't know what the eye was. We didn't have the weather channel back then. I didn't grow up with that. And I went, “What's an eye?” And he went, “Come on, I'll show you.” And we went outside and I looked up and I saw the stars and was truly amazed. It also felt like a warm, wet blanket. It was that humid. And he said, “Come on, we've got to go back in.” And I went, “Why? I want to stay.” And he went, “No, it's coming back.” And so he grabbed me and we went back in and sure enough, all hell broke loose.

So that's my history. I had a true awareness of the impacts of weather on everyday people.

Pavlovich: Was it always meteorology? Because you became a reporter as well. When did journalism figure into the equation?

Orr: I was lucky enough to work in a television station. When I was in college, it was KWTX in Waco, Texas. My grandfather had an association with it. I asked him, “Gee, you think I could go work at that TV station?” And he went, “Sure.” I asked on a Friday, had a job on a Monday. So that is a privilege. That is true privilege and I understand that today, didn't back then. But I fell in love with journalism and I asked one of the young ladies there, “How do I get into this? How do I do this?” And she said, “Become a weather girl.”

And so I went, “OK, I'm going to study weather.” And that's how that started. So, yes, my first stop was Charleston, South Carolina. I followed a boyfriend to Charleston. Got a job at WKTM/WNCG radio. I was a great secretary. I wanted to get my foot in the door. I had to type letters. Do you know how difficult that is when you can't erase? When you had to get the white out and if the white out wasn't good enough, you had to redo the letter. It's like I was going one by one. Eventually, they needed someone to do radio news. And so I volunteered to do radio news. I was a great secretary, really good at radio news. I interned at night in the newsroom. So, that's how I got my foot in the door in broadcast news.

Pavlovich: Was the goal always to return to New Orleans?

Orr: Yes, always.

Pavlovich: You've worked with some notables in New Orleans broadcast history, Alec Gifford, Bill Stanley, Norman Robinson and others. What was your journey like when you started here, especially getting into what was then really a boys club? 

Orr: It was a boys club. I felt like I had to be like them, and I was not like them and I was not sure I would make it the first week. Here I am 45 years later. It was hard. It was hard. There were some people who were really genuinely very kind and nice to me and helped me along the way. Bill Stanley was one of them and Bill said, “Margaret, I heard you did the weather before. You want to come on the show and do the weather and help me with the interviews?” And I went, “Sure!” So that's how I got that job, and it was really because of Bill Stanley.

Pavlovich: In 2008, you became chief at WDSU. Was there ever an urge to leave, to move on, to move up, like most reporters and anchors do?

Orr: Not really. This is my home. I got here and at times I would go, “Is there anything else I want to do?” And there wasn't. This was it. Now I was delighted that the World's Fair came along and I got to do that because that was a blast. What's been great about this job is the change in technology. When I first started, I had a plexiglass board and I would draw on a front and I had a board where I would hang the numbers for temperatures and we had a satellite printed that we would stick on cardboard and I'd use a pointer to show the weather. And then we got the green screen. We became so electronic when I first started in the morning show, I actually flipped on the lights and turned on the color bars. OK, now we're never off the air. You know what I mean? During Katrina, I learned how to text. My niece was born and my nephew signed me up for Twitter. I've got over 50,000 followers. What keeps me going are all the changes. It makes it so much fun.

Pavlovich: Has the technology made news too instantaneous? I'm thinking of the tornadoes of 2022. 

Orr: We need it. I mean, it saved lives. I truly believe everyone being on the air saved lives. You can go back to, I think it was 2007, when we had the tornado that crossed the river and went through the city. Damon Singleton's house was damaged and then out towards the river, there was another tornado in 2017, the New Orleans East tornado. Because we're on the air and we're so focused and everybody is aware, it keeps people safer. With our technology, I can truly go down to the block and I can say, “It's here right now. This is where it's going to be next.” And people are watching and they're paying attention. And so what we do on the air really makes a difference. It truly can save lives. That's our purpose. When the weather's nice, it's to be a positive role model. And when the weather is bad, it's to be there.

Pavlovich: I'd like to get some thoughts and some recollections if I may. You've mentioned Bill Stanley. We've talked about Alec Gifford. What about Norman Robinson and the Children's Miracle Network?

Orr: Norman is so amazing to work with. So I can remember as a cub reporter, there was Norman, and I did look up to him, and he had such a kind smile and words of encouragement. So I've always loved Norman. He anchored the 6 o'clock, the 10 o'clock as well. No chitchat in the newsroom. He was focusing on his work, the telethon. We had so much fun. All of the kids were there. Some of them were truly very, very, very sick. They were wearing their masks. They had bone marrow transplants. They were amazing kids. Some of them died and we loved them. And some of them, I tell you, I just saw one young lady at Muses. She was just amazing. Just amazing. Yeah. I was so happy to see her.

Pavlovich: So March 30th, onward. What's next for Margaret Orr?

Orr: I'm playing with my grandchildren. I mean, so much of my life has been spent here at WDSU, which has been so rewarding. It's opened up so many doors for me. It's allowed so many things to happen, which would not have happened had I not been here. So it opened doors for me to meet regular people like Ralph and George at Cafe du Monde. I would call them on one of the first phones in my car. I had a car phone, and I would call George at Cafe du Monde and say, “George, I'm on my way for coffee.” And Ralph would come out and bring it to me.

Don Lee from Grand Isle used to call me every morning with the weather in Grand Isle, and apparently I was the last person to speak to him before he died. It's amazing all of the wonderful people we have here. I would not have danced on the avenue with the Zulu warriors if it were not for WDSU as the Queen of Cotton Candy. WDSU has opened doors for me to learn, to meet people and to have incredible opportunities. So what happens when I leave? I'm going to play with my grandchildren. I'm going to get rid of the weeds in my garden. I am going to get rid of that oxalis, all of it. It may take a long time, but I'm getting rid of it. I want to learn.

Pavlovich: You're going to fight the urge to tweet about the weather.

Orr: Oh, I’m going to tweet and Facebook and thread and Instagram every day. I will continue to send out my weather reports starring my wonderful dog Blue, who is almost 15. So that will go on. I'm not sure what the next chapter is going to hold. My grandchildren are the most important in my family. And then the first trip I'm taking is to see the solar eclipse in Dallas. My son is doing a half Ironman triathlon, so I'm going to go with him and make sure he gets back home safely. I'm going to a family reunion that I never get to go to. So those are my first three trips within the first few months. But mainly I'm a homebody. I'm going to be with my family and see people around town. I want to swim again and run and ride my bike and maybe try to do a beginner triathlon. My friends are doing it and I want to get 'em.

Pavlovich: Margaret Orr, Chief Meteorologist for WDSU. Thank you for your years of service and thank you for your time today.

Orr: Thank you. It's wonderful to see you and visit with you.

This story was produced for web by Matt Bloom, Garrett Hazelwood and Aubri Juhasz.

Bob Pavlovich, a long-time fill-in host for New Orleans Public Radio, joined the station full-time in 2023. He hosts "All Things Considered" and "Louisiana Considered" on Thursdays.