For 6ABC’s David Murphy, the forecast is clear skies and a lot of free time.
The longtime Action News meteorologist is retiring Tuesday after 31 years at the station, 17 spent telling viewers what to expect from the day’s weather. It’s the end of a career that began as a child actor before returning to college and following in his father’s footsteps as a journalist.
Murphy, 62, was born and raised in Drexel Hill, and made stops in Allentown, Scranton, and Baltimore before landing his “dream job” in Philadelphia at 6abc in 1990. Long before he became the station’s trusted morning weather anchor, he was a general assignment reporter. Covering crime and tragic stories eventually wore him down.
“I was beginning to feel the strain of that job,” Murphy told The Inquirer. “The subject matter I was covering was very often tragic and there’s only so much of that you can take before it starts to change you. I felt I was becoming hardened and numb to some things, and I didn’t like it. In that regard, switching to weather may well have saved my career.”
Murphy talked about his early days as a child actor, why he became a meteorologist, and how he plans on spending his days now that he doesn’t have to wake up so early. This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
Your father was the executive editor for the old Philadelphia Bulletin, so it’s easy to see how you ended up with a career in journalism. But you also spent time as a child actor. How did that come about?
Around fifth grade, [Holy Child in Drexel Hill] added a music teacher named Frank Jackson, who quickly identified who among us could carry a tune. By sixth grade, he stuck a few of us in a production of You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown, with me in the clumsy but likable lead role. I did pretty well, and this got the gears turning in my mom’s head. She asked my dad — an editor at the old Philadelphia Bulletin — to track down a local talent scout the newspaper had featured.
The next thing you know, I’m signing a contract with this lady and then with an agent in New York City and jumping on trains to the Big Apple for auditions one or two times a week. I was 12 years old when all this started. At first, I got no work — only a failed screen test for a movie musical Tom Sawyer. (But hey, I did get to kiss a roughly 10-year-old Jodie Foster during one scene!)
Eventually, I scored a small part in a touring production of a musical called The Rothschilds. (I had to skip the first half of eighth grade to do the show.) I then got a couple guest appearances on the soap opera, As The World Turns. … Eventually, I got a TV commercial for Tic-Tac breath mints, which wound up on TV about every 10 seconds for a year or so, and after that, mom and dad didn’t have to worry about paying for train tickets and singing lessons anymore.
According to IMDB, you appeared in Wholly Moses! with Dudley Moore and Richard Pryor, among others. Do you remember anything from your time on the set?
Wholly Moses! was one of four movies I did — all of the parts one or two liners that were such small roles my characters didn’t even get a name in the credits. I was always Boy on Bus, or Parking Attendant. Wholly Moses! put me on location in the desert north of Los Angeles for four days. … I played a Jewish kid who had traveled to the Holy Land to plant a tree in honor of his deceased grandparents.
In the end, I did 57 TV commercials for everything from milk to what was then a brand new soft drink called Diet Coke. I did a spot for Mountain Dew, too, and was forced to drink so many bottles of that stuff while they were getting their money shot that I have not once been inclined to sip another drop. Toward the end of my career, I actually did a couple of ABC After School Specials, which were hour-long teen-angst dramas with rotating casts. The interesting thing is that this means I was actually on Channel 6 long before I was ever an employee of Action News!
At what point did you decide to abandon acting and transition to journalism?
When I was about 23, I went out for Risky Business, a movie that everyone in Hollywood thought was going to be a hit. The script was a riot and an appealing young actor named Tom Cruise had already been lined up for the lead.
I tried out for one of his friends. Many call backs followed. … That big break indeed came — for an actor named Curtis Armstrong. He went on to play Booger in the Revenge of the Nerds films and got a great supporting role alongside Bruce Willis in a TV show called Moonlighting.
A few months after that, my agent — who was starting to bulk up, signing more famous actors like Sigourney Weaver — dropped me. I got another one, but never came that close again. The writing was on the wall. I wanted to raise a family some day, and it just didn’t look like acting was going to be the thing that made that possible. So I went back to college and started planning my escape.
After graduating from Temple, you began as a reporter but years later became a meteorologist. Why?
The weather was entirely unexpected. Channel 6 basically needed extra weather people, and they asked a few of us if we’d give it a try. At the time, only reporters did the weather — the meteorology was left to the folks out at AccuWeather. I had a habit of saying “yes” to anything, even when it came to something I knew nothing about.
But it turns out getting back into the studio was good medicine. And with the help of the always affable and humorous Rick Williams, I got comfortable rather quickly and began to find that previously elusive knack for extemporaneous speaking. I also liked the way I could inject more of my personality into the job, versus as a reporter when, most of time, it was necessary to reel it in.
My only problem in those early days was that when I said it would be sunny and it turned out cloudy, I had no idea why. That all changed when I took on a regular weather shift on weekend mornings and the station agreed to send me back to school. Four years later, I had my training. But really, a lot of success in weather comes from just doing it. You begin to recognize patterns and how things sometimes go sideways. After a while, you just do a better job of anticipating.
You’ve spent 31 years in Philadelphia. Are there some moments that stand out to you?
I traveled to Dallas and Detroit to do fan stories when the Eagles and, later, the Flyers were in big playoff games. In Detroit, I walked around downtown in a Flyers jersey, basically asking for an argument. Instead, a group of very nice Red Wings fans agreed to stare at the orange dot in the middle of the Flyers logo on my chest and become “hypnotized” as they repeated the words, “The Flyers will win the Stanley Cup.”
The cops were nice, too. When sports reporter Scott Palmer and I decided to dress the city’s most iconic statue, The Spirit of Detroit, in my Flyers jersey, two officers patiently explained that this was illegal. But they let us keep it there until after our very funny 11 p.m. live shot!
I covered the first World Trade Center attack [in 1993], flying around the twin towers for a couple hours in Chopper 6. I also covered the Atlanta Olympic Park bombing [in 1996] and the Murrah Federal Building bombing in Oklahoma City [in 1995]. And of course, I was stationed right across the river from Ground Zero in the days following 9/11.
You spent the bulk of your career at 6abc. What kept you in Philadelphia?
From the start, my goal was to live in Philadelphia. I grew up here. My wife grew up here. Our families and friends were here. My Phillies were here! Moreover, I had decided back in Allentown that when it came time to apply for jobs in Philly, I was really only interested in 6abc. I liked the station’s identity and style.
I had fashioned my own reporting in a way that I thought would fit the station. And anyone who knew anything about Philadelphia TV knew that if you wanted to have a long career here, Channel 6 was the place to be.
I’m planning to take better care of myself! I have sleep apnea and between that and all those early hours, sleep deprivation has become far too close of a friend. But I’ve bought myself a treadmill, I’m eating a lot better over the last couple of months and I’ve already dropped a few pounds, which is encouraging.
But mostly, I expect to have a lot of fun. I already have plans to hook up with some old friends. I’ve just purchased a second partial season-ticket plan to the Phillies. My wife and I have always enjoyed traveling, and we have a bunch of new horizons in our sights — and that includes seeing more of my kids, a couple of whom live in other cities now. I’m staying involved with my two favorite charities, the Parkinson Council and the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network.
I’ve never been the kind of guy who needs the sort of attention my various careers have brought me, and if two months from now, no one ever recognizes me again, that’ll be fine. But that’s not to say I haven’t enjoyed interacting with people. Those crazy “Yo, Murph!” commercials the station did years ago definitely stepped up the recognition factor! And if anyone ever sees me out and about in the future, please don’t be shy about saying hello if you’re feeling it.
Action News viewers gave me my career. To some extent, they gave me my life. I’ve never taken that for granted. I owe them a lot.