Kelly Bates in the weather station (Photo: Frank O'Donnell)
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It’s 4:30 on an absolutely perfect Saturday afternoon. I’m sitting in the ABC 6 Storm Tracker Center on Orms Street, watching meteorologist Kelly Bates prep for her first news broadcast in nine months.

“I’ve been up since 4 AM, I’m so excited,” says Kelly. Animated is a good word to describe her at this moment.

You’ll recall that Kelly left another local station (that shall not be named) last August. Her tear-filled Tik Tok explanation garnered a few viewers – okay, over a million of them – and generated a couple of dozen news stories, some of them national. We don’t need to belabor the point.

Kelly Bates (Photo: Frank O’Donnell)

Because now, the point is, she’s back. She’ll be working from 3PM to 11PM on Saturdays and Sundays, doing the weekend weather. Three days a week, she’ll be working on science stories. The days she works will be dictated by the shooting schedule for the stories. And she’ll fill in as needed for the other meteorologists at the station.

So how did this happen? In March, a colleague suggested that Kelly reach out to Allison Gaito, the new news director at Channel 6. She’s a Barrington native and worked at Channel 12 as Mike Montecalvo’s producer before heading to Houston to run a news station there. “Drop her a line, they told me, maybe you could do fill-ins.”

The conversation went back and forth for a couple of months until May 25, when Kelly got a letter of intent. “As I drove home to Rhode Island,” said Gaito after Kelly’s first broadcast, “I sketched things out, my vision for 6. Kelly was one of the pieces I needed, part of the bigger plan.”

Kelly’s a little nervous as she builds the graphic elements of her show. It’s the same system she used at the other station, so there’s no learning curve. “Which beach graphic do I choose?” There are three choices. She settles on one with two Adirondack chairs facing the ocean. I agree with the choice.

Kristen Benoit, one of the broadcast’s directors, comes in to tell Kelly how the show will go. “You’ll have a one-minute live weather hit in the A-block. Then three minutes in the C-block. And a 30-second wrap up.”

ABC6 Weekend Team (Photo: Frank O’Donnell)

Kelly nods and gives Kristen a thumbs up. To be precise, this is not Kelly’s first broadcast at ABC6. It’s her first in 18 years. She started her career at 6 in 2000, leaving in 2004 for her job at the other place.

She’s been working at 6 for about two weeks now, mostly training. “I did a run-through of a show last week,” she says as she continues her prep work. “It was an utter disaster. I clicked on a button to advance a slide, and it didn’t do what I expected.” Now, she’s got it down pat.

She talks about on-air goofs she’s made in the past. “Once I said we’d have patchy fog here and there. And I realized patchy means here and there. I caught it in real-time, and just corrected myself.”

I think that’s part of her charm. Gaito agrees. “She’s comforting. She’s professional, people know she’s not screwing around. People trust her.”

Gaito says she’s spent the past two weeks as Kelly’s secretary. “Delivering her fan mail, emails, texts, calls.” A bouquet of flowers sits on the counter nearby. It came from a viewer, along with a note that read, “Can’t wait for your first show. I am following you to Channel 6. You so deserve this.”

Kelly shows me a tweet from another viewer. “We should just put @KellyBateRi on the license plate instead. I feel like that’s a design everyone would agree on.”

Kelly’s amazed that someone has put together a Watch Party for her first broadcast at Shelly’s Come Along Inn in Coventry, “across from Iannotti’s Funeral Home,” she says with a chuckle. It’s one of Kelly’s favorite restaurants and Gaito is sending a photographer down for a live shot as part of the show.

It’s getting close to show time, and Kelly’s busy straightening her hair and putting on make-up. She calls it putting on her weather head. I tell her I’m surprised they didn’t have a hair and make-up person for her. “I’m kind of shocked,” she says, tongue in cheek. Then she looks in the mirror and realizes she didn’t finish one of her eyebrows.

Gaito tells me about visiting a car dealer in Rhode Island when she first got back. “He said, if you’re going to run a TV station in Rhode Island, you should get Kelly Bates. It was like he was reading my mind.”

Gaito is at work on a Saturday, simply to support Kelly. “You’ve got the A-Team with you today,” she said in a quick pep talk before the broadcast began. “I had sweaty palms all day,” Gaito said after the show. It wasn’t nerves, it was excitement. “I visited a hair salon in Cranston earlier today. I dropped Kelly’s name to my stylist, and the place got a lot quieter. Everyone wanted to hear what I had to say about Kelly.”

Gaito was grinning ear-to-ear as I chatted with her in her office after the show. “Who doesn’t love a good comeback story? This is a great one, and it’s just the start of Channel 6’s comeback story.”

They let me stand behind the studio cameras to watch Kelly at work. She’s calm, cool, collected and the Kelly we’ve all come to know and love. After her first break, she looks at me and gives me two thumbs up. She’s back, and she’s excited about it.

She’s sweating by the time she steps in front of the green screen she’ll use for her longer report. She wipes her brow and whispers to me, “I need a mopine.”

When the show is over, Gaito comes in to give Kelly a gigantic hug. “Was it alright?” Kelly asked. “Perfect,” said Gaito.

As she wound down, Kelly admitted she felt good about it. “I didn’t cough. I’m so happy about it all.”

Kelly takes a deep breath. “I can’t believe I’m doing this,” she says with genuine gratitude. “This is a gift, absolutely.”

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Frank O'Donnell

Frank O’Donnell has been writing features and reviews about the local entertainment scene for 20 years. In addition to that, he’s a stand-up comic, comedy writer, actor, playwright, compliance officer, butterfly whisperer and president of the Keri Anne O’Donnell Memorial Fund. #KeepingPassionForPerformanceAlive.