"We're live at the mouth of the Plantation Pipeline," yelled Jim Cantore, the most popular live-remote broadcaster in the history of television. His trademark green slicker flapping in the tornado winds, Cantore has been on-screen 14 hours a day since the Gas Channel debuted in the spring of 2006.
"No one cares about the weather anymore anyway," he shrugged to People magazine recently. "At my old job, whenever the gas prices went up, the network would cut away from me and dash to some talking head in New York," he commented. "Yeah, they'd just leave me twisting in the wind." Cantore, known fondly as "the Mike Wallace of meteorology," quickly became known, loved and depended upon as "the Mike Wallace of petroleum." He always signed off with, "Hoping your oil light never shines and your gas gauge is always at three-quarters."
With his own helicopter, back-up helicopter and broadcast team, Cantore was now everywhere. That is, everywhere that mattered. With Gas Channel owners Bill Gates and Steve Jobs ("What? You don't think we need gas, too?"), he toured the new government gasoline refineries in Vietnam and Iraq. When that little mom-and-pop C-store in Hillsborough announced they were selling regular for "3 bucks a gallon, come and get it," Cantore was there at dawn.
He had an exclusive, of course, when BP and Apple announced their new "Fast Pass Gas Club." When a family bought their third iPod, they were automatically enrolled in the FPGC. Flashing their card anytime, they could go to the front of the gas line at any BP station.
The Gas Channel quickly took over most television sets. "Did you see that new show on the GC last night?" was a common morning office topic. The reality show Gas Line drew huge numbers until half the cast was run over by a deranged Hummer driver who thought the show was real life and that "the jerks were just taking too long at the pump."
Gas Tracker and Local on the Eights had everyone watching. Pipeline Insider had all the dirt on what really happened in Alaska, Kuwait and off the Gulf Coast. If they weren't pumping at full capacity, PI found out why. Usually it was a fight over some girl, a comment made about a pick-up truck, or someone taking home some product in their lunch box.
When the channel posted a "pick our theme song" contest in April, they received over 10 million suggestions. Tens of thousands named that old favorite, "Why Do You Fill Me Up, Buttercup?" It was not chosen.
By far the most popular show, the one Jim Cantore hosted every night at dinnertime, was Show Me Your Nines. Viewers cell-cammed pictures of themselves standing next to the cheapest gas signs in their town. The show caused riots when a few teen hackers faked some numbers and an entire side of Cary was gridlocked by angry motorists looking for that holy grail of $2.999.
With the end-of-summer hurricane season (names were all hyphenated now) fast approaching, Cantore, Gates and Jobs were brainstorming plans for another network, The Wood Heat Channel. Weyerhauser has already promised to underwrite Thursday evenings.