From the vault: Former Detroit meteorologist's weekly TV program 'Sonny At The Zoo'

Looking back at Sonny Eliot's weekly program, 'At The Zoo'

Sonny At The Zoo (www.mcrfb.com)
Sonny At The Zoo (www.mcrfb.com)

DETROIT – Meteorologist Sonny Eliot hosted a weekly TV program called "At the Zoo," a 17-year series, in which he reported the weather as he traveled around the zoo and talked about the animals.

He hosted the program on WWJ-TV, which later became WDIV.

Watch the program above. 

Timeline: The history of the Detroit Zoo

1911 - The Detroit Zoological Society was founded.

1928 - The Detroit Zoo officially opened its doors to the public on Aug. 1, 1928. The habitats included bear dens, lion dens, a bird house, an elk yard and raccoon and wolverine habitats.

1962 - “Sonny Eliot at the Zoo” began weekly TV broadcasts that continued for 17 years. 

1968 - The Penguinarium opened. This was the first zoo building in the world designed entirely for penguins that included underwater viewing and a continuous swim loop for the penguins.

1969 - The Detroit Zoo used to close to the public for the winter, but in 1969, the zoo opened to the public year-round.

2005 - The zoo made national news being the first U.S. zoo to relocate its elephants, Winky and Wanda, due to animal welfare concerns. Winters in Michigan were too harsh for Winky and Wanda to go outside and be on the natural, soft grass that they needed.

2006 - The Australian Outback Adventure opened. The exhibit allows for visitors to walk through and possibly interact with the Australian animals, such as the kangaroos and wallabies. 

2016 - The Polk Penguin Conservation Center opened. The center is the largest penguin exhibit in the world. The inside of the building is made to look like a ship, the Endurance, and the outside of the building is inspired by the ice the ship was trapped and crushed by. It allows visitors to see the penguin exhibit from multiple different views, including an underwater view. Inside the building, there is a 4D experience where you can feel bursts of polar air and sea mist as you walk through the exhibit.

Sonny At The Zoo

Eliot was known for his humorous and friendly style while reporting the weather forecast. Sonny made the forecast easy and fun to follow by making up words, like "clool," meaning clear and cool, and adding in quick, witty jokes. This made people interested in watching the weather updates.


Sonny graduated from Wayne State University, where he began his broadcast career with a Bachelor of Arts degree in English and Master of Arts degree in Mass Communications. 

Starting in 1962, Sonny hosted a weekly TV program called "At the Zoo." Every week for 17 years, Sonny would go to the Detroit Zoo to host a show that included him talking about the weather, the animals and the tricks they did. The show educated and entertained the viewers to help them understand and enjoy the animals.

Eliot retired in 2010 from broadcasting, but his legacy in Detroit and in broadcasting live on. 


The zoo today

The Detroit Zoo is very different today than it was when it first opened. The pictures above show some animals doing tricks, and there were only a few exhibits. Now, the animals don't do tricks or put on shows for the visitors. Although the zoo has many more animals today than when it first opened, many new animals are still being added to the zoo, such as the wildebeests that debuted on June 8. 

This year in August, the zoo will be celebrating its 90th anniversary.

There are many interactive attractions that have been added to the zoo since it opened. Today at the zoo, you can see the Dinosauria exhibit, watch a short film in the 4D theater, feed the giraffes at eye level with the zoo's tallest animals and visit many more attractions.

The Dinosauria exhibit features more than 40 lifelike animatronic dinosaurs that snarl and move (and some that spit). Dinosauria is the largest dinosaur exhibit of its kind in the country. The exhibit will be open until Sept. 3. More information here.

The 4D theater shows two different short movies: "Sea Monsters: A Prehistoric Adventure 4-D" and "SpongeBob SquarePants 4-D: The Great Jelly Rescue." Each movie takes the viewers through a 4D adventure where you can feel the rumbles of the cannon or "swim" with the prehistoric sea monsters. More information here

The giraffe exhibit offers a unique experience for guests. On Tuesdays through Sundays, guests can get at eye level with the tallest animals in the zoo to feed them. The attraction is generally open from May through September. More information here.

For more information about the zoo, click here. Buy your tickets here.