Bang for the Bucks

How did Denver turn the city's reporters into publicists? By blowing stuff up.

No Denver event in recent memory has received the sort of unleavened media praise that was heaped upon the New Year's party staged at the 16th Street Mall as 2000 turned to 2001. Even afterward, the press was so eager to please that it happily discarded initial crowd figures from the Denver police -- 80,000, not counting folks crammed into restaurants or bars -- in favor of the subsequent, and far sexier, total of 200,000, double pre-gala estimates. Hell, mayoral spokesman Andrew Hudson could have hypothesized that there were a million bodies on hand, and most journalists would have run with it. (Betcha he wishes now that he had.)

Likewise, light-rail glitches and other transportation problems affecting revelers were generally buried in articles or broadcasts, if they were included at all, and jokes about the fete proving once and for all that Denver is a year behind the rest of the world were rarer than environmentalists on Gale Norton's bandwagon. Furthermore, Denver mayor Wellington Webb, whose bunker mentality in the face of the phantom Y2K meltdown helped turn Denver into an entertainment black hole a year earlier, received no needling for his egocentric role as narrator for the countdown to 2001 (he concluded with the somewhat awkward salutation "Happy Millennium"), even though playing this part was tantamount to director John Huston casting himself as the voice of God in his version of The Bible.

Why such reserve? The soiree's popularity had a lot to do with it (scribes and broadcasters were unquestionably relieved not to be put in the position of pumping up a celebrant-starved bash), as was the crowd's generally peaceful demeanor, which gave cops no excuse to break out those tear gas canisters one more time. But credit is also owed event organizers, who played the press like a Stradivarius via countless canny PR strokes. For instance, offering free entrance to facilities such as the Denver Art Museum and Ocean Journey helped lend the happening a cultural/family-friendly jolt it might otherwise have lacked.

Even more important, planners provided the media with something it desperately needed -- a visually exciting story to cover during one of the deadest weeks of the year. Newspapers and television stations, especially, are desperate to fill space and time between Christmas and January 1 because of staff shortages (many senior employees take vacations over this stretch) and a traditional dearth of news about things other than hordes of shoppers returning unwanted gifts. It's hardly a shocker, then, that the press marched out a parade of lighter-than-helium fireworks pieces, including one TV report that stated as fact that the city would make up the $250,000 or so it spent for New Year's, excluding private donations, through increased tax revenues downtown on the big night. Maybe that's true, but I'd sure like to see the math.

Denverites who chose to watch things from the comfort of their homes on New Year's would probably have liked to see more skyrockets in flight. Cameras offering live looks at the display, including those from channels 4 and 9, had good angles on the D&F tower, the center of the action, but seemed to miss many of the other pyrotechnics, as if their operators were unaware of where they'd been placed or when they were going to be detonated. In numerous shots, the colorful bursts were obscured by buildings or other structures; in others, none were visible at all or were seen from such a distance that they seemed about as majestic as sparklers. In addition, most of the booms and blats that are a big part of any fireworks extravaganza were drowned out by the audio feed from KISS-FM, which departed from its usual teeny-pop fare in favor of patriotic and classical airs. Lucky thing: "Who Let the Dogs Out" might have started a riot.

Odds are good that outlets will get a chance to make up for these shortcomings in the future. Even before the smoke cleared, Webb was dropping immense hints that the city is already looking for ways to do it all over again, in spite of the trouble he'll have convincing an expert to claim that the real millennium starts in 2002. And if a sequel is mounted, expect the media members to hype it just as energetically as they did this time around.

But when it comes to fluff-free reporting, well, wait 'til next year.

A Clear defeat:As noted here last month ("Scene From a Mall," December 21, 2000), Emmis Communications, owner of Alice and the Peak, filed suit against the Clear Channel radio empire in an effort to prevent it from airing the morning show starring Jamie White and Danny Bonaduce on its KTCL signal beginning January 2; Emmis claimed that the program's just-lapsed contract with Alice included a non-compete clause preventing its debut in the market until July 1. On the surface, this scenario seemed likely to result in another Clear Channel triumph. After all, the Texas firm, which controls eight powerful stations in Denver, is the biggest bully on the block and generally gets what it wants. But not this time: Just prior to a December 28 hearing scheduled to take place at a court in Cheyenne, Wyoming, Emmis head Jeff Smulyan and Randy Michaels, his Clear Channel counterpart, agreed to drop the whole thing -- meaning you Jamie and Danny fans desperate for titillation on the way to work won't be sated until summer at the earliest.

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