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The Little Station That Could

Boulder's KGNU finds a way to survive in the cutthroat radio world.

Considering those statements, perhaps Cooper will stick with the repeats. After all, they don't talk back.

Missing in action: The sudden disappearance of Tony Zarrella, Channel 9's main sportscaster, from the Denver airwaves is a mystery that seems likely to linger for a while. Zarrella didn't return a call seeking comment, and all that Channel 9 news director Patti Dennis will say is that his absence from the city's most-watched late newscast is "a private family issue." Moreover, Dennis shies away from establishing a firm date for Zarrella's return. "A few weeks is how we've left it, but it's open-ended," she reveals. "We're going on what he told us."

Given this dearth of information, Denver TV types have been left to guess what's really going on, with some speculation centering on Zarrella's reputation as a party dude. Meanwhile, other knowledgeable insiders point to Zarrella's reputation for being difficult at times -- a quality they say contributed to his departure from Channel 7, his previous employer. In 1996, two sports producers, Hank Siegel and Patrick Martinez, left that station amid reports that they could no longer work with Zarrella. And although no one at Channel 7 will state for the record why Zarrella was let go in 1998, the powers that be obviously wanted him gone pronto, even though he'd won a local Emmy as Best Sports Anchor in each of the two previous years. Rather than allow his contract to expire, the station paid off the remainder of the pact in order to get rid of him sooner.

There's no telling if this latest incident will sour Channel 9 on Zarrella. When asked whether her station has been satisfied with his work of late, Dennis declines to answer because "you're trying to draw a parallel to something that isn't there. The two things aren't even in the same stream." She adds, "I don't want you to read into it that we're not pleased with him. I just don't think the two are related."

Perhaps not -- but Zarrella's absence is giving prime-time exposure to Channel 9 sports backups Drew Soicher, Carol Maloney and Rod Mackey, any of whom is preferable to the main man, whose on-air presence has grown smarmier with each passing year. Absence doesn't always make the heart grow fonder.

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