By Joel Warner
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By Alan Prendergast
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These classes quickly paid off. In early 1972, Bowman was hired as a cameraman by a signal in Syracuse, New York. Before long, he went from simply shooting footage for others to covering stories himself, as well as anchoring news updates that aired just before the station signed off for the evening. He eventually became a full-time reporter, working alongside colleagues such as future Today show weatherman Al Roker. In his free time, he attended Syracuse University, where he was a regular on the campus radio station that also featured young talents like Bob Costas.
In 1982, a year after earning his Syracuse degree, Bowman jumped to a station in Buffalo, New York, for a two-year hitch that ended when he was tapped by Channel 7 to serve as a reporter and occasional anchor; he sometimes delivered cut-ins during morning network programming, for instance. Channel 7's newscasts, which had once been Denver's most popular, were on the wane, and Bowman never quite figured out why. "I've always contended that it was a very decent station," he says. "McGraw-Hill [its owner] sank a ton of money into it, and we never covered anything differently than any of the other stations did. I guess it was just people's loyalty to some of the old-timers on other stations, who'd become family fixtures. The thought process was that with all the new people coming to the metro area, that loyalty stuff wouldn't mean anything after a while, but it never happened. People in the business have puzzled over it for decades."
Lousy ratings guaranteed changes, and in 1989, Bowman was sent packing following the arrival of Al Seethaler, a new general manager. Seethaler made this move and many others like it in order to clear room for a number of folks from the Salt Lake City station he'd previously overseen, but the infusion of new blood didn't cure Channel 7's chronic anemia. In 1991, Seethaler and news director Mike Youngren were ushered out after their late newscast garnered what was at the time the lowest-ever audience share among Denver's big three network affiliates. Not exactly a proud achievement.
None of the other Denver TV channels rushed to bring Bowman aboard, so he looked for other forums. He had a brief stint with KOA radio before becoming news director, sports director and talk-show host for KDKO, owned until last year by Jim "Dr. Daddio" Walker; KDKO's dial position is currently occupied by one of two signals simulcasting news-talker KNRC. The station attempted to promote unity in the African-American community by eschewing negativity -- Walker hated rap, and never allowed it to be played -- and by getting heavily involved with assorted charitable functions and events like Juneteenth. In the end, though, these efforts couldn't compensate for financial shortfalls.
"It was one of the few black-owned stations anywhere, but it had to struggle for sales dollars," Bowman says. "Clear Channel, which has eight stations, can go to a client and say, 'If you buy KOA, we'll give you spots on these other stations.' And if you went to KDKO, that's all you'd get -- KDKO. Well, where are you going to put your money? That's how the FCC is killing small, single-owner-operated stations in this country."
With cash relatively scarce at KDKO, Bowman had to supplement his efforts by seeking other employment. He worked as manager of community and government affairs for TCI of Colorado, did marketing for Great Outdoors Colorado, and anchored a syndicated program called Consumer Advantage News, also known as CAN-TV; the show appeared on stations such as Denver's Channel 55, which Bowman and a group of supporters once tried but failed to obtain. More recently, Bowman has contributed articles to the business publication In the Black ("It's Black and It's Proud," August 3, 2000), written for the Denver Daily News, done sports talk on KLZ, the new ESPN Radio affiliate, and dipped his toe into electoral waters. He speaks fondly about his unsuccessful city council run but says, laughing, "I'm sure my political career is over." The same is probably true of any acting aspirations. He appeared as a soccer referee in Ladybugs, a 1992 Rodney Dangerfield flick, filmed largely in Denver, which was tepid enough to send potential agents racing in the opposite direction.
When it comes to reporting, however, Bowman seems born again: "I'm not on cloud nine. I'm on cloud thirty-nine." As such, he displays no bitterness over past treatment. "Was I more militant when I was twenty or thirty?" he asks. "Probably so, but time passes, and your values change.
"To the question, 'Did I replace a black?' -- in reality, I don't care," he says. "I know I have the skills and talents to replace anyone at any station in America."
The hunt goes on: Whereas Jon Bowman was able to find a job, a hefty number of veteran print journalists haven't been so fortunate. The employment market for writers and reporters is as bad as most observers can remember, with magazines folding on a regular basis and newspapers of every size and description trimming their staffs with the aplomb of Leatherface from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.