Steve Kelley has been part of the Denver media scene for a generation, mainly as a radio host. Then, as outlined in "The Rookie," a 2005 Message column, he was convinced to leave his longtime perch at KOA/850 AM in favor of a hosting gig for Good Day Colorado, Channel 31's a.m. info block. Just over three years later, Kelley is out at the Fox affiliate -- displaced in a cost-cutting move detailed in the blog "Fox 31 General Manager Dennis Leonard on Current Rumors, Future Changes." He admits that the news blindsided him.
"It was a shock -- something my wife and I didn't expect," Kelley says. "We're coming up on our 25th wedding anniversary, and we've been making preparations to celebrate that -- and my son is coming back from the Navy, and my other son is coming home from college. I even had two weeks of vacation time coming up. And then, three weeks before the holidays, to have it end like that..."
The removal of Kelley is only the latest incident to shake Channel 31. A few months back, the station announced its merger with a major competitor, Channel 2. (Get the lowdown in the October Message column "Channels 2 and 31 Mix It Up.") As part of this partnership, around thirty members of the Channel 2 staff were laid off, and with the combining of operations, some folks on the Fox 31 payroll feared that their positions might vanish, too.
But Kelley was optimistic, in part because the folks at Tribune Co., Channel 2's owner, were known quantities for him. He'd met Randy Michaels, Tribune's chief operating officer, on several occasions when Michaels was running Clear Channel, KOA's parent firm. He felt Michaels would have good ideas about "how to take the stations to the next level." Instead, Michaels was on the Tribune's bow when the corporation filed for bankruptcy earlier this month. Around the same time, Kelley, whose contract expired in July, was told that his services were no longer required.
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Kelley isn't the only Denver broadcasting notable facing these circumstances: He was preceded out the door by Channel 9's Bob Kendrick, and Channel 2's Ernie Bjorkman anchored his last evening newscast on December 12. But knowing he has company doesn't make processing his ouster any easier.
"It's like a death," he notes. "You go through these phases -- from shock through disbelief and anger to bargaining and, finally, acceptance. I find myself flowing in and out of these feelings at any given time. I wake up and say, 'Wow, I'm unemployed. I don't have a job.' It's bizarre..."
At the same time, Kelley hasn't lost his love of broadcasting, and he'd like to jump back into the game as soon as possible in either a radio or television capacity. "I'm interested in connecting with people and my community," he stresses. "I love to be part of all that, and however that happens is great with me."
As for where he'd like to continue his career, the answer is simple: Denver. "I don't see myself anywhere else," he says. "I've raised a family here. I've accomplished more than many broadcasters accomplish by staying here instead of bouncing around and being transient. I think the key to really making an impact on any community is being consistent, and that's what I've tried to do -- and that's why I'd like to stay here. But I don't really know what the future holds." -- Michael Roberts