According to Steve Kelley, his July 25 debut as impresario of Good Day Colorado, Channel 31's morning program, went so smoothly that "we knew there was going to be a problem" on day two -- and the longtime KOA radio star, who's taking his first shot at TV under the auspices of the local Fox affiliate, couldn't have been more correct.
The trouble started about 8:30 a.m., when Kelley bid farewell to a pair of in-studio visitors, KHOW yappers Dan Caplis and Craig Silverman. Suddenly, a graphic labeled "Top Stories" popped onto the screen and wouldn't leave. After a clumsy pause, Kelley, who'd been looking around uneasily seconds earlier, said, "We can run this prompter or I can just start talking. Whatever you like. I don't know if it's possible to take a break...." But rather than an advertisement, viewers were next shown a live shot of the space shuttle Discovery, just eight minutes from liftoff, followed by a graphic for "Out the Door Weather" that usually precedes predictions by forecaster Stacey Donaldson. Kelley, though, chose to introduce traffic guy Ken Clark instead, creating another train-wreck transition. Donaldson eventually managed to offer a brief update that fed into more live shots from Discovery's launchpad. "We'll listen to NASA and some of the back and forth," Kelley declared, but that proved to be a false promise. "I'm not hearing anything right now," he noted. The situation briefly stabilized during the remainder of the segment, but as the half-hour wound down, Kelley announced that the show was going to commercial, only to have the director cut to a waving, glassy-eyed Donaldson. He proved himself to be a keen observer when he conceded, "There was another one of those unusual and awkward moments."
Blessedly, meltdowns like these weren't frequent occurrences amid Kelley's first week or so on the show. Not that Good Day Colorado is hitting on all cylinders: For instance, an ambitious attempt to weave interaction with a live audience into the program's 8 a.m. hour hasn't paid off, and may prove to be more trouble than it's worth. Yet Kelley represents another casting coup for Channel 31, which successfully turned longtime sports deliverer Ron Zappolo into the outlet's main news anchor. Whether his presence alone will be enough to pull the production out of the ratings pit in which it's been mired is unclear, and Kelley isn't making bold predictions. Indeed, upon commenting about how hard it was for him to leave Clear Channel-owned KOA, where he worked for nineteen years, he half-jokingly says, "The more I'm talking about this, the more I'm starting to regret it." Still, he contends that the challenge of tweaking his radio persona for a visual medium "has been a lot of fun -- and whatever happens, I have faith that I'll be taken care of and that I'll be able to take care of those who depend on me."
The word "faith" comes up often in Kelley's conversation. He feels his Christian beliefs helped him cope with the death of his brother, Danny, who spent most of his life in mental institutions, and the breast cancer that slowed down but didn't stop his wife, Kathy Jo. Likewise, he said that he'd been "called" to try his hand at television in his emotional July 22 goodbye on KOA's Colorado Morning News. "I don't know if you want to associate that with the Holy Spirit," he cautions. "God doesn't speak to me audibly, and He didn't say 'Take this job.' But to the extent that an inner voice said 'You've always wanted to do this, and if it makes sense, why not,' you can associate the two things. This opportunity shouldn't have presented itself; it shouldn't make sense -- which is why, in a strange way, it made sense to me."
Kelley first contacted Channel 31 news director Bill Dallman back in 2000, when the station's 9 p.m. newscast bowed with Zappolo at the helm. They've maintained a casual, golfing-buddy relationship since then, and when former Good Day anchor Justin Farmer was on vacation, Kelley filled in for a day. This de facto audition impressed Fox types, who'd been unable to get any traction since the morning block's March 2004 inception; even replacing Farmer with the miraculously follicled Jeremy Hubbard failed to move the masses. Once they were ready to romance Kelley in earnest, however, Channel 31 execs discovered that he'd just signed a five-year contract with KOA. The only way Kelley could get out of the pact was to be granted a release, and he received it. The decision was tough, admits Kris Olinger, the director of AM programming for Clear Channel in Denver and a onetime on-air partner of Kelley's; they teamed on Kelley and Company for five years beginning in the mid-'80s. After all, KOA's afternoon-drive slot had recently been shaken by the departure of Scott Hastings, who jumped to the Altitude cable channel, and the new tandem of Dave Logan and Lois Melkonian was trying to establish itself. Going through the same routine on the morning show was an unattractive prospect, Olinger says, "but this is something that Steve's always wanted to do, and we didn't want to stand in the way of his dream job."
Money wasn't Kelley's main motivation. He reveals that he'll actually make less at Channel 31 than he did at KOA, because his new station forbids him from making the sort of lucrative endorsement deals he enjoyed while on the radio. This seems contradictory, given that consumer advocate Tom Martino, a regular on Good Day, endorses up a storm via radio, in print and on his website, Troubleshooter.com. In the past, Martino has defended himself against conflict-of-interest accusations like this one by claiming that he's not a journalist. Dallman, for his part, acknowledges that Martino serves as a journalist for Channel 31 but views him as an "independent contractor" -- a loophole big enough to keep the cash pouring through. Other staffers, Kelley included, aren't so lucky.
The first portion of Good Day hasn't changed much thus far, but the structure's been loosened a tad in an attempt to approximate the casual, conversational quality Kelley popularized on KOA. (At present, these endeavors can feel a bit forced; they should improve over time.) The final hour, meanwhile, is dominated by extended interviews conducted by Kelley, and the idea's a good one. Unfortunately, the early chats were allowed to dribble on for far too long. Ten minutes or so with Tom Tancredo and John Hickenlooper proved to be a lot more justifiable than was even more time spent in the company of an Xcel Energy spokesman, or an Aurora public-information officer who guested following a police-impersonation incident in a different jurisdiction. Efforts to utilize audiences have stiffed, too. One rub is the setting: Folks are stuck in the Channel 31 lobby, as if waiting for an appointment. Attendance is another: For the July 25 broadcast, the eleven people present included Kathy Jo Kelley and the couple's three kids, who looked positively mortified when Dad quizzed them at the show's conclusion. That may be why ringers are already being invited -- among them Khalil Kramer, of a group called Muslims Intent on Learning & Activism, who took Tancredo to task.
Dallman acknowledges that some of Good Day's elements are "experiments," and one of them has already been modified; a coffee klatch bit with Donaldson, Clark and co-anchor Tammy Vigil was moved from in front of a green screen because the participants looked as if they'd been outlined in Magic Marker. Further adjustments should help, as will additional experience for Kelley, who's seeming more comfortable all the time. By day four, he was relaxed enough to sign off with a humorous variation on a Will Ferrell catchphrase from Anchorman: "Stay classy, Denver."
And stay away from more of those "unusual and awkward moments."
Correction of the day: The July 27 edition of the Denver Daily News contained the following statement: "The Denver Daily News would like to offer a sincere apology for a typo in Wednesday's Town Talk regarding New Jersey's proposal to ban smoking in automobiles. It was not the author's intention to call New Jersey 'Jew Jersey.'"
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you'll never miss Westword's biggest stories.