At Westword, we joke about the "Best of Denver curse." At least once or twice every year, it seems, a terrific person, place or thing honored in our annual Best of Denver issue shuts down, goes away or otherwise disappears before the ink in the print edition is dry.
This year's ignominious award goes to Matt Makens of KWGN/Channel 2, whom we named Best Local TV Weathercaster. "Longtime Coloradans have a very low tolerance for forecasters who portray every snow event as a potential life-threatening blizzard and seem to seek out any excuse to drop phrases such as 'bomb cyclone' into their conversation whether they're relevant or not," we wrote. "So praise be to Matt Makens, whose appearances on Channel 2 are marked by a low-key delivery that lets the facts of the day speak for themselves. And because he's a local product (he grew up outside of Castle Rock), he has enough experience with the vagaries of Colorado weather to know the difference between a legitimate thunderstorm and a passing cloud."
Each word of this praise is richly deserved — but there's a problem. Makens is leaving Channel 2 at the end of this month, and he's not leaping to another station. Instead, he's leaving broadcast TV news entirely to focus on MakensWeather.com, a new consulting firm that will provide custom-fit forecasting information to a wide range of consumer interests.
"As of June 1, when my contract is done, I am hitting the ground running, full speed ahead," Makens says.
A native of Castle Rock who still makes his home there, Makens earned a degree in atmospheric science from the University of Kansas, then worked at outlets in nearby Lawrence, Topeka and Wichita, as well as a gig in Orlando, Florida, before landing at Denver7 in 2010. Six years later, in 2016, he "hopped across the street to Channel 2," he recalls, where he established himself as a forecaster and communicator more interested in accuracy and practical assistance than histrionics and hype.
"I am a meteorologist through and through, and that means letting the data speak for itself," he notes. "I apply my interpretation based on schooling and experience, but we're talking about science that is founded in data. A cardiologist I know put it perfectly to me once: He said, 'A scientist's role is to provide data. It is the user's role to interpret it and how it impacts them.' That resounded so much in my mind, and that's how I treat things. I'll give you the data, I'll give you my interpretation and the impact that is likely, but I'm not going to go beyond that. I'll let the data speak for itself."
Makens's departure from Channel 2 is part of a growing trend that's seen many high-profile Denver TV journalists leaving their longtime stations to strike out on their own — sometimes in fields related to their previous one, and sometimes not. Examples during recent months include Fox31/Channel 2 personality Natalie Tysdal, who's launched her own branded network on YouTube and beyond; 9News forecaster Becky Ditchfield, now focusing on her family and related matters; 9News reporter turned real estate expert Ryan Haarer; and Fox31 favorite (and former Denver Broncos cheerleader) Sam Boik, who jumped to Littleton's Pivot Lending Group, a major credit union mortgage origination company.
Times have been tough at local TV stations in recent years because of shifting viewing habits and increasing competition from online news outlets — and the COVID-19 pandemic, which put even more stress on advertising revenues, didn't help matters. Yet these TV pros have had reasons of their own for moving on. For Makens, his motivations combine his love of meteorology and his entrepreneurial spirit.
"I've always known there's a need, especially in big industries like agriculture, to effectively communicate information about weather and climate," he says. "And with the mentality around social media — all of the brand-new digital platforms and the apps you can download for your phone — we're spraying more information out without providing much context. So over the years, I've seen the need to give that context — to provide greater communication, including crisis communication, and a real factual, data-driven sense of what's going to happen."
MakensWeather.com has already lined up "quite a few clients," he adds, and he's looking to further beef up his roster with more ag firms and government agencies at both the domestic and foreign levels. And while he isn't kicking the local forecasting habit entirely — he plans to continue contributing to the venerable blog Weather5280.com — he won't have a regular television outlet.
What will he miss most about the gig? "I've always loved being a communicator, and there's a communication aspect to my new role," he points out. "But there's a certain creativity to putting together a two-minute weathercast where you pack in all this information. It's a good challenge — and the deadlines are good challenges, too."
But his new project also gives him the opportunity to "get back to true meteorology — getting back to how weather and climate information and actionable items impact all of us in a broader sense," he stresses. "It impacts how governments communicate, how the military communicates. It impacts how a cattle producer in Montana responds to the climate outlook. It goes back to the latest, greatest technology and how it's helping a farmer and the farming industry produce crops or proteins more sustainably. So much of that we don't cover in TV, since that's not our audience. But that's one of the most exciting things for me — to approach a new audience with my fresh perspective."
And the Best of Denver curse strikes again.
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