Fox 31 general manager Dennis Leonard on current rumors, future changes

Rumors are flying, as rumors are wont to do, about the stations at the heart of the October 23 Message column "Channels 2 and 31 Mix It Up," and no wonder. Channel 2's parent company, Tribune, recently filed for bankruptcy, adding even greater uncertainty to this unexpected business partnership between two longtime rivals.

Channel 31 general manager Dennis Leonard, pictured, doesn't fill in all the gaps. However, he does address speculation about possible layoffs, new sales approaches, branding alterations and the disappearance of Steve Kelley, the onetime KOA staple who's anchored the outlet's a.m. news block, Good Day Colorado, since July 2005.

Leonard pins the blame for the parting with Kelley on the economy and the way it's impacting the journalism industry in general. "Your story in last week's Westword pretty much sums it up," he maintains, referencing the feature article "The Rocky Mountain News is Going Down."

In Leonard's words, "It's a tough time -- and it's tough all over the country. When a major broadcast company like Tribune files for bankruptcy, when arguably the nation's largest newspaper [The New York Times] has to borrow against itself to make cash flow, when a venerable local publication like the Rocky Mountain News is up for sale and could ultimately be going away, it's clear that these are not easy times -- and with difficult times come very difficult decisions. But we wish Steve the very best." He adds, "We're not going to be replacing Steve for the time being" on Good Day Colorado. "We're going to go forward with who we have" -- meaning, for the most part, Peggy Bunker and Shaul Turner.

In the meantime, the grapevine is buzzing with speculation about further layoffs at Channel 2, which has already shed around thirty employees since the merger announcement, including evening anchor Ernie Bjorkman, who bid farewell on December 12. Leonard shoots down this particular bit of gossip without any equivocation.

"No, it's not true," he says. "There were certain employees that were not going to be retained once the two stations were joined, but nothing has changed. They're the same people who had been notified that they would not be retained past the point where we joined the stations."

One variation on the layoff theory held that a single sales staff would be peddling advertising for both stations. That's not wholly accurate, Leonard maintains, although job responsibilities have indeed been tweaked to some degree.

"There still will be a dedicated sales staff -- ten local salespeople on each side," he reveals. "And the transactional business will still remain separated. For Qwest or Toyota or Ford dealers, they'll still be dealing with the same people they've dealt with before, from each station. But we are giving people the opportunity to sell both stations in business development. For example, it doesn't make sense to have two people calling on Moe's Bagel Shop trying to develop new business. And everyone is being asked to develop new business. It's not an exception anymore; it's an expectation that everyone develops a form of new business -- and there will be quite an intense internal accountability process, as you might imagine."

Finally, Leonard confirms rumblings about new slogans and new imaging at the signals. "We're definitely going to rebrand both stations," he says. "I would think by late January, we'll have something to share with you."

Can't wait to find out what Leonard will name his new set of twins. -- Michael Roberts

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