Marty Coniglio has been forecasting Denver weather for three decades at various local TV stations — most recently at 9News, where he's been a staple for fifteen years on such programs as the highly rated morning show. But as of December 30, Coniglio will leave 9News and leap into the great unknown.
Coniglio isn't retiring, and he's not being pushed out by his current employer. "I love Marty," says Mark Cornetta, the president and general manager of 9News and its sister station, KTVD, as well as executive vice president for TEGNA, the signals' parent company. "I wish he wasn't leaving."
At this point, Coniglio doesn't have a gig lined up with another broadcaster. Indeed, he's open to giving up the television-news business in favor of something new, though he hasn't zeroed in on anything specific. "The honest answer is, I don't know what I'm going to be doing," he says.
So why is Coniglio planning to walk away from what appears to be a plum gig, especially during a period of downsizing and layoffs throughout the traditional media industry? It's complicated.
His early years are all about Nebraska. He grew up in Lincoln, earned a bachelor's degree in meteorology from the state university based there and got his first TV job at a station in town in 1985. From there, he spent a year prognosticating in La Crosse, Wisconsin, and two more in Decatur, Illinois, before getting an opportunity in Colorado. "I was at Channel 4 for ten years, Channel 7 for five years and Channel 9 after that," he notes.
Over this span, Colorado became more than just a good business opportunity. "A long, long time ago, my mother asked if I was coming home for Christmas, and I told her, 'Are you asking if I'm coming to your house? Because I live at home.'" He adds that "both my daughters were born here, and they were happy to come back after college to live here, which is wonderful. I have two brothers who live here, too. It feels very much like home."
Despite being in the spotlight for so long, he's decidedly modest about his accomplishments. "I just do the things that need to be done," he maintains. "I was never high profile at Channel 4, and even though I was the evening meteorologist at Channel 7, I wasn't high-profile enough for them, which is why they dumped me for Mike Nelson — which is what happened. And it's the same thing at 9News. We have big personalities here" — a reference to Kathy Sabine, who recently renewed her contract to stay at the station, where she's worked for more than 25 years — "so I do what I need to do to keep the cogs moving. I've always felt like I'm a utility infielder or a capable backup quarterback, but not really Tom Brady."
Yet he understands the importance of the role he plays even during a period when fewer people see local newscasts as appointment television. "Even in the mobile-device age, where you have continuous, instant access to some type of weather information, be it on an app or a website or something like that, I find that people like to have secondary human verification. I don't know that people are necessarily as invested in me personally as some other people who are around, but I hope they trust that I work hard to get them the best information I can."
Still, online technology has had a serious impact on local TV, including the bottom line. "I can tell you that I make the same money I made in 2004," he reveals. "We had a big adjustment in 2009, during the economic downturn, and those monies have not come back. Now, for me, that's not a hardship — but for a lot of people who are starting out as producers or reporters, it's very difficult to live in some of these larger metropolitan areas on what they're paid. I think people have this assumption that people on TV are paid these massive amounts of money, but there are a lot of schoolteachers who are making more money than some on-air people here. That's the reality of the business."
In the meantime, the job itself has gotten tougher, he believes. "Today, there's media that either didn't exist or that weren't as important fifteen or twenty years ago as they are now. With the advent of 18,000 different social-media platforms, the beast needs to be fed. If you were to ask me what my golden age was, I would say around 1996. It was awesome: TV stations were making lots of money, and you weren't rich, but you weren't beating yourself to death at work — and it was fun. Now, it's still a very good job. But a cost-benefit analysis has been calculated, and that's why it's going the way it's going."
Then there are personal factors. "I have some health problems that the early-morning schedule makes really, really challenging," Coniglio says. "It's not anything scary, but I get chronic migraines, which I've had since I was in junior high, and the sleep schedule isn't good for that." On the morning of our conversation, he notes, "I was up at 1:44 a.m., and that's just not regular. I don't think human beings were made to do that." In addition, "I developed tinnitus, ringing in the ears, around 2010. I've gotten treatment for that; I actually wear hearing aids that have helped quite a bit. But over the course of the morning show, I've developed an ulcer. So it's a nice little trifecta where sometimes, when I need to smile and laugh and joke, I'm barely making it through the morning."
For these reasons and more, Coniglio decided this spring that he would be calling it quits at the end of the year, much to Cornetta's chagrin. "I was hoping he'd sign up for another period of time — but I think he was at the point in his life where he wants to do something different. You can't really blame him. Obviously, it's a personal choice for him. But he's done a fantastic job. He's a really smart scientist who's added an incredible amount to our meteorological team, and we're really going to miss that."
At present, Cornetta is interviewing candidates to replace Coniglio. "It could be one of the existing meteorologists we have here. But we're going to replace the position, because we have too many newscasts and too many days to cover. We've talked to a number of folks internally within Colorado, as well as some folks who are interested in relocating. There's a lot of interest in the job. Colorado is a great place to live, and as a meteorologist, it's a great place to forecast, because the weather changes so much — and that makes it interesting."
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Cornetta is confident that he's going to have "a great many people to choose from. But it's finding the right fit, and Marty isn't going to be easy to replace. He's got a great deal of knowledge, but he also presents so well on the air. He's leaving on great terms, and I'm sorry to see him go."
Likewise, Coniglio sings the praises of his colleagues at 9News and other stations over the years. "I've worked with people who aren't just extraordinarily talented, but they're also just lovely — good friends who I can call up and have a conversation or just check in about their life. They're wonderful, they're cool, they're funny, they're intelligent and they're dedicated to their craft. Hearing all the cries of 'fake news' really distresses me, because I know the lengths to which the journalists with whom I've worked go to be fair and accurate. I would hope those people would have the self-awareness to come around to that realization, but I don't know if they do."
While Coniglio still has more than a month to go at 9News, he's started applying for new positions — and he was especially frustrated when he didn't get a call-back for an opening as a jet salesperson. He learned to pilot planes in 1998 and flew regularly for the next twelve years, until his daughters entered college and the expense became too great. But he's got a lot of other talents, and he hopes there's an employer out there who will give him a chance to prove it.
"Meteorology is a pretty damn hard degree to earn," he points out, "but I think weather people are still viewed as being less serious and, frankly, less intelligent than their news counterparts. You're viewed as a smile and a haircut. So it can be very difficult to convince people about the huge array of skills you have to transfer. But I hope I can."