In 2014, longtime Denver TV anchor Mike Landess announced his retirement prior to stepping away from 7News — his second major gig at a local television station following a remarkably successful sixteen-year stint at 9News.
But retirement didn't stick. Very shortly after leaving 7News, he took an anchor position at KYTX in his home town of Tyler, Texas — a job he already had in his pocket when he said goodbye, he now acknowledges.
His next act? He's coming back to the Denver market, at CW2, beginning today, July 18, when he'll co-anchor a new 4 p.m. weeknight broadcast, as well as one at 7 p.m., with veteran personality Deborah Takahara.
So what does the seventy-year-old Landess have against retirement?
"I think it's the whole boomer thing," he says. "I run into more and more people who feel the exact same thing as I do. Look at our parents' model, when people retired at 65 or seventy. I think my dad tried to retire at 62, although he ended up working for another twenty years. But you can only fish and travel so much. So it's work ethic, it's getting bored, it's wanting to be engaged.
"The biggest thing for me is, I love the collaboration when you're building something. I enjoy working with people, I enjoy the give-and-take of a project. It's almost the same feeling you get when you're building a Habitat for Humanity house. Each of you has a mission, a component or multiple components you're working on — but there's a common goal. It's inspiring, and it makes you want to get up in the morning."
As we've reported, Landess started his broadcasting career in Tyler while he was still a high-school student.
Within four years, he was an anchor at WFAA in Dallas, after which he moved to WKYC in Cleveland and then, in 1977, to Channel 9 in Denver. (At the time, the station's call letters were KBTV; they're now KUSA.)
For the next sixteen years, Landess teamed with Ed Sardella at the station. Their styles were a study in contrast, with Sardella coming across as tough and pugnacious and Landess looking like the classic TV-anchor archetype: handsome, charming and dressed to impress.
But the combination was a ratings juggernaut, leveling all competition for so long that it seemed as if 9News would never relinquish its dominance in the marketplace — and the station's evening newscast still regularly finishes first in audience share to this day.
Nonetheless, Landess eventually moved on, anchoring in Atlanta and Washington, D.C., before returning to Denver in 2002, this time as the anchor for 7News, the outlet that had been the city's most popular until 9News began its run.
And while Landess wasn't able to push the station back to the top of the mountain, he offered a steady presence for a decade-plus — and earned kudos for going public about his battle against prostate cancer.
When Landess returned to Tyler, he figured on staying there for a while. But he admits that "I always had one toe in Colorado. We sold our house in Washington Park for an obscene amount of money — because all of the house prices in Washington Park are obscene — and took that money and bought a condo in Fort Collins, since my wife's two grown daughters and five grandchildren are up there. So we did the betwixt-and-between thing for a while — but then we figured out a way to get back here."
Instrumental in making that happen was CW2 news director Holly Gauntt, a colleague of Landess's at multiple stops along his career path. "She was an intern at KUSA when I was there, and she was the assistant news director at WTTG in Washington, D.C. We worked together through the 2000 election and 9/11, which we covered like it was a local news story — because for us, it was. We have a very intense personal bond" — so much so that Landess spoke at the funeral of Gauntt's mother.
At CW2, Landess will be teaming with Takahara, Kim Posey, Kevin Torres and forecaster Matt Makens, another refugee from 7News. He's happy about the earlier hours — "My wife and I will be able to have dinner together" — though he notes that he may do occasional fill-in for the late-night broadcast on CW2's sister station, Fox31.
As for the new 4 p.m. program, he describes it as "a little bit of a Petri dish. We're going to try and reach deep into Colorado's roots and tell stories about the people and places across the state, while at the same time being a solid news organization that covers the news of the day. And we may even take the show on the road, so we can broadcast from across Colorado. We've checked with the engineers, and they've said, 'Sure, bring it on. Let's go.' So we're going to try to capture the essence of Colorado, the things that draw people to this state."
When it comes to the latter, Landess brings the perspective of both an insider and an outsider.
"When we were in a store in Texas not too long ago, on one of those days when it was 100 degrees and 90 percent humidity, we said, 'We're headed to Colorado,' and this person said, 'Can you take me with you?'" he recalls with a laugh.
Landess turned seventy on June 20 — a significant date because "I was diagnosed with cancer on my sixtieth birthday. I've now been cancer-free for nine years thanks to the folks at the University of Colorado hospital — ten years next April. So I have a lot I owe to Colorado. When I think of Colorado, I think of my life, not just my career."
The career continues — and retirement be damned.
Keep Westword Free... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Denver with no paywalls.