On plenty of occasions during 2019, big news in Denver was also big news across the country. But there were still plenty of topics involving television, radio, social media and more that were specific to the Mile High City.
Here are our picks for the ten most memorable media stories of the year:
TV Journalists v. the Trolls
Broadcasters are regularly encouraged to share early and often on social media in order to promote their stations and personal brands. But doing so can open them up to the sort of attacks that make posting seem like a combat sport. In January, following a tweetstorm caused by his decision to mute those making dubious claims about fake news, 9News's Gary Shapiro announced that he was abandoning Twitter for all but the most benign items. Since then, he's tweeted much less frequently and studiously avoided any topics likely to roil partisan rancor. In March, forecaster Becky Ditchfield, Shapiro's 9News colleague, took a different approach after online morons engaged in body-shaming over her pregnancy, using high-level math on Instagram to disprove one person's assertion that her belly looked as if it was sticking out two miles. It soon became clear this particular hater simply didn't measure up.
Local Stories Went National
It's no surprise when tragic Colorado-based crime stories such as Christopher Watts's murder of his pregnant wife and two children or the slaying of Kelsey Bereth suddenly become national cable-TV fodder. But the ubiquity of social media, and the power of user video, can also elevate hyper-local stories to global prominence. Two significant examples from this year: a brawl at a youth baseball game in Lakewood that resulted in multiple citations and plenty of shame, and the late-summer furor over footage showing Diana Sanchez giving birth alone at Denver County Jail.
The Saga of Alfred Williams
In late February, former Denver Broncos standout and ex-CU Buff Alfred Williams announced that he was leaving 104.3 The Fan, his longtime radio home, in favor of a new gig on KOA — and the ripple effects of this move were far-reaching. KOA subsequently pulled the plug on Orange & Blue Radio, which boasted of being "All Broncos, All the Time," then paired the 760 AM signal with a newly acquired FM one to create Freedom 93.7, a purveyor of conservative talk starring Rush Limbaugh, a syndicated star who'd been on KOA for more than a quarter-century. Meanwhile, 104.3 The Fan essentially held public auditions to find a new co-host for Darren "D-Mac" McKee, Williams's former partner, eventually settling on Broncos Ring of Famer Tom Nalen. But the pairing wouldn't last....
The Sad (and Happy) Return of Dog the Bounty Hunter
Reality-TV stars Duane "Dog the Bounty Hunter" Chapman and his wife, Beth Chapman, once called Colorado home, and even after relocating to Hawaii, they maintained close connections with the state. After Beth died in June, Dog hosted an emotional memorial service in Aurora, but insult was added to injury in the days that followed: The Dog the Bounty Hunter store in Edgewater was ransacked and some of Beth's personal items were stolen, prompting Duane to go biblical on Facebook and Twitter. But this event didn't prevent Dorsey Pictures, which produces the new WGN series Dog's Most Wanted, from relocating to Castle Rock in a big coup for the local film and television industry.
The Struggles of Daily Newspapers
Journalists at traditional broadsheets continue to do good work against tremendous odds worsened by issues that are financial in nature. Witness the Boulder Daily Camera and the Denver Post, both of which are in the portfolio of the vulture hedge fund Alden Global Capital. In February, numerous Camera staffers learned about layoffs at the publication during the funeral of editor Kevin Kaufman, who died following a long and brave battle with cancer. Six months later, the Post killed society reporter Joanne Davidson's column after 34 years, days before the expiration of the newsroom's union contract. At this writing, no new pact has been signed, and during negotiations, a clause asking for permission to use artificial intelligence software to create stories about public meetings and the like was briefly floated before being pulled. In the meantime, though, the technology is currently being used to produce blurbs about high school sports. Score one for our robot overlords.
CPR and Denverite
The internal challenges facing the Post have an external corollary: Colorado Public Radio is making a big-time bid to become the state's most significant news organization. In March, CPR obtained Denverite, a promising but resource-challenged news website. Since then, the organization has expanded in ways that are exceedingly rare in today's economic environment, as evidenced by its move into a 9,000-square-foot space on East 17th Avenue, near the State Capitol. In the meantime, the last of the Post's ties to what has long been known as the Denver Post Building are being severed. Executives with MediaNews Group, its official parent company, are expected to relocate to the paper's old printing plant, at 5990 Washington Street in Adams County, during the first part of 2020, making room for employees with the City of Denver.
The Saga of Alfred Williams, Part II
In late August, shortly before Alfred Williams was set to finally make his KOA debut, news broke that Tom Nalen, who'd replaced him on 104.3 The Fan, would soon be moving to Massachusetts for family reasons. This decision necessitated another talent search that ended when station management decided to team D-Mac with Tyler Polumbus and Nick Ferguson, another pair of former Broncos. This timing seemed disastrous given the attention garnered by Williams and his new partner, iHeartRadio executive JoJo Turnbeaugh. But things have worked out differently, at least in the short term. Overall ratings for KOA have tumbled since the lineup shifts, and increased listenership for Limbaugh and company on Freedom 93.7 hasn't made up the difference. Meanwhile, the popularity of 104.3 The Fan's programming as a whole actually increased in September and October. Go figure.
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Altitude v. Comcast
Altitude TV is the cable-television home of the Denver Nuggets and the Colorado Avalanche, both of which were expected to be playoff contenders this season — and thus far, these prognostications look safe. Problem is, Comcast, the main cable provider for the Mile High City, cut off Altitude in August as part of a dispute over fees, with satellite services DISH and DIRECTV doing likewise. The standoff dragged on for months despite an energetic publicity campaign by Altitude executives, who insisted that they weren't asking for anything unreasonable and repeatedly pointed out that fans were being harmed. This outcome hardly surprised one local expert, who argued that the regional sports TV model is broken. And while Altitude and DIRECTV made a deal in late October, neither Comcast nor DISH have blinked since then, raising the prospect that the situation could linger in limbo for the squads' entire 2019-2020 campaigns.
KNUS v. Craig Silverman and More
Attorney Craig Silverman has been a mainstay on the Denver talk-radio scene for many years, most recently by way of a Saturday program on 710 KNUS. But during a November broadcast, he was abruptly yanked off the air in the middle of his show. Reports that this action had been taken because Silverman supported the impeachment of President Donald Trump during talk on the conservative outlet turned up on CNN and plenty of other major news channels but were denied by KNUS executives, who insisted that the real problem was his plan to guest on a rival radio station, KHOW, alongside his former broadcasting partner, Dan Caplis. Days later, Silverman was told that he could come back to KNUS and say whatever he wanted about Trump, only to have the plug pulled again before he could do so. Oh, yeah: Silverman's former producer, Kirk Widlund, who remains at the station at this writing, has been accused of being a neo-Nazi, but the weekday afternoon show co-hosted by Chuck Bonniwell and Julie Hayden was abruptly canceled after the former wished for "a nice school shooting" to pull attention away from impeachment hearings.
The Subtle Appeal of Marty Coniglio
In November, veteran forecaster Marty Coniglio revealed that he'd be leaving 9News on December 30, and in conversation, he implied that his departure wouldn't cause much of a stir. Referencing two previous Denver-area gigs, he told us, "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." However, Coniglio was selling himself short. His announcement became one of the most viewed Westword articles of 2019. That's one prediction he missed.