At 4 p.m. today, February 5, Steffan Tubbs will begin his first show as afternoon-drive host for KNUS, at 710 AM. The gig offers a career-rebirth opportunity for the longtime host of KOA's Colorado Morning News, who was dismissed by management at iHeartMedia, the outlet's owner, following his August 2017 bust on suspicion of domestic violence by telephone and then not rehired even after the charge was dropped despite his accuser having previously been arrested for allegedly harassing him.
In the age of the #MeToo movement, when prominent media figures accused of harassing women have been treated as toxic even if they deny any wrongdoing (as Tubbs does), he realizes how fortunate he is to have landed at KNUS in a time slot previously occupied by Dan Caplis, who has described his departure from the station as a "sabbatical."
"If I hadn't been able to get another job in Colorado, I would not have been surprised given the climate," Tubbs concedes. "It wouldn't have been the right decision, and it would have been unfair to me, but I would have understood it. That's why I'm really, really thankful and blessed to be going to a company that really understood what happened."
At the end of the day, he goes on, "it was what it was. I thought KOA management was going to see that, but they didn't. So now I'm on to a new chapter."
The wheels at KNUS were greased by the outlet's morning host, Peter Boyles, who invited Tubbs to be a guest on his program in December. According to Tubbs, "Pete and I have known each other since 1994, and he had his issues" — a reference to Boyles's 2013 firing at KHOW, another iHeart Media station, after he grabbed producer Greg Hollenback by a lanyard around his neck, and his subsequent shift to KNUS. "But he said, 'Don't let what happened define you. You're still a great broadcaster. Come on my show.' And then he really helped open the door."
KNUS is owned by Salem Media Group, which is best known as a religious broadcaster. "I didn't really know any of the people there," Tubbs says. "I've worked in this market for a long time, but never really got a chance to meet them. But they've all been just great."
Preliminary conversations soon got serious — and for Tubbs, the timing couldn't have been better. "I applied for jobs in New York and California, and there were discussions, but none serious," he admits. "And I never really wanted to leave Denver."
Now Tubbs faces a transition from being a neutral information dispenser to someone expected to have a point of view on a station that is dominated by conservative talkers.
"In 28 years of being a newsman, I've tried to be right down the middle," he allows. "I just presented the facts and let the listener determine for himself or herself what their take was."
Predictably, plenty of listeners sensed bias, but not always the same kind. "At KOA, I would receive equal amounts of angry emails saying I was completely to the left or completely to the right," Tubbs notes. "They'd say, 'You're in Trump's pocket. You're in Hillary's pocket. You're in Obama's pocket. You're in Mitt Romney's pocket.' And I felt like if everyone was ticked off at me, I was doing okay. But now I'm being given the opportunity to actually say what I think."
During a guest-hosting gig on KNUS last month, Tubbs did just that — and he subsequently earned a harsh review from BigMedia.org's Jason Salzman, who wrote, "It looks like Tubbs is a moderate no longer, if he ever was one."
In response, Tubbs offers some insight into his personal views.
"I voted for Donald Trump," he says, "and I did it for two main reasons. Number one was the economy and the growing of our nation economically, from infrastructure to the financial markets. I liked what he said on the campaign about that. And number two, I believed what Donald Trump said when he talked about veterans' issues and rebuilding our military to where it should be and getting VA clinics to do a better job. And on the flip side, I feel Hillary Clinton should be in jail for what happened in Benghazi and for the email scandal, which I learned about from the media, just like everyone else."
However, he adds, "Do I think the president tweets too much? And has he embarrassed the country at times with tweets? Yeah, I do think so. Has it been traditionally presidential with Donald Trump? At times, no. My old colleague at KOA, Mike Rosen, used to feel that it should be party first on everything. But I don't know how, in this day and age, you can look at something that's obvious and simply neglect it or overlook it or sweep it under the rug strictly because of party."
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Stylistically, "I'm not a screamer, and I'm not a mouthpiece for anyone," he insists. "I am good friends with [Democratic Representative] Ed Perlmutter, and have been for a decade-plus. I'm good friends with [Republican Senator] Cory Gardner, and I have been for a decade-plus. If they do things I personally don't like, I'll talk about it, but I'll also give them a chance to come on. That's one thing I think there's a real need for in Denver — a talk show that's also a news show. It doesn't have to be all marijuana. It doesn't have to be all Second Amendment. It doesn't have to be all Trump. I look forward to doing breaking news, too. KNUS has traditionally been the stepson to KOA in handling breaking news, but I'm excited to do that, too. It's in my DNA."
Making a ratings splash won't be easy. As Tubbs acknowledges, "I've got really dear, close radio friends I'm now going to be competing with in my afternoon time slot. I love Dave Logan and Rick Lewis and Kathy Lee on KOA. I love Mike Brown on KHOW. I think the guys at The Fan do a great job, and I'm a big fan of D-Mac. But in the friendly competition that is radio, I want to beat all of them."
Tubbs would also like to create "the kind of program that people who are getting off work at four or four-thirty or five or even six will want to tune in to. And maybe they won't know where the show is going when they do. There might have been breaking news two hours before, and even though most people get that from their phones now, they might want to know more."
He hopes that "people who like me will come and follow me in the afternoons, and if I can get back people who didn't like me or had their opinions changed with my mess, great. If I can't, there are plenty of other choices, and I wish them well. But I want to be the choice when it comes to afternoon drive in Denver."