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Steve Kelley on his return to Denver radio as host of Kelley & Company on KNUS

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Steve Kelley, the host of the new morning show on KNUS/710 AM, admits that he's "still working on the confidence that I'm making the right topic choices" in his first fulltime radio job since leaving KOA in 2005 for a TV gig that didn't pan out the way he'd hoped. But in terms of everything else about the medium -- "the formatics, the technicalities" -- he already feels he's in fighting trim and ready to re-establish himself in the Denver market.

Kelley made the leap from KOA, where he'd been a prominent personality for decades, to Fox31, which installed him as host of the station's morning program. But three years later, in 2008, he was fired from the show by controversial executive Dennis Leonard, who was himself out at the station by early 2010. Around the same time as Leonard's departure, news broke that Kelley had filed a breach-of-contract lawsuit against Fox31 that was settled out of court.

In the interim, Kelley did some extended fill-in for Dave Logan on KOA -- and he had regular conversations with KNUS execs Brian Taylor and Kelly Michaels about joining their outlet. Problem is, the station focused on syndicated conservative talk from the likes of Dennis Prager and Michael Medved, and executives at the parent company, Salem Communications, had to be convinced to invest in a live, local show. "Brian had to jump through a ton of hoops to make this happen," Kelley notes. "But he worked hard to convince corporate that this was the right thing to do for their station, and he pulled it off."

The new show debuted on July 11, and since then, Kelley feels he's developed excellent chemistry with his two main cohorts, Bill Rogan and Murphy Wells. And while he's comfortable covering politics from a conservative point of view -- he notes a recent conversation with Representative Cory Gardner -- he's also free to head off in other directions. He takes particular pride in an extended segment featuring a woman whose dog was torn apart by a pit bull. But he enjoys talking sports with Rogan, too, and he was pleasantly surprised by how a simple anecdote about forgetting the number code to close his garage door spun into a conversation about the modern malady he calls "password fatigue."

The main rivals during Kelley's 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. slot is KOA and KHOW's Peter Boyles. He describes the former as a "news carousel," and says that while Boyles is a good friend, "he'll ride a horse until the legs fall off" -- phrases he also trotted out in a recent conversation with BigMedia.org's Jason Salzman. "I think we're a good alternative to both Clear Chanel competitors in the morning," he maintains.

As for his reception to date, he says it's all been good -- and, strangely enough, he wishes it weren't. "I haven't gotten enough negative so far," he allos. "And I learn from negative comments. Everybody is happy to praise you, and that's fine. But it's really the negative comments that help me the most. Nothing is more of an insult than when people say, 'Oh, that was all right.' I can't be just all right. I've got too much competition to just be all right. I've got to be good."

More from our Media archive: "Channel 31 execs take cruise, staffers get furloughs."

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