Since the publication of our post about the retirement announcement of Mike Landess from 7News (see our previous coverage below), we've gotten a chance to chat with the longtime Denver TV anchor -- and his comments are frank and forthright.
"When someone my age leaves, the first question you hear is, 'Did he jump or was he pushed?'" says Landess, 68. "And the answer is 'yes' to both."
According to Landess, multiple factors led to his retirement decision. "Some of it is the pressure of the industry," he acknowledges -- and if anyone understands what that means, it's Landess. He's spent half a century in broadcasting, 80 percent of it as an anchor.
"Forty years is a long time to have that job," he admits. "So when you comes time to do something different, you have to think seriously about it -- and fifty years was a nice peg to hang it on."
Times are tight for local network affiliates, and most industry insiders believe the decision of stations to part ways with familiar faces such as 9News' Kirk Montgomery and Susie Wargin is often driven by financial considerations. Landess says economic issues have been growing in prominence.
"I don't have any specific information about people at other stations at this point," he allows. "But I can tell you anecdotally that virtually all major talent in all the major markets have taken hits since probably at least 2009. Anytime someone comes up for a contract, they take a hit. All of us have."
Meanwhile, Landess says that in recent years, he's become more interested in opportunities beyond the anchor desk.
For instance, he particularly enjoys "working with young people in college classes and being part of seminars talking about how we can use Facebook and Twitter and these evolving technologies." Unlike some of his peers, who grouse about social media and the negative impact critics think it has on news dissemination in general, he's excited by the possibilities. "The ability to vet it is still evolving," he says, "and that's one of the biggest challenges." But he likes the idea of finding ways to take advantage of these tools as opposed to railing against them, and even suggests a personal hashtag for this piece: #notdeadyet.
Likewise, Landess has valued the chance to work with the University of Colorado Hospital, which he credits with saving his life when he was diagnosed with prostate cancer -- a health crisis that he detailed in reports like the one in our original post. And he's also a guitarist and enthusiastic luthier who's built his own instruments since he was a teenager and enjoys playing them with his grandson and sons-in-law, as he did at a recent corporate event.
The appeal of such sidelines hasn't extinguished his interest in what's going on in the world. In recent years, "we've covered some of the most historic events Colorado has ever seen," he says, including "wildfires, floods, the Aurora theater shooting." He adds that "I feel good about how we handled those stories" and values the honors he and the station have received as a result, including a 2013 Peabody.
Still, such baubles hold only a limited appeal for him these days. "After you get five Emmys saying you're the best anchor in the market, how many more do you need before you believe you're pretty good at your job?" he asks.
With that in mind, Landess has set August 31 as his final day as 7News anchor, and he's grateful for the responses he's received since news broke.
"I spent more than half my career in Denver: 28 years," he says. "And it's been a privilege to be here on the air and cover the stories I've covered and meet the people I've met. And all the messages on e-mail and Twitter touch me very deeply. It's emotional."
He doesn't take this affection for granted. About a year ago, he recalls, "I got an e-mail from a woman who said, 'I've never met you, I don't know you personally, but during 911, I was at a conference in Washington [where Landess anchored shortly before his 2002 return to Denver] and I saw you on the air. I knew you from Denver and felt a connection, and that made all the difference getting through those tough days.'
"I guess that makes sense," Landess says. "If you thought the whole world was blowing up, you might think, 'Hey, I know that guy.' And it made a difference to her.
"I've loved this job," he emphasizes. "But I'm excited to move on to whatever the next phase is."
Continue for our original post about Mike Landess's retirement announcement. Original post, 8:40 a.m. May 8: In recent weeks, we've reported about the announced departures of two longtime local TV news personalities -- 9News' Kirk Montgomery and Susie Wargin -- and the ongoing economic challenges in traditional broadcasting that make retaining high-priced talent that much more difficult.
Against this backdrop comes word that Denver's most veteran anchor, 7News' Mike Landess, is retiring -- although dollars and cents appear to have been less of a factor than his decision to step away after marking an impressive fifty years in broadcasting.
As noted in a 7News release, Landess started his broadcasting career while still a high school student in Tyler, Texas. 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 unprecedented run. And while Landess hasn't been able to push the station back to the top of the mountain, he's been a steady presence for the past decade-plus -- and earned kudos for going public about his battle against prostate cancer, as seen in the video below.
Over the years, the station points out, Landess has earned more than two-dozen Emmys, as well as five Edward R. Murrow Awards -- and he was part of the team awarded a 2013 Peabody for wildfire coverage. Strangely, however, 7News fails to mention that he was also a multiple winner of Westword's Best of Denver award for best hair on a local TV personality.
We've requested an interview with Landess and will update this post once we hear back from him. But the 7News release notes that he and station overseers have been talking about his retirement for a couple of years, and he saw his fiftieth anniversary as a broadcaster as an appropriate time to walk away.
An announcement about Landess's replacement is expected in the not-too-distant future, and odds are good the new guy will be less expensive. But here's hoping Landess is leaving on his own terms. He's certainly earned it.
Look below to see Landess's report about his prostate-cancer diagnosis and treatment.
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More from our Media archive circa April 23: "Susie Wargin, sportscaster, latest 9News veteran to announce departure from station."