Dave Rose has been a staple of the mass communication community in Colorado Springs for half a century.
The just-retired chief public information officer for El Paso County spent a decade spreading the news to one of the state’s most populated regions, having moved to public relations after a long and storied career as a local television broadcaster.
Rose, who grew up in southwestern Wisconsin, moved to Colorado Springs in 1959. But it was his childhood memories of listening to the radio with his grandfather that launched Rose on the trajectory he would follow for most of his life.
What got you interested in media?
As a child, there was a guy on the radio … who did a two-hour morning news talk show on WKTY Radio in La Crosse, Wis. … He did the news and interviewed community leaders, political leaders of all sorts. My grandfather would never miss a show. So from there I decided I wanted to be in radio news.
We moved to Colorado and I was at North Junior High School. A small group of people, with the blessing of a teacher, started a radio club and, believe it or not, we launched a half-hour radio show which aired once a week on KRCC. But I really wanted to do the news. KRDO had a television news station and I thought it would be really cool to get a job there — and I did in 1968.
From there I did radio and television reporting. In 1978 I thought I was ready for the big time and went to work for Mutual Broadcasting in Washington, D.C. I worked there for about two years. It’s an experience I’ve never regretted but it was a job I really hated. I did not like Washington, D.C. Winter in D.C. is either it rains a little or a lot and then it freezes for four months and the sun never shines. I wanted to come back to Colorado. I got the opportunity to do that at Channel 5 [KOAA]. I came back as their news director and was there from 1980 to 1987. A local business group launched the Business Radio Network in 1987 and I went to work there as general manager. It went through a series of ownership changes and morphed over time. Eventually I was faced with the opportunity to move back to Alexandria, Va., or leave. Having been there once I chose to leave the company.
I returned to KRDO as a special events reporter and coordinator. I became news director there in ’94. I continued as news director at Channel 13 until 2008 when the station sold. I just found myself dismantling things I’d put together. I was looking for another opportunity and that’s when I saw the job advertised for the county.
The county couldn’t have been in worse shape. It proceeded to lay off 250 or 300 people when the stock market crashed.
One of my co-workers who worked in finance famously said he was foolish enough to step boldly on the deck of the Titanic and say, ‘Sure, I’ll right the ship.’
Talk about your time with the county.
I was given the opportunity to greatly expand what the county did for outreach. County government is really complicated. They were doing a particularly poor job explaining to people what they do and why it’s important. The county has a lot of subject matter experts, so I set out to put these people front and center. If you had a question about household hazardous materials or a question about water quality or about communicable diseases — the county’s breadth of subject matter experts is really great. So I set out to work with the media to make sure they understood we have these experts.
We launched a citizens college program that was pretty successful for a number of years. With the help of a couple commissioners, we launched citizens outreach groups where volunteers learn about the county and share that information with others. We also had the opportunity to launch the county’s cable television information system. The last couple of years we launched a pretty active outreach campaign through social media. And through it all I think I’ve always answered the phone. …
Being able to increase access was one of my greatest satisfactions and one of my biggest points of unfinished business.
How has the communications field changed?
I was really lucky. When I went to work at [KOAA] I was stranded in Virginia and the general manager offered me the job. It was a significant pay cut. In Virginia, the cost of living is so expensive. I got a huge pay raise but didn’t come out one dime ahead. … I was talking to [the GM] and I said it would be a real struggle and my wife would have to go back to work. And he said, ‘Dave, I’ll promise you the same thing they promised me. If we make this place into a television station, I’ll pay ya.’ [The station] had fallen into terrible disrepair. It was just in Pueblo and didn’t have much of a presence or market share here.
I said, ‘How will we do that?’
‘We’re going to come to work every day, work hard, do our best and it will all work out.’ …
We did and we built a pretty good operation. But I’m not sure all of that’s true today. The media is so fractionalized. At that time there were three lettered-network television stations. Now with cable penetration and satellite penetration, people are getting their news from 50 sources. People can work hard and do a good job and sometimes it still doesn’t work out. I think, in the 1980s, it did work out.
Any other changes?
I started going to the National Association of Broadcasters conventions in Las Vegas in 1979 and have gone every year. … So 150,000 broadcasters from all over the world go to Vegas in April. When I started going to those, the letter networks used to compete for who could have the most extravagant hospitality suite. One year NBC’s hospitality suite was two levels in the Las Vegas Hilton. The Jacuzzi had been converted into a giant ice bucket filled with shrimp.
The last one of those I went to before I got out of the TV business, the ABC hospitality suite was in the basement of a Weston Hotel and hard to find.
No Jacuzzis filled with shrimp?
No. They had stale rolls.
Is communicating with the public easier today because of all the options?
It’s harder. Journalists provide a really valuable service. They work hard to, No. 1, determine what’s true and, No. 2, try to explain things that are sometimes pretty complicated. So now you have all these people getting their information from social media that doesn’t have the benefit of professional journalists working with a checklist. Are you looking for more than one source? Can this be verified in some manner? Do the numbers add up? How can I explain this better? …
When I got into television, a long sound bite was 17 seconds. When I got out of television it was 7 seconds.
I used to do a minute-and-45-second TV packages. When I got out they were a minute-10. Now I think most are under a minute.
What do you make of the media landscape today?
I’m terribly disappointed that young people coming into the business don’t really have the opportunities I think I had. I knew a lot of the people I reported on. I got a chance to know them. … I think they were just simpler times. … I would have to turn a story for the 5 o’clock news and the 10 o’clock news. The folks working now — the deadline is now. You have to post on social media now. Then maybe there’s a 4 o’clock, a 5 o’clock, a 10 o’clock, a 7 o’clock tomorrow morning — the deadlines are many and they’re working harder than ever before. And I don’t think there’s as much opportunity.
When I first got into the TV news business I would think, ‘I can’t believe they’re paying me to do this.’
Eventually you get to the point where you think, ‘I can’t believe they pay me so little to do this.’
What will you miss most now that you’re retired?
The people. I worked with great people in the county. I worked with great people in the media. I think, in the long run, I’ll miss getting up every day and looking at the daily paper and listening to the radio newscasts because I felt like it was my responsibility at the county to know everything. I felt like if there was something going on in the community or Legislature that would impact us, I should at least know enough about it to know who to call to get more information.
I might miss that. It was a tremendous burden. I became the world’s biggest busybody. … My wife says I’m the world’s largest repository of useless facts. I think I’ll miss being that.