No matter what you thought of Dusty Saunders during his 54 years at the Rocky Mountain News, it’s hard not to love him after reading his memoir, which came out late last year.
The book, Heeere’s Dusty: Life in the TV and Newspaper World, is perfectly timed to chronicle an era that already seems like ancient history, even though Saunders ended his career at the Rocky just five years ago.
Jason Salzman :: TV critic’s memoir chronicles newspaper era that seems like ancient history, but it wasn’t long ago
Using unadorned language, which you’ll recognize if you saw his work over the years, Saunders takes you through his life at the Rocky as a wide-eyed copy boy, a wide-eyed reporter and editor, and a wide-eyed TV-and-radio columnist.
One success followed another in a profession that seemed limitless and excitement-packed for a hard-working guy like Saunders. He started his own section of the Rocky.
The bulk of the 300-page book recounts his interviews with Hollywood and news celebs of all types, national and local. The name dropping runs cover-to-cover, and it’s more entertaining than you might think because Saunders himself is so excited by meeting all the people, including Bob Hope, Johnny Carson, Howard Cosell, Katie Couric, Peter Jennings, Tim Russert, Mary Tyler Moore, Dustin Hoffman (in the bathroom), and many more.
On the broadcasting beat, which he was inventing as he went along, Saunders flew around the country (often with his wife), covering national entertainment stories, looking for Denver angles. (Once, he tells us, he packed his wife and two kids in a hotel room at the Ritz-Carlton in Pasadena.)
When Denver Post Editor Chuck Green hinted that he might want to hire Saunders, Rocky Editor Ralph Looney found out, called Saunders into his office, and handed Saunders a slip of paper with a counter-offer salary figure on it, even before Green had made his offer.
“Will that keep you?” Looney asked Saunders.
“Yes,” Saunders told him.
“I can’t even remember, frankly, what the figure was that Looney gave me,” Saunders told me. “But in that day and age, with my financial position and my professional position, it was a reason to stay at the Rocky.”
I asked if he’d have jumped ship for The Post.
“I don’t know what their offer was,” he said. “I probably would not have left, because the Rocky was treating me very well. Why would I have wanted to leave?”
See what I mean by ancient history?
Rather than facing layoffs and furloughs, like reporters nowadays, while working 24/7 in three or more platforms, Saunders dabbled in radio and a bit on TV, mostly on weekends.
From 1994 to 2001, he co-hosted a Sunday KHOW radio show with his “friendly Denver Post competitor” Joanne Ostrow.
The show was canceled when a “major” executive of Clear Channel, which owned KHOW and KOA (and still does) came through Denver and heard Saunders and Ostrow criticizing good old Mike Rosen.
I wondered what Saunders, who pulls his punches, espcially by today’s standards, could possibly say about Rosen that would be considered over the top.
So I asked Saunders what he and Ostrow were saying about Rosen that was so offensive, but he didn’t remember specifically.
“Joanne and I had a very good thing going,” he told me. “We didn’t get on the radio Sunday morning and say, ‘Gee, did you hear what Mike Rosen said about this.’”
“That’s what I’d do if I had a radio show,” I told Saunders.
“It wasn’t that type of show,” he replied. “We’d just go with the flow. If someone would call in and criticize a TV performer, we’d voice our opinion. This particular day we sided with the callers. We agreed Rosen shouldn’t have said that. A guy named Randy Michaels, who is now with the Tribune Company, was the big programming honcho out of Cincinnati for Clear Channel, and he happened to be in town. And he heard us. I guess he went ballistic. We’re paying these print guys to get on our radio stations and criticize our work.”
Shortly after this, and after Saunders and Ostrow refused to make “on-air commercial pitches, something we obviously couldn’t do,” their radio show was canceled.
Saunders’ book veers between his innocent and personal encounters with media stars, which are described, and hints of wild partying, which aren’t. I g0t the feeling Saunders could have told a lot of after-hours stories, but he side-stepped my question about this when I interviewed him.
As it is, the book as an unreal simplicity and quaint quality to it, buy that’s no doubt partly because of the contrast in the newspaper biz between then and now.
Saunders took a buyout in from Scripps and left the Rocky in 2007, two years before it closed.
“I felt at the time, this was the beginning of the end,” said Saunders, who’s 80 years old and lists his speaking engagements about his book on his website. “I didn’t have any inside information on what Scripps was going to do. I would have been more shocked had I’d still been there [when the Rocky was closed].”
“Writing the book, and even now, I still have wild dreams about my working at the Rocky,” he said.