A Mile High

Tonight, KOA radio has the best seat in the house

Jerry Bell might be the luckiest man at Invesco Stadium at Mile High, the site, in case you’ve so far missed it, where Barack Obama will formally accept the Democratic nomination tonight.

Bell, the managing editor of 850 KOA, a local AM station, would seem an unlikely man on which to bestow such a title. But there’s a case to be made.

You see, KOA is the official radio broadcaster of the Denver Broncos, the team that calls Mile High home when Obama’s not in town. Their usual broadcast suite (booth 4516) is right on the 45-yard-line, facing Obama’s Greek-columned stage. Next door is where the Bronco coaching staff usually sits, but it’s been pressed into service by convention communications staff.

But someone smiled on the station, and they were allowed to keep their usual perch, which may the best view of the action on the field of any outlet. Usually, that vantage point is pretty vital to play-by-play. Tonight, well, let’s just say it remains to be seen how it translates to radio.

In a sardined elevator on the way up to the KOA suite on the fourth level, home to the periodical press and several other radio outlets, Bell—who, after 22 years of covering the Broncos, knows his way around the stadium—was offering directions to confused journalists.

“This kind of looks like a football crowd,” said Bell, holding his microphone and wearing a KOA embroidered shirt. “Up in the high decks they’re in T-shirts and cut-offs. Except that everyone’s wearing Obama stuff instead of Bronco stuff.”

The KOA studio is a neat, two-tiered affair, with sound muffling Bronco-blue (and Obama-blue?) carpet on the walls. The talent sits up front, just inches from the plate glass, and a couple of steps above an engineer rides the sound levels on a board.

Not surprisingly, it’s been a busy week for KOA. Bell says he’s been coming in at 2 am to knock off interviews with other Clear Channel stations across the country.

“They want to hear about the scuttlebutt. The big one this morning was the ‘greek temple’ thing. They’re calling it the Barackopolis,” said Bell, alluding to the recent hard-to-believe hubbub that Obama’s speaking backdrop is vaguely un-American. “I’m essentially here today so when I do the live bits in the morning I can tell them what it was like out here.”

“The other big story for us is traffic,” Bell says. They’ll use the state Department of Transportation’s road cameras, and some reporters in the field, to keep listeners appraised of the road closures and bottlenecks sure to occur once tonight’s show ends, fireworks and all.

Usually they’d probably call in the traffic helicopter. But with the stadium a one night no-fly-zone, there at least one view that even KOA 850 isn’t allowed to keep.

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Clint Hendler is the managing editor of Mother Jones, and a former deputy editor of CJR.