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Joe Tennessen

'Mr. Greeley' won fans as voice of UNC football, community volunteer


Source: Northern Colorado Business Report

Author: Maryjo Faith Morgan

When Joe Tennessen arrived in Greeley in 1966 from Kansas to manage KFKA-AM radio, he was taking over community treasure. On the air since 1921, KFKA was Colorado's first commercially licensed station and an integral part of the community.

Nearly 40 years later, Tennessen has proved to be every bit the treasure as those renowned call letters, providing a track record of community involvement, service and volunteering far beyond his time behind the microphone.

Tennessen's persona of the genial radio show host is real, free of guile or pretense, and as much a part of him as his firm handshake. Over the next 35 years he became the voice of Greeley. Tennessen provided radio play-by-play for UNC football from 1966 to 1980, and was the state's Broadcaster of the Year in 1972 and 1977. His ties to UNC earned him a spot in the school's athletic hall of fame.

For many years Tennessen's morning "Up with Weld County" broadcasts on KFKA made him a daily fixture with listeners.

"It was a great way to wake up in Greeley," Richard Mayne, associate director of bands for the University of Northern Colorado, recalled. "There he was at six in the morning. Hearing him on the radio initiated our friendship."

Mayne said he often saw Tennessen at UNC football games, so when the Pride of the Rockies Marching Band was in need of an announcer, it was natural to ask him.

That was more than 10 years ago. Still, Tennessen's band connection endures.

"Once he called, said he was bringing some cookies and ice cream for the band," Mayne recalled. " I warned him that we had

quite a few people. But there he was that same afternoon with ice chests and enough for all 180 of us. That's just the kind of guy he is."

Kay Norton, president of UNC, says she got to know "Mr. Greeley" simply because he turned up everywhere she went. "Joe is a connector. In 'The Tipping Point,' Malcolm Gladwell talks about people who make a difference, fostering connections between people. Things suddenly change for the better. Joe is a connector who causes that tipping effect. He's the real deal, a philanthropist with his time and energy."

Tennessen left the radio business in 2001 and the next year he was inducted into the Broadcast Pioneers of Colorado Hall of Fame.

As Senior Vice President for Cultural Enhancement at New Frontier Bank of Greeley, Tennessen remains busy and his phone does not stop ringing. Longtime radio colleague and now New Frontier co-worker Bob Bernd said, "Joe periodically attempts to pare obligations down, but I doubt he truly cuts back community involvement. He's generous to a fault."

Some of Tennessen's many affiliations include the UNC Foundation, UNC College of Performing and Visual Arts Advisory Board, 4-H, Rotary, Chamber of Commerce, Colorado Broadcasters Association and United Way. Tennessen said being chosen as a Grand Marshal for the Greeley Stampede was pleasant for his entire family, "but the Honorary Doctor of Letters designation from UNC is the highlight."

Throughout his radio career, Tennessen has tried to respect the power of the medium and his listeners. "We concentrated on local things and local people. We tried very hard never to insult the intelligence of our audience."

"I couldn't have had a more rewarding career...and I am very grateful," he added.

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