Veteran TV anchor Jim Benemann will retire at the end of 2022 after more than four decades on the air, and 36 years in the Denver TV market, CBS4 announced Monday.
Benemann, who has co-anchored KCNC-TV’s CBS4 nightly news with Karen Leigh since 2008, has also been the face of that station’s primetime news broadcasts since 2002, witnessing the Mile High City’s highs and lows during times of unprecedented growth and social and political turmoil, and sitting in the front seat of the city’s charitable scene.
“There’s that window of good health and spare time when you retire, and I don’t want to roll the dice on it,” Benemann, 65, said by phone Tuesday. “Things could change in a heartbeat.”
After he signs off at the end of 2022, Benemann plans to travel with his wife, Karen, hitting their “bucket list” locations and spending more time with their sprawling family, which includes eight children and five grandchildren in Colorado and elsewhere.
Benemann’s reporting career spans the globe as he has filed stories on five continents and worked as a reporter and news anchor from Washington, D.C., to Portland, Ore. His retirement also underlines the changes that the TV news business has seen over the last few decades, from the “printing money” days of stations flush with cash from advertising in the 1970s and ’80s, to the digital evolution, competition and badly needed diversity discussions in contemporary news media.
“He’s treated me as an equal since day one,” said Karen Leigh, Benemann’s CBS4 co-anchor since 2008. “He scooted over on the desk and welcomed me, and coached me and encouraged me when I needed it. He said, ‘Look, we’re in this together. Your spot is my spot.’ That’s not always the case in these positions.”
Helen H. Richardson, The Denver Post
CBS4 news anchor Jim Benemann broadcasts the nightly news with co-anchor Karen Leigh in the studios at CBS4 in Denver on May 24, 2022. Benemann has been the face of the evening news on CBS4 since 2002 and has anchored alongside Leigh since 2008.
“We are sad to see Jim leave the CBS4 family but wish him the best in his retirement,” news director Kristine Strain said in a statement. “He’s been the heart and the face of Denver TV for more than two decades and during that time he has volunteered to emcee hundreds of events for nonprofit organizations.”
Strain said she hears constantly from viewers who have met Benemann at nonprofit events. He’s long been a part of the community, and is always gracious and talkative, friends said. That’s because he’s been a news fixture since time immemorial, one friend joked.
“It’s hard to imagine the media landscape without him,” wrote Bret Saunders, morning DJ at KBCO 97.3 FM, in an email to The Denver Post. “The footage of Jim introducing The Beatles to the American TV audience in 1964 is one for the history books! And who can forget his balanced moderating of the 1960 Nixon-Kennedy debates? I’m looking forward to watching Jim yell at a Chick-fil-A drive-thru speaker soon.”
Those jokes aside, Benemann is widely admired in Denver because he finds a balance between earnest and entertaining, with a stand-up comic’s sense of timing, fierce intelligence and unerring news judgement, friends and colleagues said.
Christin Crampton Day remembers when Benemann calmed her nerves at a high-profile awards luncheon in 2017, not long after Day had started her new job as executive director of Colorado Committee for the Arts. She looked “white as a ghost,” one co-worker said, and was nervously trying to shoulder CBCA’s biggest event of the year.
“Jim being the professional that he was, and having volunteered for our other awards luncheons for about a decade now, he came in and said, ‘Let’s have some fun together,’ and that put me at ease,” Day said. “He’s such a personable guy and loves to adlib.”
Helen H. Richardson, The Denver Post
CBS4 news anchor Jim Benemann talks with producers in the newsroom before the afternoon news at CBS4 in Denver on May 24, 2022 in Denver.
Benemann hails from Chicago — his mother, 98, still lives in the Glenvale suburb — and moved to Colorado to attend Colorado State University in Fort Collins in 1978. Fresh out of broadcasting school, he worked in the Quad Cities market (Davenport, Iowa).
His first on-air job in Denver arrived in 1981, as the inaugural Boulder County reporter for Channel 9 KUSA. Station owner Gannett then offered to send him to Washington, D.C., to help open a new national news bureau there, at age 25. After that, he returned to Denver and reported on weekend sports and morning news at 9News, as the KUSA station is now called. In 1989, he returned to CBS4 to become a co-anchor.
While most of his career has been Colorado-focused, he also served as one of the main news anchors at Portland’s KGW-TV from 1994 to 1997. But a call from KUSA brought him back to Colorado, as that station was looking to replace longtime Denver anchor Ed Sardella with another comforting, familiar face.
“I think their attitude was, ‘We know Jim and think he’s ready for the job,’” Benemann remembered. “But they were big shoes to fill. … Still, people have been really gracious with feedback over the years. If they have something really negative to say they’ll save it for a nasty email to the news director.”
Benemann’s most recent stint at 9News spanned six years before he moved back to CBS4. Over his 24 years on both stations he covered some of the biggest, most heartbreaking and important stories of his time. He walked through French villages with World Word II veterans for the 40th anniversary of D-Day in France, and Vietnamese jungles covering the aftermath of war there. His father served in World War II as a tank sergeant, he said.
Helen H. Richardson, The Denver Post
Gil Maestas, video robotics technician, keeps the camera on CBS4 news anchor Jim Benemann as he broadcasts the nightly news at CBS4 in Denver on May 24, 2022.
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The story most etched in his mind, as it is for many of his viewers, is 1999’s Columbine High School shootings. It wasn’t just that it was local, he said, but because it was the first time the U.S. had seen mass gun violence in a school. He has felt a duty to honor the victims every day, month and year since then, he said.
An Avalanche fan, Benemann also loves the Cherry Cricket restaurant and music venues like Red Rocks Amphitheatre and the Bluebird Theater. Despite his upcoming travels, he won’t be straying from Colorado for too long, he said.
He sees brighter days ahead for the news industry, and Denver, despite the “dramatic changes,” and is looking forward to the simple pleasures of not delivering the news at 6 p.m. and 10 p.m. every weeknight.
“Growing up all those years, my kids realized that if dad was on TV, he wasn’t at home eating dinner,” Benemann said. “So the joke is that I’ve been eating out of Tupperware for 30 years, and now I’m looking forward to real plates and silverware when I sit down. Even if it’s leftovers on a Thursday night, it’ll be on a plate.”
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