By Arthur Lightbourn
You know the look.
Like a space-traveler from another planet in sleek racing skins, swept-back aerodynamic helmet and almond-shaped sunglasses.
Anyhow, that’s what Steve Atkinson looks most mornings on his regular 20-mile cycling spins around North County before he changes into a suit and tie to co-anchor the 10News with Kimberly Hunt at 5, 7 and 11 p.m. on San Diego’s ABC affiliate, KGTV.
“I feel like I’ve accomplished something if I get out in the morning and go,” he said.
All of which makes sense when you consider that Atkinson, 46, the son of a high school athletics coach, has always been into sports — and for the first 16 years of his broadcast career was a multi-award-winning sports anchor in Arkansas, Texas and Colorado, before the axe fell on his sports career.
We interviewed Atkinson at the Pannikin coffee shop on Pacific Coast Highway in Encinitas, a favorite pit stop for cyclists.
Arriving on his bike, Atkinson was sporting a burnt orange Mellow Johnny’s jersey.
“When I worked in Austin,” he explained, “I was a sports director and I used to do a bunch of stories on Lance Armstrong before and after he got cancer. And after he won the Tour de France the seventh consecutive time, he opened Mellow Johnny’s Bike Shop that has become kind of a mecca. I’m a big supporter of Lance, so I love wearing the gear.”
Atkinson was working as a sports anchor at KCNC-TV in Denver when the station began downsizing its sports department as the Internet was reshaping how fans chose to access their sports news.
“I began to realize, I can’t do sports for the rest of my life.” Atkinson said. “It’s just not going to work. The salaries were getting smaller. The jobs were getting harder to find.”
While he was thinking about it, in May 2006, he was one of about a dozen TV sports people in Denver whose contracts were not renewed, despite having won a prestigious Edward R. Murrow Award the year earlier for his story on the National Sports Center for the Disabled, “NSCD Angels.”
Big shock. “When I lost my job in sports, I thought, what am I going to do with the rest of my life. This is all I know. This is what I do.
“When I was looking for a job, I had absolutely no offers to do sports, but I had two offers to do news. With two kids in high school, it was survival mode time. So I had to make that transition and it was the best thing that ever happened to me.”
He signed on with the news department of Channel 10 to co-host a show called “10-4 San Diego,” a new late afternoon news and entertainment show.
And with that he lived happily ever after, right?
Well, not exactly.
“The show failed miserably,” he said. “We launched it in the summer of 2006 — the worse possible time to launch a show. Everybody goes on vacation. Nobody watches. And management panicked and killed the show after two months.”
Now what to do? he thought. “I just moved here. My family hadn’t even gotten here yet. My wife and kids were on vacation at my in-laws and — they cancelled the show.”
But, they said, “We feel like there’s a good future ahead for you here. We want to put you in a different role. And I said, ‘OK.’ At that point, I didn’t have a choice. I had nothing else. So I had to make this work.”
Looking back, he said, “Life leads you down a path where you think things are crumbling and, all of a sudden, something opens up.
“I transitioned into doing more reporting and anchoring, first the 7 p.m. news with Kimberly Hunt, and then, since May 2009, when Carol LeBeau retired [after 28 years with Channel 10], co-anchoring the 5, 7 and 11 p.m. news with Kimberly,” he said.
Since joining Channel 10 going on six years ago, Atkinson has added five Emmy Awards to his collection.
KGTV news director Joel Davis said of Atkinson: “Steve’s style is perfect for a newscast that doesn’t waste your time. He has the unique ability to tell a story through the voice of accuracy, fairness, curiosity, diligence and integrity.”
In his spare time, he’s also an aspiring screenwriter. Earlier this year, he table-read his screenplay “No Mountain Too High” at the My Screenplay competition at the Sundance Film Festival for which he won the “Best Drama” screenplay award.
The screenplay is based on the real-life work of Elizabell (Willie) Williams who established a rehabilitation program in Denver to teach child amputees to ski.
He is planning to “pitch” the screenplay at a meeting of production houses in Los Angeles in March.
He’s also currently working on two new screenplays.
Other items on his growing bucket list include travelling to Nashville with his wife for a total immersion into country music and someday taking a leisurely trip through Europe.
“I’m the black sheep of the family,” he said, “because my father was a coach and a teacher, my mother was a teacher, my sister, Stacy, is a teacher, and my sister, Karen, is a teacher and her husband is a superintendent of schools.
“And somehow I ended up in this industry.”
A former award-winning sports anchor who “transitioned” into news six years ago, Steve Atkinson is co-anchor of the 10News/San Diego newscasts weekdays at 5, 7 and 11 p.m. with Kimberly Hunt.
Rancho Santa Fe
Port La Vaca, Texas
Studied broadcasting at the University of Texas at Austin, and the University of Houston, Downtown, but took his first job in television as a reporter in Fort Smith, Arkansas, before taking a degree.
He and his wife, Katherine, manager of a company supplying tools to the biotech industry, have been married going on 22 years. They were both broadcast students at the University of Houston. They have two children, Veronica and Christopher, students at Gonzaga University in Spokane, Washington.
Screenwriting, Special Olympics and programs for caregivers and Alzheimer patients
Steve Jobs biography
“No favorite, because I’m always trying something new.”
“Mad Men,” “Smash,” “Modern Family.”
“Stripes.” and “Forrest Gump”
“As I tell my kids, keep striving for something better. Never settle…every time you strive for something better, you’re going to run into something that’s going to bless you.”