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Thanks for the memories, TV8

Tricia Swenson reflects on the station that served Vail and beyond for almost 30 years

Tricia Swenson interviews Olympic Slopestyle gold medalist Jamie Anderson at the 2014 Burton U.S. Open for TV8.
Special to the Daily

Last week, Vail Resorts announced it was suspending operations for the upcoming year or longer at TV8, its television station for nearly 30 years. The move becomes effective Friday, July 17.

I worked at the station as a co-host, host and executive producer from 1997 to 2016, so the news sparked many fond memories of “the little station that could,” which is what I called TV8 during my time there. That’s because it may have been a small-market station, but its reach went beyond the Vail Valley.

“When George Gillette realized that resort television would be an integral part of Vail and Beaver Creek, he was quick to acquire the necessary assets to make TV8 a reality,” said Craig Struve, who became the general manager of the station in the fall of 1991. The 2020-21 ski season would have been the 30th anniversary of TV8.

“Through trial and error along with the extremely hard work of a dedicated group of staff members, we developed TV8 into the largest and most successful resort television station in the country, if not the world,” Struve said. 

Mark Sassi and Tricia Swenson get ready for a live remote broadcast from Golden Peak during the Burton U.S. Open in 2016.
Special to the Daily

The job interview

I still remember what I wore to the interview on that November day in 1997 — plaid pants and a sage green ribbed turtle neck sweater from The Gap. Lynda Gustafson, the host and executive producer at the time, interviewed me first and then told me I had three minutes to prepare for a four-minute interview with Craig Struve. I knew just enough about the happenings at Vail Resorts to know that they had recently acquired Keystone and Breckenridge from the Ralston Resorts and that the company had also issued an IPO for company stock. So, I asked Struve about those changes and if that meant an expansion of TV8 into Summit County.

Next thing I knew, I got the job and was going to be the co-host at Beaver Creek Thursdays through Sundays. It was so fun learning from Lynda and co-hosts Cara Campbell, Tracy Hall and B.J. Carrington, who had another personality when he stepped on the weather wall. Anyone remember his weatherman character, “Sandy Armadillo” and that hat he always wore?

I was already working a full-time job at a start-up internet company (Eagle River Interactive which became Agency.com after we went public), and I did this job out of a labor of love. I’d spend hours watching VHS tapes of my interviews to improve my skills and I’d research guests by going to their business before the interview so I could talk about what I saw.

Camera man Wes Sawyer (left) and hosts Tracy Miller and Billy Doran enjoy some of Tracy’s cooking after a live “Good Morning Vail” broadcast.
Special to the Daily

If I had some holes to fill in the interview schedule, I’d call up business friends who had the gift of gab and could fill airtime with me. Thank you, Joe Tomasic (“Lakota Joe” at the time) for filling in and talking about Lakota Guides on those cold winter mornings at 7:20 a.m. I even talked former U.S. Ski Team member, Doug Lewis, into coming out to the Beaver Creek Ice Rink before he would test skis for SKI magazine in the spring. I wanted all of my segments to be informative and entertaining.

The station

If you’ve been around here long enough, you remember the old Sunbird Lodge in Lionshead. That was TV8’s first home. It was an old building that also housed the Swiss Hot Dog restaurant and the Sundance Saloon. There is nothing quite like the smell of beer-stained carpet and cigarette smoke (you could still smoke in bars back then) when the Sundance Saloon staff would come in the next morning, open their door and take the trash out in the hallway right by our studio.

Our studio was tiny. We had the host chair, a TV on a coffee table and a couch for guests. Right next to that was the weather wall, which was painted green in order for us to stand in front of it and make it appear that the weather graphics were behind us on screen. The Sunbird Lodge also housed Vail Resorts employees. The Sunbird Lodge was not the fanciest building in town. In fact, our internal joke was “it may be sunny outside, but it is raining inside the TV8 studio.” We had water dripping in the studio all the time from showers, sinks, toilets, who knows?! I remember B.J. Carrington doing the weather report inside with an umbrella at times.

Billy Doran interviews Martin Short for TV8 before a performance at the Vilar performance Arts Center.
Special to the Daily

Above the host chair, there was a shallow trough hanging from the ceiling to collect the water that would come down through what looked like a beer bong with an extra-long hose that would dump into an office garbage can. We’d be lucky to get through a three-hour show without the fire alarm going off in the building for some random reason. If that happened, we’d cut to a commercial break and take the guest outside, even in the dead of winter, and continue the interview.

“One time a piece of the set fell off the wall and landed on my head in the middle of a live interview,” Gustafson said. “Hey, things happen on live television. You just have to keep going.”

Despite what was going on behind the scenes, people watched. You could tell that viewers loved the show just by the things they would say when you ran into them on the street or slopes. They’d recall a favorite interview, a product they bought because they saw it on the show, or ask to take a picture with you.

Sometimes famous people would even recognize us. I remember a time when NBA star David Robinson of the San Antonio Spurs recognized Ken Hoeve. In true Vail Valley fashion, Ken had two other jobs besides being a co-host on TV8. He ran a shuttle service, bringing guests to and from the Denver and Eagle airports. He had picked up Robinson and his family and also drove them back to the airport for their departure. Robinson’s family was in the back seat while he sat up front with Ken. He looked at Ken and then turned to his wife and said, “Honey, we’ve got the weatherman driving us!”

Ken Hoeve checks in with Olympic and Alpine World Cup champion and frequent TV8 guest Lindsey Vonn.
Special to the Daily

TV8 evolved and so did the technology. We eventually moved into the Westgate building next to Agave from 2005-2010 and then the final stop was the Seasons building in Avon.

“TV8 was probably one of the first stations in the country to utilize live video over IP, and then video over bonded cellular,” said TJ Davis, who was the production and operations manager at TV8 from 2005 to 2011. “It was so much fun learning as we expanded the capabilities to be live on location for opening day, live from the finish area of Birds of Prey, the Mountain Games, Burton, you name it.”

This new technology expanded our reach and allowed people from all over the world to tune in prior to their trip to Vail and Beaver Creek. Ironically, Ken Hoeve was at the Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park with his family and ran into a family from London who recognized him and said that they watched the show each day leading up to their trip in order to plan their activities based on the topics of the show. With the time difference, the “Good Morning Vail” show was on in the afternoons in London.

“It was an exciting time to be part of TV8. ‘Good Morning Vail’ was constantly evolving. We worked as a team and everyone was open to new ideas. We were dedicated to providing the best product to the viewer. I don’t think we realized how important the station would become to our community and visiting guests,” said Gustafson, who not only had an amazing career at TV8 but also met her husband of 25 years, Pete Sampson, on the set when he was a co-host.   

The song

“Good Morning Vail’s” theme song had a few versions throughout the years, but the most popular was the version sung by Beth Swearingen, a Vail local who came from Broadway. Swearingen was on air at TV8 in the 1990s and can now be found performing around the valley, especially with the Fabulous Femmes. The song was an upbeat ditty that started out with these lyrics:

“Get up, get ready to start your day
The mountain’s calling get on your way
The fun is waiting outside your door,
Good Morning Vail”

People would always comment on the song. They’d say things like, “our vacation really doesn’t start until we hear that ‘Good Morning Vail’ song.” One time we had a woman from New Jersey who came into the studio to pick up a prize she’d won (remember “Watch-n-Win”?). She said, “I have the ‘Good Morning Vail’ theme song as my cell phone ring.” She also told us she would record the show on VHS tapes and bring them back so her neighbors could watch it … neighbors, just watching a show about Vail and Beaver Creek days or weeks after the show was filmed.

Ti Diaz pals around with Alfonso Ribeiro of the “Fresh Prince of Bel Air” at the American Ski Classic at Golden Peak.
Special to the Daily

One family called and wanted to get a recording of the “Good Morning Vail” song for their son’s Bar Mitzvah because he’d grown up coming to Vail and loved the song. We were happy to oblige and just due to all that feedback, that version of the theme song stuck.

Craig Struve demanded a lot from the station and from us, but he still liked to have fun and he was so passionate about the job, even stepping in to host or co-host when we needed it. I remember a few New Year’s Day shows where Craig would agree to work so someone could have the day off and he’d do the show in his tuxedo from the night before. It was good, clean fun, but Struve made sure that we were consistent with our show’s schedule so the guest could rely on us and plan their day accordingly. After all, our motto was “Start Your Day and Plan Your Play.” He made sure that we were getting out the most accurate information in a timely manner with a bit of what he called “Infotainment” — if you can make ‘em laugh while you’re getting out the info, even better.

Many people ask me who my favorite guest was. I was never the starstruck type, so I can’t say it was a particular singer, actor or athlete. I will say I truly enjoyed and was always so honored to interview folks from the 10th Mountain Division. Their accomplishments trump any Grammy, Emmy or Olympic medal a singer, actor or athlete could ever earn.

Tricia Swenson interviews NFL Legend and Hall of Famer Joe Montana, who spoke at the Vail Living Well Summit in Sept. 2013.
Special to the Daily

TV8 was a symbol of what hard work, dedication and passion can do. The countless staff I worked with didn’t get up at the crack of dawn to do this job for the money, (we didn’t get paid very much). We did it for the love of the game, the enthusiasm we had for this place we call home and we wanted to share that with everyone who watched.

As I get older, I realize that not everyone has a job they love. Some people don’t even have a job they like. I’m grateful for all the opportunities I took advantage of while working there. It lead me to a career filled with connection, communication and community. Thank you, TV8, for the memories.

Quotes from members of TV8

Lynda Gustafson Sampson

(Worked at TV8 from 1991-2006)

I will always remember interviewing Dr. Ruth Westheimer. Dr. Ruth was in town to give an educational talk on sex over 70. She had no problem diving into the conversation. There was no stone unturned. Not exactly a comfortable topic on live television. It took everything I had to keep that nervous laughter under control. 

Craig Struve

Worked at TV8 1991-2009

We were in the old studio in the Sunbird Lodge in Lionshead. We were in a commercial break, the bathroom was right next to the studio, so I ran to take a quick pee and when I returned to the set everyone from the director to the audio person to the cameraman is howling with laughter because I forgot to turn off my microphone. Everyone in television does it, but you only do it ONCE. It’s an embarrassing moment but a learning experience of a lifetime. 

Billy Doran

Worked at TV8 2005-2011, 2012-2014

I loved getting to interview some of my favorite actors and musicians right here in our little high-country neighborhood. Martin Short, Jeremy Davies, George Winston, Big Head Todd & The Monsters come to mind. It has been many years since my time at TV8 and I still have locals and visitors that come up to me to say how much they enjoyed watching, so that is always a real nice treat to know that you made a little bit of a difference, at least to them.

Ken Hoeve

Worked at TV8 2002-2016

The biggest reward of working at TV8 for me was inventing and pioneering the ability to do live segments with a GoPro and TVU broadcast backpack to create our First Chair segments. In the past, those packs were used exclusively in a stationary position for remote segments while being hooked up to a large camera. I helped TV8’s production department devise a way to attach a GoPro and make it mobile. That allowed me to take Good Morning Vail viewers up on Vail and Beaver Creek and ride before they opened, sharing the conditions in real time and in person.

Ti Diaz

Worked at TV8 2008-2017

I’d always wanted to work for TV8, ever since coming out to Vail after college. It was fun to interact with the guests of the valley but it was also fun to meet actors and singers like Alfonzo Ribiero from the “Fresh Prince of Bel Air” and Chyna Phyllips of Wilson Phillips. I’ll never forget the time Mark Sassi, Ken Hoeve and I sang “Hold On” while Chyna was on the TV8 set. 

Tracy Miller

Worked at TV8 2011-2017

I loved interviewing all the chefs and getting to do my own cooking demos on the show and cooking for the staff on holidays. I also loved when we had a TV8 Tough Mudder team up at Beaver Creek. And I’ll never forget when I got to fly in a vintage war plane right before the Wheels and Wings weekend. It was s fun job for sure.

Mark Sassi

Worked at TV8 2012-2020

TV8 was a warm and cozy place in the hearts of so many generations of families locally and from out of town. One thing these viewers loved was the “Good Moring Vail” theme song. It was a song that, even though it was a little annoying at times, made people smile and gave them a sense of belonging to something very unique and special. It made them feel welcome in our home in the mountains every day for many, many years. I enjoyed my time at TV8 and will miss it very much.

Rick Messmer

Worked at TV8 2005-2020
One of my favorite memories of all time was being stopped in the grocery store by someone I had never met and them saying…”Oh my gosh, you totally called it! I wasn’t going to go on the hill until I heard your powder update this morning. I followed the route you said you would take on a day like today including all your runs. I have never had a day like that on Vail Mountain. It was like you were there as my guide. Thank you so much!”

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