The face of ‘Good Morning Vail’ says goodbye
AVON – Lynda Gustafson sat on the set of TV8 one morning like she does every weekday morning, in the midst of an interview, when a fake window pane came unhitched from the wall and crashed down over her head – on live TV nonetheless. For the last 15 years, the attractive and seasoned TV host of “Good Morning Vail” is used to working on the fly. The three-hour show is total improvisation. When the prop fell, Gustafson kept her cool and took it in stride. Looking back, she can laugh at the ridiculousness of the situation.”(The set) was put together with scotch tape. It’s amazing it has been as successful as it has been today,” she said.As much as she has enjoyed her stint at TV8, she’s ready for a change. As of this Friday, Gustafson is calling it quits in order to devote more time to her husband, Peter Sampson, and her two young boys, Cooper, 6, and Garrett, 4. No replacement has been announced, but Craig Struve, director of television operation, said he hopes to have a new hire by June.”In their entire existence, I’ve been home two mornings a week,” Gustafson said in reference to her kids. “All the sudden, the last year has been very difficult to shuffle the kids around. When my youngest looks at me at night and says, ‘Who’s taking care of me tomorrow?,’ it’s hard. My kids need me. This job doesn’t need me. I think it just became hard on the kids in the last year and hard on me and Pete.”
Gustafson’s problems aren’t uncommon to many parents in the valley and around the country for that matter. A recent United States Census report found that parents with children under the age of 5 spend, on average, almost 10 percent of their monthly income for child care. In every state except for Nevada, for example, child-care fees for two children at any age exceed the median rent cost in the state. In Gustafson’s case, she was barely making enough money to foot the day-care bill and decided to stay home.”It just became too expensive to work,” she said.The more Gustafson talked about her decision to leave, the more you could sense her burn-out, like a woman who has juggled to many balls at once for too long. You could also hear disappointment in her voice that may not have come to pass had she been able to negotiate a higher salary with the station, enabling her to pay her expenses and live more comfortably. “I love to do ‘Good Morning Vail,’ but it falls at a time when my kids need me the most,” she said.
TV8 has a different model from traditional news stations that is much more sales driven than news driven. The station doesn’t produce any news, and instead sells packages to advertisers that include interviews on the morning show. In other words, everything you see is up for sale.”It’s happy TV and that’s what it’s meant to be,” she said. “It’s not meant to be a news station. It never will be. News is very expensive to produce. If people want news, they’ll tune into CNN. The people visiting Vail aren’t here to see what’s going on in Denver.”On a typical morning, “Good Morning Vail” is chock full of information regarding snow conditions on the mountain, clothing tips, live reports from Lionshead or Beaver Creek, along with interviews on real estate, ski gear, art and/or local community events. The interviews cycle every few weeks and don’t stray too much from topic to topic.”I just try to remember the perspective of the person watching. Our audience for the most part changes once a week,” Gustafson said. “That person hasn’t seen the ski shop or the gallery a 100 million times. So to them, it’s new. It’s informative. It’s my job to make the interview interesting and to educate them and help the person coming in to the interview sell their product.”Despite the seemingly mundane schedule, Gustafson has found great purpose in her work. She continues to take pride in making visitors feel welcome in a town where she grew up, and that is what has kept her coming back morning after morning for over a decade.”It certainly was not the money,” she said. “It has never paid well and I doubt ever will. It was more the love of what I was doing and the fact I had the opportunity to do exactly what I wanted to do and live in Vail.”
After growing up in West Vail through her teenage years, Gustafson attended Colorado State University and majored in speech communications in order to overcome her fear of public speaking. During college, she joined a performing group for young adults age 18-26 called “Up With People.” For two years, she traveled the world to places like Switzerland, Canada, Belgium, Germany, Italy, Austria and the Netherlands learning the basics of performing and doing community theater all over the world. After her stint with the performing group ended, she graduated college and lived one more year in Switzerland before returning to the mountains. Shortly after, she yearned to break away yet again and do “something on her own.” She packed up her bags and moved to Phoenix, where a friend helped her land her first job as a sales assistant at a big TV station. Over the next three and a half years, she successfully moved up into programming and operations, but soon after, the mountains tugged at her heartstrings yet again. She made a call to her dad, and with a little bit of networking, got a job offer at the newly formed TV8. She became a sales executive in 1991 and worked her way up to on-air talent.”I thought, am I nuts? .. I was really nervous. I knew it was a big gamble,” she said. “I was a tiny fish in a big market. I wanted to try my hand in TV work but didn’t have on-camera experience. The only way I’m going to do this is to move into a small market.”
Working at TV8 has enabled Gustafson to return to her roots, establish her own identity and get to know Vail as an adult. She is dialed into what’s going on in the valley more so than most and has led interviews people can only dream about.”My most memorable interview was Christopher Reeve right after his accident.,” she said. “We weren’t allowed to touch him because he may have a weird nervous reaction. We weren’t allowed to turn the cameras on until he gave clearance. They wanted him to look normal.”The interview struck a cord with Gustafson, not just for the shear uniqueness of Reeve’s physical condition, but also because of their controversial subject matter – stem-cell research. Despite these cells abilities to aid in the medical treatment of numerous conditions, like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases, many religious groups and anti-abortionists oppose the research because cells are obtained from embryos of terminated pregnancies or embryos produced by in-vitro fertilization clinics. The interview hit close to home with Gustafson, who was pregnant at the time.”I was five months pregnant, I believe. It was interesting to hear why he was promoting it in order to help people with spinal cord injuries. It was very interesting, educational and moving,” she said.Her second most memorable interview was with Dr. Ruth, a very popular and outspoken sex therapist who was in town for a conference on sex over 70.”The general manager at the time was a very church-going guy. He was very concerned about what Dr. Ruth as going to say and what language she was going to use,” Gustafson said. “We were supposed to tell her it was a family morning show. She ended up talking about how at 70 you shouldn’t hang from the chandeliers. It was hysterical.”
One of the attributes that has helped Gustafson score great interviews is her listening skills. She said that is the most valuable lessons she has learned over the last 15 years and carries it into her professional and personal life. “If you’re not listening and stick to the script, you miss the spontaneous things that make an interview interesting or different,” she said.Now Gustafson is practicing what she preaches by following her gut and listening to her heart. She said TV is her number one passion outside of her family, and she still wants to stay involved with TV8 and look into other opportunities with local production companies as well. Just in case you can’t watch TV8 without Gustafson, don’t fret. She has agreed to do special reports and appearances for the station from time to time. Until then, she is looking forward to her bigger role as mom and wife.Vail, Colorado