Long before partisan cable news, KIRO President Lloyd Cooney sat arrow-straight before the camera to deliver editorials about family values and limited government, making him a polarizing figure in Seattle.
Most viewers never met the man behind the scenes, a motorcyclist and skydiver who shoved local news toward the future.
Mr. Cooney died
Nov. 25. He was 90.
In 1969 he adopted the “Eyewitness News” format, where anchors and field reporters appeared live, using microwave transmissions. KIRO was among the earliest to use videotape instead of film, and deployed helicopters for television and radio-traffic reporting, said Mr. Cooney’s longtime colleague, Ken Hatch. Walter Cronkite criticized the bantering Eyewitness News format, to which Mr. Cooney replied that ratings growth at stations like KIRO “should say something to Cronkite.”
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Away from work he craved adventure. He parachuted and bungee jumped. Footage of him wing-walking at Arlington Airport trickled onto the evening news. Mr. Cooney motorcycled across the U.S., Canada, Mexico, and Australia, before giving up his Harley at age 80.
“‘Stuffy’ Lloyd Actually Rides on Wild Side,” said a 1994 Seattle Times headline, below which columnist Emmett Watson set aside memories of Mr. Cooney’s “self-righteous” TV persona, to become enchanted by his tales of petting giant eels and motorcycling without a helmet through the Badlands.
“Seems nutty, doesn’t it?” Mr. Cooney said. “I guess I have a lust for excitement. But it’s not insane really, it’s a desire to overcome fear.”
He was raised in Council Bluffs, Iowa, where he sold vegetables door-to-door to help his family through the Depression before joining the military, said his son, Kevin Cooney.
He fell in love with Betty Packard, a student at the University of Utah, and once won a 48-hour leave to see her, by winning an Army boxing match, said his daughter, Shauna Cooney Brenner. He served as a paratrooper with the 82nd Airborne during World War II, where he fought in the Battle of the Bulge. He married Betty in 1946.
After years as general manager at KSL-TV in Salt Lake City, Mr. Cooney came to KIRO in 1963. The station was third in the market, so he started a campaign to create buzz and win viewers, and his editorials were part of that, his daughter said.
Mr. Cooney strove to present good news, to avoid relying on violence or titillation, she said.
“He had family values in his editorials, like, ‘Parents, where are your children?’ and things like that,” Hatch said.
He supported the Vietnam War and believed in military deterrence to block communism. Mr. Cooney visited Vietnam and Israel, to learn about those hot spots. Later he moderated his views, when he felt U.S. troops weren’t being supported, said Hatch.
Mr. Cooney editorialized several times against specific protection for gays in the state’s anti-discrimination laws. In response, hundreds of people protested outside KIRO studios.
He frequently read mail on the air from viewers who opposed his opinions.
Mr. Cooney made fun of his notoriety, through ads on buses that portrayed him being hit by thrown tomatoes.
KIRO was part of Bonneville International, owned by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Lloyd and Betty Cooney raised their family Mormon, and he joined the church at age 50, serving as a bishop in the Bellevue First Ward, where he often advised young adults.
The energetic Mr. Cooney would sometimes dive over his office desk at KIRO, or play practical jokes, Hatch said. He sent away a co-worker’s shoes, to have taps nailed to the soles.
He took heat in 1979 for canceling the “J.P. Patches Show,” citing declining ratings for the cheerful, disheveled clown. Cooney provided actor Chris Wedes a production job. “His ratings had declined so much it was not economically possible to keep him on the air,” recalls Hatch.
Mr. Cooney retired from television in 1980 and lost a Republican primary race for U.S. Senate, with Slade Gorton going on to unseat aging Democratic Sen. Warren Magnuson. Then in 1983, he lost a Republican primary challenge to Sen. Dan Evans, who had already been appointed to succeed the deceased Democratic Sen. Henry Jackson.
Mr. Cooney sought to give voters a more conservative option.
“He had a really strong work ethic. He expected that of himself, and people in the country,” Kevin Cooney said. “Private enterprise was part of democracy. People should go out and make a living. The idea of taking someone else’s wealth and redistributing that was odd to him.”
After losing, Mr. Cooney agreed to endorse Evans — which prompted President Reagan to phone Mr. Cooney, to thank him for keeping the GOP united.
“I remember his political commentaries were really fun,” Evans said. “He was an enthusiast about whatever he talked about, and he put it in pretty salty language, from time to time.”
Mr. Cooney died 19 days after his wife, Betty, passed away.
He was preceded in death by a brother, Cecil “Pep” Cooney. He is survived by sister Suzi Breedlove, of Madison, Wis.; brother Ronald ‘Skip’ Cooney, of The Villages, Fla.; children Shauna Cooney Brenner, of Albuquerque, N.M., Kevin Cooney, of Bellevue, and Kim Cooney, of Redmond; 15 grandchildren; and 21 great-grandchildren.
Funeral services will be Friday
at 11 a.m., at the Bellevue Stake Center of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 14536 Main St., Bellevue.
Mike Lindblom: 206-515-5631 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @mikelindblom