California dreamin’ led Milhorn to successful Colorado radio career
Many valley residents know Ron Milhorn only as one of the voices on KMTS Radio.
But being a Glenwood-area radio personality is only one of many hats – not to mention helmets – Milhorn has worn.
The man behind the microphone once spent some time in front of the television cameras – not as on-air talent, but on the field, as a member of the University of Southern California Trojan football team.
The years of training and perseverance involved in playing major college sports taught Milhorn the dedication required for a radio career. The payoff comes on Game Day, or in the case of news radio work, when a big story breaks, such as Glenwood’s Coal Seam Fire on June 8.
“You train for covering disasters. You hope it never happens but you want to be prepared when it does,” Milhorn recently said in his office at the KMTS studio in the Roaring Fork Marketplace.
Milhorn recounted the long, hectic days after the Coal Seam Fire broke out, incinerating 29 homes. In the kind of emergency in which the immediacy of broadcast media becomes crucial to informing the public, many came to count on Milhorn’s reporting.
“It was exciting, it was humbling to be thrust into that role,” said Milhorn. “I also felt an immense sense of responsibility to get the facts out, and it was an honor just to be there.”
For a brief period, Milhorn also was called upon to wear one of his other hats. He once worked as a public information officer for the Summit County Sheriff’s Department. During the first night of the Coal Seam Fire, Garfield Sheriff Tom Dalessandri asked Milhorn if he would help the department deal with the deluge of media calls – on top of his reporting duties.
Milhorn had learned long ago the worth of versatility.
He was a center in football, and rather than just learning how to block, he mastered the art of the long snap. That helped get him a little playing time at USC.
Despite mostly playing for the scout team, he was plenty happy just to be a Trojan football player, which was more than he ever dared dream might occur.
Milhorn, 43, was born in east Los Angeles, and raised in the seaside communities of Redondo Beach and Seal Beach. He was a typical muscle-bound, blond-haired surfer, getting a custom-made board on his 16th birthday.
“I typically surfed on Christmas Day. … I was accustomed to 75-, 80-degree Christmases. It was quite a culture shock moving out here,” he reminisces.
Milhorn was an all-conference high school player. After graduating he spent some time attending a junior college, working some and “goofing around a little.”
Meanwhile, his future wife, Randalea, was at USC, where she was in the marching band. She encouraged him to try out for football.
“It was like the holy grail. There was no way I’d ever go to USC,” he said. “But she believed in me more than I did. … She said, `You can have a piece of the pie, too,’ so I walked on and met (coach) John Robinson” at USC’s Heritage Hall.
“I didn’t want to meet him. I was trembling in fear, hoping he wouldn’t be there, and suddenly who comes down the stairs but John Robinson.”
Milhorn immediately discovered Robinson to be a “friendly, gracious man.” Milhorn was invited to training camp.
“I got beat around, beat up for two years, as a walk-on, a human blocking dummy,” he said.
But while Milhorn speaks humbly, he later let on that a lot of high school all-Americans rode the bench during his time at USC because it was so loaded with talent.
Much of that talent went on to even greater accomplishments in the NFL: Marcus Allen, Dennis Smith, Ronnie Lott, Chip Banks, Anthony Munoz, Bruce Matthews and Charles White.
A USC highlight for Milhorn was going to the Rose Bowl in Pasadena in 1980. Though Milhorn didn’t play, it was exciting enough just to get to dress and be on the sidelines.
He didn’t always travel with the team, but one memorable time that he did was when USC played at Stanford. There, Milhorn watched a Stanford sophomore named John Elway in action.
He particularly remembers watching the quarterback make a typically Elway play.
“His scramble looked like something you’d draw on an Etch-A-Sketch in an earthquake,” said Milhorn.
Ten feet from where Milhorn stood on the sidelines, Elway threw a 70-yard touchdown dart to a receiver who had managed to get a step on Lott.
“I said, `This guy is unbelievable. He’s been touched by the hand of God,'” Milhorn said.
Milhorn also knew what it was like to square off against players such as Lott and Banks.
“I took pride in my role as a scout team player. We went against the first-team defense every week, preparing them for that week’s opponent. … That made me a better player,” he said.
“It was a great experience,” he said of his USC days. “I think just making the team gave me a lot of confidence and improved my self-esteem and helped me declare a major.”
From playing field
Milhorn had an aptitude for writing and communications, and took a journalism class at USC. One of his teachers encouraged him to pursue broadcast journalism.
“The voice and the writing is what came across as my biggest strength – being able to condense a story into 30 or 60 seconds and get the gist of the story across,” Milhorn said.
After college, Milhorn went to work part-time for a Christian station, changing reels, doing the hourly weather reports – and rewriting wire stories just for practice.
He took a job in sales and management at Pepsi-Cola, and later worked for a beer and wine distributor. But he still aspired to work in radio.
That ended up occurring in Colorado. Milhorn’s wife is a Colorado native, and the couple came out here to vacation in the mid-1980s.
Milhorn, “tired of the rat race and driving the freeways every day,” liked what he saw. He decided to take a radio job in Vail. His decision was confirmed by some drive-by shootings that occurred in Los Angeles as he was packing up.
“My oldest son was 8 months old. I said, `I don’t want to raise my kid here.'”
Milhorn embarked on a typical radio career, full of job moves. For the next 12 years he bounced around between mountain radio work and odd jobs to pay the bills.
“My resume reads like an alphabet soup – K-something-something-something. I’ve been here, there and everywhere and sold Pepsi and beer in between.”
He arrived at KMTS in 1999.
“It’s the best job I ever had,” he said. “Just a great place to work, good people. It’s like a family. Very professional people but we’re not always all business. We know how to have fun with our jobs.”
“I was a little reluctant because I thought, geez, country radio, I’m from southern California. I don’t like country.”
But he was impressed by the station’s commitment to news.
“They’ve never considered cutting news to save money, and usually the news department gets the ax first.”
Milhorn appreciates radio’s breaking-news role. He’s especially proud that KMTS took a careful approach in covering the Coal Seam Fire, working to control rumors and report only known facts at a time when it seemed half of West Glenwood was burning.
Milhorn dove into the story, going for maybe 30 hours straight on the story, and then sleeping in the office.
He laughs about being deputized by Dalessandri.
Dalessandri recalled, “I said, `Ron, you’re going to have to wear two hats here. … He was a great help … during that whole mayhem.”
Milhorn said the situation was probably more awkward for authorities than for him. Some were uncomfortable about speaking up in private meetings, for fear of having it go out on the air.
But he adds, “I was in that position because I had established a level of trust over the years with local officials and I’m not going to burn them. If they say it’s off the record, then it’s off the record.”
Milhorn still gets to indulge his love of sports by covering local high school games. Once again, during football season he can look forward to Game Day.
“It’s lot of fun, especially when you get the feedback from parents. They like to hear their kids’ names on the radio.”
Milhorn said he gets excited “at watching the kids perform. Hopefully that comes across, because I’m Mr. Serious all week with the news.”
This year, Milhorn dons yet another hat, as a Glenwood Springs High School football lineman coach. But he’ll continue to cover the games as well.
“Completely unbiased coverage,” he assured with a lineman-sized grin.
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