By Judith Salkin
In the 1970s, Steve Kelly was a political science and broadcasting major at Rutgers University and the New Jersey native was more interested in pursuing a career doing sports play-by-play than he was talking about city governments or what was going on in Washington, D.C.
But life changes and now Kelly, whose daily Kelly’s Corner airs from 4 to 6 p.m. on 1450 AM KPTR, takes great pleasure in being a voice that keeps local pols on their toes.
With 22 years as a resident of Palm Springs, Kelly brings a broad perspective to covering and talking to local politicians, but the show isn’t just politics. “Today I’m talking with an expert on the pope,” he said on Monday afternoon. “But what I love is keeping an eye on what’s going on in the valley.”
Kelly, 54, grew up in Bergin County, N.J. “It’s 11 miles from New York, but we don’t have an accent,” he said.
He loved sports and wanted cover them on radio for a living.
In 1977 he got into broadcasting but left a few years later to work with the New Jersey Devils doing public relations for the National Hockey League team. By the late ‘80s, he was in Seattle where he worked as a print journalist.
When Kelly’s brother needed some help managing property he owned in Palm Springs, he decided to lend a hand. “But I didn’t plan on staying,” he said.
One thing that bugged him in those early years in the desert was listening to local radio.
“It was lousy,” he said.
After three years working with his brother, Kelly decided to get back into mass communications.
With his background, Kelly was hired on at KPSL in 1995 as a program director and over the years has managed to help raise the quality of radio, starting with himself.
“I did a morning show with Gary Stone and then I got the chance to work with (former Los Angeles Times sports writer and radio announcer) Bud Furillo,” he said. “That was the best experience I’ve had in radio.”
The pair worked together for three years and Kelly soaked up pointers from Furillo’s interview style. “It was the best training just watching him work,” he said. “He’d say, ‘tell us about that,’ and the interviews would just take off.”
Sports is still important to Kelly, who covers local events like the BNP Paribas Tennis Open in Indian Wells and the Humana Challenge or talking with Oakland A’s center fielder, Coco Crisp, who lives in Rancho Mirage.
“What I love about sports is that there’s a definite winner or loser,” he said. “If it’s a baseball game, you know that after nine innings, sometime extra innings, that one team is going to win and one is going to lose.”
Politics, on the other hand, “isn’t that well defined,” he said. “Politicians are always trying to reinvent themselves.”
He’s watched as the political pendulum has moved from the far right to more middle of the road. “When I got here, the valley was run by Republicans,” he recalled. “Now the Democrats are fighting back and that’s not all bad, in my opinion.”
His role with his show, he said, “is to provide a platform for what (local politicians) have to say and then to provide a translation for the listeners so that they understand what’s going on.”
He’s well versed in the goings on in valley politics and events like talking about a snub to Democratic Congressman Dr. Raul Ruiz. “When Bush spoke out here in June, why wasn’t Dr. Ruiz invited?” he asked.
Other hot button topics for Kelly recently included both gun rights and gay rights. “I almost had my head torn off over them,” he said.
Kelly’s says he’s “interested in talking to everyone.” “I’ve interviewed people from Wilt Chamberlain to Newt Gingrich,” he added, and he sounds just as enthusiastic about talking to Riverside County and Coachella Valley politicians. “I love calling keeping an eye on what’s going on and calling people out on what they do.”
Over the years Kelly has had offers to move to larger markets, “But I turned them down,” he said. He’s stayed because “my job is fun,” and, with the exception of summer, “this is a beautiful place to live.”