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From sports to ‘South Park’: Zappolo’s move to news caught eye of Hollywood

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(Editor’s note: All this week, we’re taking a look back at the legendary career of FOX 31 Denver anchor Ron Zappolo, who is stepping down this Friday after a 36 year on-air career in Denver. Tonight, a look at his transition from sports anchor to news anchor, when he moved to FOX 31 in 2000 to help launch our brand new news department.)

DENVER -- Ron Zappolo has become such a television phenomenon, that he’s actually been immortalized on the wildly popular Comedy Central show “South Park.”  Not once, but twice.

Unusual that a local anchorman becomes such a part of pop culture.  And it's hard to believe, in the beginning, there were those who wondered if Ron Zappolo would be much of an anchorman at all.  Especially Ron Zappolo.

“There was a time when I thought 'what am I gonna do? Hope this works.' If it doesn't I'm in big trouble,” Zappolo said.

He'd been a sports legend for 23 years, at KCNC Channel 4, then KUSA Channel 9, when he suddenly decided to make the leap to news across town at FOX 31.  Much to everyone's surprise.

"I think a lot of us natives, we knew Ron first as a sportscaster, and he was really good at that," said former Colorado governor Bill Ritter, one of Zappolo’s friends.

"You know he was so good at sports, I just couldn't believe he would make the change," added longtime friend Mike Shanahan, former head coach of the Denver Broncos.

But FOX 31 Denver was launching a new newscast in 2000, from the ground up, and the newsroom needed a leader.  And the boss at the time, Bill Dallman, found one in Ron Zappolo.

"And I knew from the moment I met (Ron), that (he was) the answer to what we needed at FOX 31," said Dallman, former FOX 31 News Director, who’s now in charge of the news department at Minneapolis FOX station KMSP.

"I didn't know anything about Ron.  We met, we flew down to L.A., it was this secret kind of meeting, they tested us together to see what the chemistry would be like, and you know, seriously, from the moment we met, it just clicked,” said Libby Weaver, Zappolo’s former co-anchor at FOX 31.

And viewers clicked - their remotes - every night at nine - to watch Ron and Libby for well over a decade.  Ron's move to news was such a success, even competitors took note.

“You know he went from being such a popular sportscaster, and it was just so seamless when he made the transition over to the news side.  And now I watch him doing news, and it's been years, and it's like I kind of remember him doing sports,” said Jim Benemann, anchor at KCNC-TV in Denver.

“There`s a whole lot of people that always ask me 'when you going back to sports' or whatever.  But covering some of the stuff the last 13 years... the Democratic National Convention... that whole week.  That ranks up as high as any single sporting event,” said Zappolo.

From tragedies to triumphs, he's covered it all here at FOX 31, and Colorado has taken notice.