Denfeld News

April18, 2008
Duluth News Tribune

Duluth duo not that 'average' after all?
By Rick Lubbers

Duluth’s Jon Donahue and Ken Kalligher are better known as the Public Access Community Television duo “The Average Guys,” but the scene surrounding the taping of their 400th episode Tuesday night at Carmody Irish Pub was anything but average.

Donahue, 43, and Kalligher, 50, had assembled a pretty respectable list of local sports celebrities to interview during the two-hour show. Guests included professional boxer Zach “Jungle Boy” Walters and KBJR-TV sports anchor Tom Hansen. The Duluth-Superior Shoremen cheerleaders gave an “Average Guys” cheer, and Duluth Mayor Don Ness sat down for a chat.

Slowly, but surely, Jon Donahue and Ken Kalligher have carved a unique niche in the Northland’s local sports landscape during the past 10 years. Many a cable TV surfer has hit PACT-TV Channel 7 on a Friday night or Saturday morning and tossed the remote on the coffee table and watched the two talk sports with a set chockfull of sports memorabilia.

Whether viewers pooh-pooh the show’s simplistic tone or tune in on a regular basis because they are fans of the format, Donahue and Kalligher are well-known in the Twin Ports. If it’s possible to be a superstar of PACT-TV, “The Average Guys” probably qualifies.

Not bad for a show promising nothing more than a couple of guys just sitting around, talking sports.

“Once you turn it on, you can’t turn it off,” says Chris Stratioti, a longtime friend and fan of “The Average Guys.”

But what keeps area viewers turning it on? Better yet, what keeps them from turning it off?

Donahue believes “The Average Guys” creates a unique connection with its viewers.

“What makes the show unique is we expose ourselves as far as who we are,” he said. “People have watched my children grow up. They have heard about my wife [Lisa] and followed her breast cancer diagnosis [Her most recent mammogram was clear of cancer, according to Donahue]. So, when they watch the show, they end up getting to know us because we talk about it.

“It’s not just sports, rock ‘n’ roll and whatever else — it’s what a lot of people out there are talking about themselves. It’s just a way of connecting. We don’t try to be pretentious like a lot of other shows in the networks. We have fans that range all the way from high school [age] all the way to people in their 80s.”

“When we hear, ‘I love your show,’ that really means something,” Kalligher said. “That says a lot.”

Donahue first dreamed of hosting a sports talk show while watching late-night baseball highlights in 1986. That dream was deferred, however, until 1998 when Donahue bounced the idea off of Kalligher, who needed a lot of prodding to agree to the show.

“People will ask me, ‘Did you ever think it would last this long?’ ” said Kalligher, who met Donahue in 1993 when they both worked at Glass Block at the Miller Hill Mall. “Honestly, I didn’t think it would get started.”

But it did.

Off and Running

The pair produced their first show on Dec. 11, 1998 — taped in Donahue’s basement — and it aired on Dec. 24. Since then, Donahue and Kalligher have cranked out episode after episode and grown their fan base. They usually tape about 46 weeks worth of episodes each year.

“There’s a chemistry with me and Kenny that transcends just friends,” Donahue said. “It’s having the same ideas and same report to make the show work. I know what Kenny’s usually thinking, so I can sort of feed off it.”

The show moved out of Donahue’s basement in 2002 and has been recorded either at PACT-TV studios — where Donahue works — or at a local tavern or sports venue. “The Average Guys” also have hit the road, taking the show to Minnesota Twins and Vikings games. They’ve interviewed former UMD and NHL great Brett Hull and NBA legend Bill Walton, among many others.

“We’ve been doing things that the average fan would love to do,” Donahue said. “Everybody wishes they could get on the field, but we’ve been able to do it. We’ve been able to live the dream.”

They’ve often also strayed from sports talk and chatted about politics, rock music and anything else noteworthy. They once interviewed the late Kevin DuBrow, lead singer of Quiet Riot.

“We’re still waiting for Joe Walsh to get a hold of us, so we can officially get ‘Ordinary Average Guys’ to be our theme song,” Kalligher quipped.

Still Average

For nearly 10 years, Donahue and Kalligher have kept area cable boxes tuned to PACT-TV when their show is on. And the culmination of their decade-long run was evident as they taped their 400th episode — set to air tonight on Channel 7 at 8 p.m. — before a packed room at Carmody Irish Pub.

“I was just as nervous for No. 400 as I was for No. 1,” Donahue said afterward.

But can they truly be considered “average” now that they’ve recorded several hundred shows and seem primed for hundreds more? Are “The Average Guys” above-average now?

Not so, Donahue said.

“We’re still average after all these years — that’s what it comes down to.”

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