Pioneering Idaho newsman Sal Celeski, the former longtime news director at KTVB Channel 7, died Sunday at the age of 87.
Celeski, who had a long career as a political consultant and was involved in numerous major Idaho campaigns of both parties after he left the station in the 1980s, was referred to as “the father of Idaho journalism” in a 2008 Idaho Press article about longtime KTVB co-anchors Dee Sarton and Carolyn Holly, both of whom Celeski hired.
Bob Krueger, the former longtime KTVB general manager who first hired Celeski in the late 1960s, recalled him shooting photos with a Polaroid camera that would appear on the news that night. “We slowly got into film, and we got into videotape etc., and he was there all along,” Krueger said. “He was the chief photographer and also writing stories for news.”
When KTVB first went on the air as KIDO Television in 1953, Krueger said he used to say the station was “No. 5 in a two-station market.” It was up against KBOI Channel 2, and “they just kicked our fanny down the road,” Krueger recalled. “They had a great crew.”
Celeski oversaw a five-year expansion starting in 1971, when the station moved to its current location on Fairview Avenue, that made it the top-rated news station in the market. “Sal Celeski is 95% responsible,” Krueger said.
“He was basically the first real news guy on television,” recalled former Idaho Statesman photo editor Dave Frazier, who had a long career as a freelance photographer in Boise for the New York Times, Time Magazine, the Oregonian, and more.
Holly, in the 2008 article, said before Celeski hired her in 1982, “I had heard about him back at Oregon State. Great ethics, great journalist.”
Krueger said, “I think there’s a lot of fingerprints that Sal left on the news.” He interviewed numerous top politicians and famous people; scouted for talent throughout the region and brought journalists to Boise who make their mark telling the news stories of the Treasure Valley; and was known as a tough and demanding editor with impeccable sources.
When Celeski became a political consultant, he was always behind the scenes, but highly sought out. “If you hired Sal to do your campaign, you were going to win,” said Mike Johnson, the retired Boise Airport police chief and former U.S Marshal for Idaho, who had Celeski run his successful campaign for Ada County commissioner.
“If your opponent hired him, you were going to lose,” Johnson said.
Celeski was an Air Force veteran who went to work at the Idaho Transportation Department as a photographer after his service; he was then hired by KTVB to launch the station’s news operation.
Celeski’s consulting firm, Impact, also operated as an influential clipping service that kept political figures, reporters and others across the state in the know about what was happening in Idaho politics. Over the past decade and a half, Celeski announced several times that he was retiring, but he couldn’t stay away.
“He was always very, very discreet,” Frazier recalled. “You never knew if he was Republican, Democrat. He was always very professional in his relationships.”
Influence runs deep
Celeski also was at the center of a group of longtime political movers and shakers that regularly met for coffee for many years, formerly at Moon’s Kitchen Cafe in downtown Boise, and included everyone from attorneys and political consultants to elected officials and judges. In more recent years, the gatherings moved to the Riverside Hotel.
Frazier, long a member of the coffee group, said, “Sal and I were competitors when he was at Channel 7 and I was at the Statesman. … We were Press Club members and colleagues.”
Long after Celeski left journalism, Frazier said, “He influenced the news.”
Celeski’s sometimes gruff demeanor often hid a sardonic sense of humor. “He was highly, highly respected,” Krueger said.
Celeski is survived by his son, Tim; he was preceded in death by his wife, Pat, and a daughter.
Celeski insisted that he wanted no obituary, no death notice and no funeral, so none will occur. A private burial is planned, and the coffee group will gather as usual on Thursday.
Editor’s note: I spent almost 18 years at KTVB, long after Sal Celeski had passed through the doors of channel 7. His influence was still felt in the product, in the people he hired, and in the standards set. I did not interact with Sal, though, until starting BoiseDev. He was an early paying member here, and would send me tips and ideas. His influence on journalism runs deep, and my thoughts are with his family and friends. –Don