Person to Watch: Steve Keeley
Forging a path in primetime
By Kate Morgan

For someone who makes a living on television, Steve Keeley is a remarkably humble guy. He’s never even taken a selfie. The 55-year-old has built a career in TV news and is recognizable in and around Philadelphia as Fox 29’s veteran reporter. His path to Philly was a bit meandering, but it began in South Jersey.

“I went to Rowan, long enough ago that it was called Glassboro State,” the Moorestown resident says. “I was a law and justice major and thought I’d go to law school just because it seemed like a logical thing to do. I didn’t have any guidance counselors in high school who spoke to me about what I might really want to do. I didn’t know you could study radio or television journalism until I was a senior in college. I took a broadcast journalism class the last semester of my final year. When I realized I could maybe do this, I got locked in.”

Though he had little education in the field and few job prospects after graduation, Keeley was determined to carve a path for himself in news. He started out in radio, slowly rising through the ranks at local stations.

“At first I ended up working for free in Vineland on an overnight shift,” he says. “Sometimes not getting a break is actually beneficial. I didn’t know there were local radio stations out in the farm fields. At the time, there was a rule that if you owned a radio station you had to have a local news department, so there were a lot of jobs.”

Eventually Keeley broke into television in a small market outside Baltimore. While he didn’t have on-air experience, he’d become a dedicated newsman, frequently beating major channels and publications to breaking stories.

“I got on the Cape May-Lewes Ferry and went to Maryland,” he remembers. “It was the first time I’d ever been in a TV station. The boss put me on the set and had me read a teleprompter, and they hired me the next day. I guess they figured it’d be easier to teach me how to be on TV than to teach somebody journalism.”

From there, Keeley’s career had a steady upward trajectory; he moved to upstate New York, putting in six years at stations in Rochester and Buffalo, followed by a two-year stint in Cleveland. In 1995, Philadelphia called, and he jumped at the chance to come home.

“I’m as ambitious as the next reporter, but I’ve always been realistic,” he says. “You see ‘60 Minutes’ and think, ‘I want to do that,’ but there’s only like three of those jobs. I always thought, ‘If I can just get to where I’m from, I’ll be happy.’ It’s a big deal just to be in a town where you know where you’re going. I always thought, ‘Man, if I ever get to my hometown I’ll have a huge advantage,’ and I do – when something happens, I know where that is, and I can be on the scene fast. These are the little advantages of being home.”

In the 10 years he’s been with Fox 29, Keeley says he’s covered stories that were deeply important to him, both personally and professionally – and those that stick in his mind run the gamut from silly and nostalgic to senseless and tragic.

“I got here and started doing stories I always dreamed of doing,” he says. “My first year here I got to do every story I ever wanted to do. Standing on the field at Veterans Stadium with the Phillie Phanatic next to me, I was pinching myself. Even today I don’t take anything for granted.”

“The biggest story I’ve ever covered was 9/11,” he continues. “I was up there in time to see the second tower fall. I don’t know if a day has gone by that I haven’t thought of that. I spent a week up there, then was in Washington for a week doing coverage there. It was surreal at the time, and a lot of that I think will never leave me.”

Keeley’s stretch at an Atlantic City radio station in the mid-80s paid dividends two decades later, when he was there covering Superstorm Sandy ahead of the droves of reporters who poured into South Jersey over the days and weeks that followed.

“I covered storms when I was in radio, but it didn’t have the visual impact it has on TV,” he says. “I know we look silly sometimes, standing there getting blown around, but it’s really intense to be out there reporting. I was the first reporter there when that boardwalk in Atlantic City got washed away. A lot of the other media people were up near the Trump Plaza at that main section of boardwalk, and I told my photographer we needed to go down to the inlet. I knew because when I was there in 1984, part of that section was washed away. So we went down there and sure enough, it was just gone – I said, ‘We’re going to have 3,000 media people down here as soon as this gets around.’”

Keeley’s no stranger to storm coverage, and a moment captured during one of his weather-related broadcasts went viral in 2014. The clip shows a snowplow, barreling down a road in Salem County, miss Keeley by inches, pummeling him with snow as he reports from the shoulder. The clip made blooper reels all over the country, and late-night talk shows had a field day.

“A week hasn’t passed since then that somebody hasn’t mentioned it,” Keeley says. “That night it made Letterman’s Top 10. Jimmy Fallon made a joke about it, and so did Kimmel. People wanted to limo me up to New York and put me on these shows. I don’t think my bosses were too happy because they like the attention, but I said no; I’m trying to maintain some journalism standards here.”

In all, Keeley is good-natured about the episode. He escaped unharmed, and while it was deemed a “blooper,” he feels pretty good about his own reaction to the close call.

“The driver was just doing his job, and actually, he felt terrible, but it’s my fault for standing out there in the middle of a snow storm talking about road conditions,” Keeley says. “I didn’t mind the whole thing, and I’m going to laugh at it. And you know, I didn’t budge, I kept reporting, and I finished the point I was making. I didn’t look like a fool, and that’s good enough for me.”

While the popular reporter could look to continue up the ladder – eyeing a position at a national station, perhaps – Keeley says he’s staying put. After all, there’s plenty of news to be covered right here at home – he stepped away from a murder scene to give this interview – not to mention he’s recently engaged and ready to settle down.

“I’m good right where I am,” he says. “I’m totally fulfilled and happy here, and everything’s new every day. Nothing’s ever routine. If I don’t have to get on an airplane or live on room service meals ever again, I’ll be happy. I moved around so much I always thought it wouldn’t be fair to marry somebody and make them follow you around. I’ve seen people do that and have it not work out. I knew what it was like to be homesick. I don’t feel that way anymore, and I couldn’t be happier. This is it. This is where I want to be – right here at home.”

March 2016
Related Articles

Comments are closed.

Answering Your Questions about New Jersey's Cannabis Industry

Get SJ Mag in Your Inbox

Subscribe for the latest on South Jersey dining, weekend entertainment, the Shore and much more - sent directly to your inbox.

* indicates required
Email Format
April 2024 Issue (600 × 500 px)