April may be the cruelest month, but February straight up sucks. This is the “news” that was broken by local reporter Kevin Killeen of St Louis’s KMOX, in a 2016 video segment declaring February “an honest month” because it is one that “doesn’t hold up life any better than it really is”.
The segment mixes Killeen’s straight-faced, deadpan local news delivery with an almost avant garde absurdity. At one point, Killeen stands atop a parking garage in St Louis, gesturing at the dark office buildings behind him and says, “Something great happened here but it’s over with.” In a voiceover describing images of the city’s downtown, he declares, “This looks like a place where people who are being punished are sent.”
When the camera cuts to a shot of bare trees against a gray sky, things get a bit weird – and existential. “The trees that once cheered us, they’re hard to look at this month,” he intones. “It’s as if there is some awful truth out there in the trees. It’s hiding in the branches. Look at them. Something that’s been bothering you for a long time is out there. What is it? You can almost see the shape of it when all the color is gone and life is stripped down to the starkness of February.
The segment was a “throwaway piece”, Killeen told me by phone this week, done spur of the moment back in 2016 and largely forgotten. But the video keeps getting rediscovered every February, thrusting the reporter into the spotlight and making him feel, he said, “like Jack and the beanstalk”.
“At first it’s like someone singing happy birthday to you because everybody loves you,” Killeen said of the experience of going viral. “But then if they keep singing happy birthday all weekend and you’re like, stop it already.”
A general assignment reporter, Killeen also does three two-minute feature stories each week for a “morning drive” series called Whole ’Nother Story. A recent segment featured a story about a chihuahua snatched away by an owl that dropped the dog about an hour away, where some motorists pulled over for a rescue.
I asked how Killeen pitched a news segment that essentially amounts to “February sucks”, but it turns out he didn’t pitch it at all. The video is one of about five he experimented with before returning to audio when the logistics of pulling off video features while also covering City Hall and crime proved to be too burdensome.
The parking structure he stood on is the one he parks his car in every morning. The umbrella he tosses to great comedic effect was “absolutely organic”, he says. “I saw the umbrella as I was going into the office thinking, ‘Oh, I gotta do one of those crummy videos today.”
In the video, the busted green and pink floral umbrella that has been abandoned, still opened, atop a garbage bin in the parking garage, becomes a totem for February. “This says it all,” Killeen remarks to the camera. “Somebody on this February day has abandoned it with its broken shaft like a desperate flinging off of something that’s not true any more. The expedition is getting desperate. People are throwing things aside.”
He credits KMOX with always giving him a lot of editorial freedom to explore and be playful and said the popularity of the video should be “a lesson to news editors”.
“They don’t know half the things their people could create for them if they just let them be creative,” he said. “News editors are always saying what’s on the wire, or what’s on the New York Times, when they could be asking, what can you not stop thinking about? What have you been talking about at parties?”
How much they hate February, apparently.
“You ever have that feeling that something’s bothering you, but you don’t know what it is? It feels like you could almost get up to the point to see what’s wrong with life itself,” he elaborated. But we can’t: “It’s an elusive target.”
What about February being an “honest” month? Does that mean there are months that are not to be trusted?
Killeen answers with zero hesitation. “December, with all the vanities of the holiday season.”