THE CULT OF KAGANFORMER PHOENIX REPORTER'S CAREER SOARS AS CNN SPORTS ANCHOR

To get an idea of just how very on-the-verge CNN sportscaster Daryn Kagan has become, consider this: She is more current, more suitable for framing, than Armando.

Armando is Armando Alvarez, who from his home in Miami has phoned Calling All Sports, the CNN late-night sports talk show hosted by Vince Cellini, more than any other caller.

Cellini is the well-permed, thick-browed, occasionally manic center of CNN's sports-junkie world, a guy who can do a mean Bob Costas impersonation, a guy who weathers a nightly rain of calls from around the U.S. and Canada--from Toronto, from Houston, from Fayetteville, Georgia. Let's go to the phones: Vince, this Darryl Strawberry thing is killing me! How 'bout them Devils? The Royals, man--they're on a streak! What can stop this team? Vince, what are you doing?

To one caller from Nashville, Cellini offers an autographed picture of Armando--he is just Armando to the regulars--but the guy declines. What? Well, what does he want, then? A picture of Pat Riley, who that day had resigned after four years as head coach of the NBA's New York Knicks? Or maybe a team shot of the Cleveland Indians, who are watching the rest of the majors disappear in their rearview mirror?

"No," Nashville says, "I'm gonna pass on the Armando picture--for a Daryn Kagan picture."

Cellini clamps his considerable brow into a dense shrub across his head.
"You have a Daryn fixation," he says.
"Yeah, I guess I do."
Yeah, so do a lot of people.

The buzz started a few months ago, when Kagan, who until last year had spent five and a half years with KTVK-TV in Phoenix, got a call from her dad in Southern California. He said he'd just seen the weirdest thing on that nutty Vince Cellini show.

"The other night, he put up your picture," her dad said, "and he had a man's voice coming out of your mouth."

So she asked the producer what was up, and it turned out to be several voices that had been coming out of her mouth, voice-mail messages left for the show from people all over the country saying they had a thing for Daryn Kagan. And what wasn't to like? That hip, short-cropped hair--those pronounced cheeks--those piercing eyes! She was--in the true sports aficionado's locker-room lingo--a babe!

But now we're getting way ahead of ourselves.
Cut back to Phoenix and KTVK-TV, Channel 3, where anchor Cater Lee is heard to spout gems like: "The suspect is described as an Hispanic male. But other than that, we know nothing about him--or her."

It was from this competitive broadcast jungle that Daryn Kagan emerged after five years as a rising news reporter. Having touched down in Phoenix from Santa Barbara with limited experience and a runner's enthusiasm, she'd earned a few Rocky Mountain Emmys, a solid reputation and Channel 3 celebrity several years later.

But something was missing, something besides the fourth leg of her adopted cat, Tripod, and she was tired of living on a moment's notice with a packed duffel bag in her trunk. Sure, she and her long, dark, curly hair looked good, but she was just another marshmallow in the Lucky Charms of TV news. What was next? A bigger market? Phoenix already had all the toys, the cool news trucks with the technological hardware and everything. What was it all leading toward?

Finally, she made a business decision as well as a personal one. She'd grown up cheering for the Lakers and the Rams, and she decided her future lay in creating herself a niche. She went to KTVK-TV news director Phil Alvidrez and said she wanted to do sports, and she knew just the place--the weekend morning news show the station had recently launched.

She said, "I want to be the sportscaster."
He said, "That show doesn't have a sportscaster."
She said, "I know. I made up the job."

But Kagan was much too valuable to let go during the week so she could work weekends, so she said she'd go seven days a week for a month, and if it wasn't working out, then she'd just go back to what she was doing. A year and a half later, it was still working out, and she was getting up at 4 every Saturday and Sunday morning to pull it off even though no one was really noticing.

"I didn't need them to watch it," she says. "I knew my sports opportunity wasn't going to come in Phoenix."

It was the spring of 1994, and she was looking around for new opportunities, but nobody was biting. Frustration set in. Her agent suggested updating her look. Finally, she chopped off most of her hair, made a new r‚sum‚ tape and sent it out again.

Two weeks later, CNN called.

CNN's vice president of sports, Jim Walton, says the 31-year-old Kagan has that intangible magnetism that cannot be coached the way delivery, style and writing can. She also has another adopted three-legged cat, this one dubbed Ilean.

"She has an electricity you don't often see," Walton says from the network's headquarters in Atlanta. "We liked Daryn's tape very much."

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