By Joel Warner
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For a talk-show host working at a station with ratings more anemic than one of Dracula's victims, KNUS's Jimmy Lakey has plenty of both defenders and detractors -- and the best place to catch up with the very different things they say about him is DenverRadio.net. The site, created five years ago by longtime broadcasting junkie Rob Hatch, not only provides the latest news about format changes, hirings and firings, and other radio-related info, but also features a "Comments and Rumors" section where radio fans and insiders congregate to bitch, moan and gossip in the least restrained, most outspoken manner conceivable. Thank you, First Amendment.
Since Lakey, 30, is a regular subject of such gab, it was only natural that hints, which began popping up last week, that he might be interested in buying the site generated incredibly disparate reactions. On August 6, a Greenwood Village resident who signed herself as "Whimpering Wendy," wrote, "Please tell me NO!! Tell me that Jimmy Lakey isn't taking over this Web site!!!! Please someone tell me that!... A conservative, a Christian, a Republican. How much more wrong could this guy be???" Then there was "Another Lakey Fan," who declared, "Some of you have used this site to lambaste Jimmy Lakey and make immature assertions about him personally and professionally. I hope to God that he is buying the site, as it will confirm that there is a just God getting revenge on idiots that pollute His planet. Sweet irony!"
We'll find out soon enough if said irony stays sweet -- because shortly after these items were posted, Lakey formally purchased DenverRadio.net, for what Hatch refers to as "an undisclosed sum." The deal puts Lakey in charge of a site that's become a favorite stop for Colorado's radio lovers and radio employees; Hatch says some months it generates 200,000 hits. But it also makes him responsible if anything bad happens to what's become something of a local institution. A Web surfer named George sounded a cautionary note in his DenverRadio.net post: "I hope that this passing of the torch doesn't kill all of the hard work Rob has done over the past few years."
Well put. Hatch first fell in love with radio at age sixteen, when an intern gig at a Colorado Springs Top-40 station led to a regular on-air shift. Other jobs followed, with Hatch working behind the microphone and behind the scenes at a handful of signals in Colorado Springs, Denver and, briefly, Los Angeles. But by 1996, when he started DenverRadio.net, he was no longer on a station payroll, which allowed him to report with welcome objectivity. Better yet, he demonstrated a fan's enthusiasm for his subject. "When I started, there was hardly anyone doing any reporting about radio," Hatch says. "It was mainly Dusty Saunders and Joanne Ostrow in the major papers, and they were missing a lot of the things that were going on. And since I still had a lot of contacts, I could keep up with the changes and hear about them before they were in the papers."
DenverRadio.net steadily got bigger and better, providing access to ratings for outlets across the state and a variety of polls about stations and personalities. But beginning earlier this year, signs that Hatch's site was losing momentum were leaking into its content. First of all, the rate at which news updates were posted slowed considerably. Then Hatch put up a note revealing that, because of an unspecified financial crisis, he was seeking donations to keep DenverRadio.net aloft -- a nakedly sincere plea that was largely ignored by his naturally cynical fan base. (During the first month or so, Hatch collected a grand total of $3; he eventually wound up with around $50.) Finally, a couple of weeks back, he sent out an e-mail to those on his address list stating that the site was for sale.
This announcement generated considerably more of a response than did Hatch's request for contributions. He thought he'd hear mainly from radio hobbyists looking for excuses to get more closely involved with the medium, but instead he was immediately contacted by several area radio personalities -- the most persistent being Lakey, whose alleged participation in the site is often debated by posters. For instance, Lakey zoomed to the top of a poll in which voters were asked to choose Denver's "Sexiest Radio Personality," prompting doubters to accuse him of fixing the election. For his part, Lakey swears he didn't even know about the poll until some of his listeners brought it to his attention -- but he was happy to talk about it on the air.
"My viewpoints are politically conservative," Lakey says, in a considerable understatement. "But on the show, my philosophy is sacred cows make good hamburger. I like to have fun." As evidence of this assertion, he brings up his most successful stunt to date. On April Fool's Day, 2000, he reported that Democratic presidential hopeful Al Gore had chosen Mayor Wellington Webb as his running mate. The gag produced a brief flurry of activity among other local media organizations and, according to Lakey, permanently strained his relationship with Webb. "Since then, Webb's office won't even return our phone calls," Lakey boasts.