On day two of Lewis & Logan, the new KOA afternoon program that teams veteran broadcaster Dave Logan and the Fox's Rick Lewis, Kathy Lee, the longtime Fox personality who also serves as a co-host, asked Logan if he ever has lesbian dreams, as casually as if she was quizzing him about his commute to work or plans for the weekend. But far from balking at the question, Logan, the steadfast voice of the Denver Broncos, chuckled and played along, albeit without admitting he subconsciously fantasizes about hot girl-on-girl action.
To put it mildly, Lewis & Logan is unlike any show ever before aired on KOA, Denver's most venerable (and powerful) news-and-talk outlet. But the idea of bringing a version of the Fox's ultra-successful morning show to KOA in the afternoons and adding Logan to the mix was the brainstorm of none other than Tim Hager, the top man at iHeart Media's Denver cluster of stations, and it's made a bigger splash than any new radio-show launch in recent memory.
Over the course of the conversation, she talks about her start as a former intern for the Fox show that starred Lewis and Michael Floorwax, who left the business two years ago due to health concerns; her transition to becoming a high-profile radio personality; the challenges of balancing her new two-shows-per-day schedule with being a mom to a preschooler; the reaction to her by old-school KOA listeners; and her choice of a name for a sitcom about the new teammates. The moniker might not work on network TV, but thank goodness there are plenty of other options these days.
Westword: Your schedule is just as crazy as Rick's is, isn't it?
Kathy Lee: My schedule can even be crazier, because I have a crazy three-year-old.
Could you remind folks how you came to the Fox? What was your first gig when you arrived at the station, and how have things evolved since then?
I was 23, and I came in as an intern right after college. It was like my fourth-and-a-half year; no one graduates in four. I was actually interning for their agent, Peter Schaffer. I'd already done an internship in New York for MTV. And Peter said, "These guys could use a producer. You should go in and help them out and see if maybe you'll get a job after school." I went in and helped them out for a week and then the program director said, "Hey, what would you think about coming on full-time and being their producer?"
I had no idea what a producer did. But you need to book guests and you need to set everything up, and I'm very capable of doing a lot of things, so I thought, I'm capable of doing this. Then I came in and for a lot of years, I wasn't really on air. They talked to me every once in a while, but I wasn't really on the air that much. That kind of came into fruition the last five or so years. They kept bringing me on more and more, and it made my name more known to people, although they referred to me a lot over the last twenty years.
Then, after Wax left, I was thinking that I was just filling in. But I'm a big talker, a huge talker, so they knew I could probably do it — and I've done TV. I've done the Channel 4 Broncos show; I have a segment called "Get to Know" on their Countdown to Kickoff. They knew I was comfortable in front of a mic, and when Wax left, Rick said, "I really want you to be a part of my new show, and I think you could really make a good impact, because you're bringing a whole different side than what Wax brought." They were very male-dominated, and they wanted more female listeners, as well. They thought this would help a lot.
At that point, you had a lot bigger role — and then came the latest opportunity. How were you presented with the idea of being part of the afternoon show on KOA in addition to still doing the morning show?
Rick told me they'd talked to him and Dave about the afternoon show — and he said, "My thought is to bring everybody from the team along, because I think we all do such a great morning show. It would be fun adding Dave to it and bringing it to the afternoon on KOA." Then management talked to me about it and asked how I'd feel about becoming one of the co-hosts; there'd be Rick and Dave, and then I'd be the third person. And I thought it was great. I've always liked Dave Logan. I didn't know him very well, but I figured we'd know right away if we had chemistry or not.
Rick has really catapulted my career to where it is today. I wouldn't have gotten the chance to be on air if it wasn't for him, and I'm so lucky to be working with someone who's that great. He's been my mentor. And then being able to do another show with him in the afternoon, and with Dave Logan, too? That's huge. Who could ask for anything more? I am so excited. I get butterflies. Everything I could ever have dreamed of is really coming true.
There was no hesitation on your part about the schedule? After all, taking care of a three-year-old is probably even harder than taking care of Rick Lewis.
For sure! I'm blessed that I have such a great husband and a great family around me. My mom comes over five days a week to stay with my three-year-old now. I have such a great support system. When I talked to my husband, he said, "We can do everything at home, but I just don't want you to get burned out." But Rick and I talk all the time anyway. When we're on the morning show, we talk for four hours, and then we probably talk ten more times throughout the day about stuff. He's my best friend who's not a girl — or maybe we're more like siblings. When I want to talk to somebody, the first person I call other than family is Rick.
It almost feels like Rick raised me in my later years. Does that make sense? He raised me from 23. I was a virgin when I started on the show. I didn't have a boyfriend. Now I'm married, and I'm obviously no longer a virgin [laughs]. He's really groomed me into being the woman I am today. I learned a lot from him, and I learned a lot from Wax, too. I probably wouldn't be the person I am today without them.
You had a couple of dry runs with Dave; he appeared on the morning show, and you guys were guests on his old show on 760. Did it ever seem awkward? Or did it immediately feel natural?
It immediately felt natural. I had reservations. I didn't know how Dave would take to me. I already knew I have a great relationship with Rick, so that wasn't a problem. But Rick, being the great professional that he is, had worked with Dave, and I trusted his instincts. He said, "You're going to get along great with Dave." They'd done the Broncos show, they'd known each other over the years, and he said, "I'm telling you, this is going to be something big and special." And it has been.
It's been a lot of fun, and I've learned so much about Dave. I don't think even listeners have learned this much about Dave until recently, because we talk about everything. He's really opened up, and we have a nice chemistry between the three of us.
[Here's a video of Lee, Lewis and Logan in action.]
KOA definitely hasn't had a program like this before. What kind of responses have you been hearing? Are audiences giving you a chance? Or are there some people who feel it's just too different?
You're obviously going to get those KOA listeners who are used to only news and sports and don't want this kind of talk. But we've gotten a lot of positives, as well. People saying, "I'm glad you guys did this. Now I've got something I can listen to on my way home, where I can just laugh and enjoy it." And they're still doing sports. Dave and Rick are great at sports. Obviously Dave's an expert, and Rick knows a lot about it.
If there's breaking news, we're going to talk about it. Even when there's weather, we talk about that and the traffic, to help you get home. But it's definitely different for the KOA audience, and I would say I've probably gotten the brunt of the negativity, because I do more of the everyday lifestyle talk and kind of the dirty humor, if you want to call it that.
I'm edgy. I'm the edgiest part of the group, so I'm very polarizing. You'll either like me or not like me or learn to like me. But I'm a mom, a working mom, and hopefully people will realize that. I'm doing two shifts, just like a lot of them. I'm just maybe thinking out loud too much [laughs].
Does that kind of feedback bother you? Obviously, the listeners of the Fox have really embraced you. Do you have to tell yourself that people who tune in KOA will feel the same way once they get to know you?
I try not to let it bother me. I've learned to get thick skin over the years. With social media, you get the immediate response of what people want to say, and when there are negative comments out there, you just have to let them go. I know I'm a good person, I know I'm a good mom, I know I'm a loving person — and just because you might not agree with everything I say doesn't mean you have to spew hatred. I'm definitely polarizing. I'm sure as a person I'm polarizing when you meet me, because I don't have a filter, unfortunately [laughs]. So I can be shocking to people in everyday life. But once you get to know me, you'll realize I'm definitely a person who, if you need help, you should call. I'm really an everyday person and not that shocking person they think is ruining their radio station [laughs].
When people initially hear something, they may not give it a chance. They just think, "It's different. I hate it." But you have to give it a chance, and if you do and you still don't like it, that's okay. You can go somewhere else to get your entertainment and news. But we're here to entertain people and have fun and bring you into our lives and interact with you. And that's the greatest thing about being on radio. People e-mail you and have thoughts and you e-mail them back. It's real and raw, and sometimes when it's raw, you're going to get hate mail. But we've been hearing a lot of good things, too.
After the first week of doing two shows a day, Rick said he was brain-dead by the evening. Are you able to maintain your energy level, or are you still figuring out the right balance to strike?
You still have to find balance. It's not easy, because I leave in the middle of the day. I pick up my son from preschool and spend a couple of hours with him before I come back. I never really was a nap-taker, so I don't go home to take a nap. But I do need a little bit of downtime. We started this show after taking two weeks off for Christmas, and then we came back to doing two shows a day. That was the transition that was the hardest for me. If we'd been doing the morning show and added the afternoon show, it would have been easier than taking two weeks off work. But my energy is still pretty good. I'm at like 90 percent. There are times when I do get tired, but you learn to adjust your schedule.
I get the sense you feel that any sacrifices you've made so far have been worth it.
Definitely. You do sacrifice time with your family, but now I feel my weekends are more special with them. I try to make more time with them. When I get home, I do bath time with my son, and then we read a book before he goes to bed. It'll be easier, too, when the sun's out when you get home. Because now, when you get to work, it's dark, and when you get home, it's dark. I think that will make a difference. You won't feel like it's midnight when you walk in the door.
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Have you said anything that's completely shocked Dave yet?
I don't think I've completely shocked him, but I'm sure there have been things where his eyebrows have been raised [laughs]. Dave's a football player. He's heard everything in the locker room. That's part of who I am, too. I hang out with a lot of guys — football players and whatnot. So I tend to just say things. And Dave's a lot of fun. I don't think people realize. They think of the serious Dave, voice of the Broncos on KOA. But he's a lot of fun, and he's got a lot of funny things to say. In fact, I think he shocked me more than I shock him. Our off-air banter — we laugh the whole time. It might be a little too raw for the radio, but we have so much fun off-air talking. And it's crazy how many similarities Rick and Dave have. I've worked with Rick for twenty years, and I feel like I'm looking at Rick's brother.
This kind of sounds like a sitcom.
It could be, couldn't it? There's a term we use when we're joking around: How about Two Dicks and a Chick?