Editor's note: The new lineup for The Drive in the wake of Tom Nalen's departure has made its debut at 104.3 The Fan. Get details in our post "D-Mac on His New Drive Partners: Third Time's the Charm?" Continue for our previous coverage.
The dominoes that began tumbling after the late February announcement that former CU Buffs and Denver Broncos star Alfred Williams would be leaving his longtime broadcasting home, 104.3 The Fan, in favor of KOA, the flagship of iHeartRadio's local division, continue to fall.
The latest game piece down? Broncos Ring of Famer Tom Nalen, who joined The Drive, the Fan's weekday afternoon show, as co-host with Darren "D-Mac" McKee, Williams's previous partner, on April 22. Mere months later, Nalen is on the way out, with a new pair of onetime Broncos, Tyler Polumbus and Nick Ferguson, set to join D-Mac. The fresh lineup is expected to be in place by early October.
Those who tuned into The Drive yesterday might have expected D-Mac and Nalen to discuss these developments at the beginning of their show, as the information had already been shared by two contributors to the Fan: Denver7's Troy Renck, one of the folks who tried out for the Nalen spot (he tweeted the basics) and ex-Denver Post scribe Nicki Jhabvala (she wrote about it at her current main gig, the online subscription service the Athletic). Instead, the pair spent the first hour talking about Broncos-related developments, including the latest injury to brittle tight end Jake Butt, setting the course for the rest of the broadcast.
But a knowledgeable source speaking to Westword on the condition of anonymity confirms the makeup of the new team and Nalen's pending exit, and provides behind-the-curtain specifics about how it all happened.
When the news broke, many radio-scene regulars wondered if Nalen had simply gotten tired of the routine and chosen to walk away, as he did in late 2017 from the Altitude Sports Radio program he'd been delivering in tandem with Nate Kreckman. Earlier this year, Nalen stressed that the ASR decision "didn't have anything to do with Nate. I love him. He's fantastic. But even though the three hours on air were great, the other 21 hours were frustrating for me." Nalen said that he feared the powers-that-be at the Fan might be gun-shy about hiring him because of that move, but they still pulled the trigger.
This time around, however, we've heard that Nalen's move was motivated by a need to relocate to his original home state of Massachusetts for family reasons. Moreover, he was having so much fun on the Fan that he considered multiple ideas that would have allowed him to stay on the air in Denver, including commuting between Colorado and Massachusetts or hosting the program remotely from the East Coast. But all parties eventually abandoned these ideas.
That meant figuring out what to do next — and Polumbus quickly became the top option. A veteran of the Broncos' offensive line, he had been on the squad that delivered Orange and Blue Radio 760 ("All Broncos, All the Time") for iHeart. But when the station was killed in July to make room for Freedom 93.7, an AM/FM tandem focused on conservative talk to which syndicated star Rush Limbaugh was shifted after the Williams acquisition, Polumbus became the odd man out. And while a non-compete clause in his iHeart contract prevented him from immediately jumping to the Fan, the modest amount of time he was required to sit on the sidelines had him available to join up in the fall.
Meanwhile, Ferguson, a safety with the Broncos from 2003 to 2007, had already become a commentator at the Fan, and his name came up as a potential D-Mac partner when Nalen cemented his plans a few weeks ago. At that point, our source reveals, the Fan began conducting test shows with D-Mac in various combinations with possible recruits. A wide assortment of judges — station executives, consultants and listener focus groups — gave their opinions about who had the best chemistry, and the D-Mac/Polumbus/Ferguson triumvirate got the best reviews by far. The result will produce what station operatives believe is a national sports-radio first: the only show in the country built around an offensive and defensive player for the same NFL franchise.
The source insists that the station was happy with how D-Mac and Nalen were working together, and they remained number one in the key male 25-54 demographic in the only complete ratings book issued during their brief run. But now the Fan will have to start all over again, after Williams has already made his KOA debut.
That's how radio rivalries are born.