And while their show, which targets a largely female demographic with stories, observations and humor that's appropriate for listeners of all ages, may not seem especially radical at first blush, they've succeeded in part because they do things their own way rather than attempting to replicate so-called best practices for radio during the 6 to 10 a.m. weekday drive-time hours.
Examples: They don't pre-record interactions with their callers, as is common industry practice, they're willing to speak at length about interesting topics instead of chopping everything up into bite-sized conversational nuggets, and they prepare for their program mainly by not over-preparing.
Moreover, they take pride in being the rare male-male combo on adult contemporary radio, as evidenced by their slogan, "The Boyz in the Morning."
This hasn't always been the case for Testa. He's spent the lion's share of his 25 years-plus at the Mix opposite a female co-host — first Jo Myers and then Jane London, with whom he teamed for fifteen years prior to her 2014 retirement. But he's been working with Padgett for nearly as long (he joined the show as a producer in 2004), and as you'll learn from the following in-depth conversation about their lives, loves and careers, they fit together very well.
See what we mean below.
Westword: Dom, could you tell us a little bit about your background?
Dom Testa: I was an Air Force brat growing up, so I moved every couple of years. I don't know if it was because of that or what, but I was a very shy kid. Still to this day, I'm an introvert. But I would listen to the radio like most kids, and while I loved the music, I was really intrigued by the people on the radio. I thought they had the coolest job ever. So when I was sixteen, still as a pretty shy kid, I actually walked into a radio station and asked for a job.
Dom: It was a station down in west Texas. My dad was stationed at an Air Force base at the time down in Abilene, a town of about 100,000 people. I walked in and said, "I'd love to have a job," and they essentially said, "You start Saturday." They were so hard up for people that they would take a squeaky voiced sixteen-year-old and throw him on the radio. So I started that long ago.
In the mid-’80s, I took a job here in Denver at Y-108. It was a hot rockin', flame-throwin' Top 40 radio station — one of those old-school Top 40 stations with the jingles and and high-powered disc jockeys. We gave away loads of money, and it was a blast — so much fun. And it taught me so much about the business.
In early 1993, I came over here to Mix 100 and started doing the morning show — although at the time, it was called Magic 100. I started mornings in January of ’93, and I've been hanging out ever since.
I'm sure you know from watching folks come and go at stations across the metro area how rare it is for someone to be in one place for 25 years. Are you grateful that you've been able to stick around Mix for so long?
Dom: Every day. I'm one of those people who "does their gratefuls" every day. That's how I use my drives to work — just to go through everything that I'm grateful for. And I never miss being grateful for this opportunity. I've been fortunate to have a great job, but also, it's a job where we have a great time. It's so much fun. I know I'm blessed, so I never take it for granted.
In the early 2000s, Jeremy came on board. And Jeremy, you can tell your story.
Please. What's your background, Jeremy?
Jeremy Padgett: I'm a Colorado boy. I went to Bear Creek High School and went to CU for a little while before finishing up over at Metro State, where I got my degree in communications and broadcasting. I always thought I'd go into something theater-related or TV-related.
We've told the story many times on the air about how I got into Mix. It was right after college in 2004. My then-girlfriend, who's my wife now, was a big fan of the Dom and Jane show here on Mix 100, and they happened to have a job opening as a technical producer. She heard about it on the air and encouraged me to apply for the job, so I did. And the fun backstory to that is, there was a concert every year that Dom and Jane put on called the Free Summer Concert, and she had gone to that concert and met Dom and Jane. [To Dom:] How did it transpire that you gave her a kiss?
Dom: I saw her sitting there. It was at Clement Park, and there were about 5,000 people just spread out on blankets. We were walking through the crowd greeting people, and this lovely blond woman was sitting there by herself. I couldn't help asking her, "What are you doing here by yourself?" And she said, "My boyfriend wouldn't come with me." [Jeremy laughs.] And I said, "Well, let's take a picture to show him," and I had somebody take a picture of me kissing her on the cheek. I said, "Send that to your boyfriend and that will show him he shouldn't make you have to sit out here all by yourself ever again." And that turned out to be Jeremy.
Jeremy: I ended up applying for the job and showed them the photo, so it was sort of a laugh. I actually ended up getting into the radio business because of my wife and the morning show she listened to on Mix. I've been here ever since. You were talking about the rarity of Dom being in the business for so long and at the same location. I feel very lucky that my first radio gig out of college was here at Mix. Fourteen years later, here I am. It's a little proof that hard work, dedication, showing up every day and doing your job the best way you can pays off. And now my name's on the show with Dom's.
Dom: He slips us a few bucks.
Jeremy: Yeah, a couple of bucks here and there [laughs].
Jeremy, are you still bitterly resentful of that photo after all these years?
Dom: I'll tell you what — his wife is a great kisser.
Jeremy: Stop it! [Laughs.]
Dom, how has Mix changed over the quarter-century you've been at the station? How has the music changed, and how has the format of the show changed?
When I started, we were very much a typical adult-contemporary station. Back then, that meant we played a lot of Michael Bolton and Gloria Estefan and Celine Dion and that kind of stuff. For a while in the mid-1990s, they flipped the format to an all-’70s format, which was a horrendous idea. That probably lasted a year and a half or two years at the most. It was a long two years. And then we flipped back to more of a Hot AC format, as it's known. I think that was ’97 or so. So it's been about twenty years that we've done Mix 100.
Mix plays a lot of contemporary hit music now. I would guess you skew younger than a lot of AC stations.
Dom: It's surprising. We actually have a pretty good blend of younger and older listeners. I think the music does attract some of the younger listeners, but the personality style of the radio station lures an older audience. If you want to just get the young, hip music, you can get that almost anywhere. But as far as the talk content, there's not a lot of choices for that. The blend of contemporary hit music with more of an older-demo conversational style has actually created a pretty hip formula for us. We have strong adult numbers that range from eighteen-year-olds to sixty-year-olds, and that's pretty rare.
Jeremy, how would you describe the conversational style you have with Dom? What balance do you try to strike? What's a topic that exemplifies what you do? And what's a topic you'd probably steer clear of?
Jeremy: I kind of hate the term "family friendly" sometimes, but I think we are more of a family morning show. We tend to tiptoe around things that are more PG-13. I think we do that really well — where the moms and the dads know what we're getting at but the kids don't necessarily know. I think there's a great balance on the show.
Going back to those demographics, there's a little bit of an age difference between Dom and I. Dom does a great job of covering people that are in that older demo, while I'm covering a lot of the family topics. How much money should the Tooth Fairy leave, or how to stop thumb-sucking — things like that. I think Dom's the more logical straight man on the show, whereas I provide maybe a little more of the sarcasm. A little bit of the seasoning when it comes to the laughs and the humor. Dom's more straight, I'm more goofy.
How would you describe your family situations, since it is such a family show?
Dom: I'm a newlywed. I just got married in September. I have a grown son from my first marriage. He's a freelance writer here in Denver. But we're essentially empty-nesters, my new wife and me. And Jeremy is on the opposite side of the spectrum.
Jeremy: I'm full on into T-ball lessons and swimming lessons and carpool lanes. I've been married for quite a while, and we have two kiddos — one boy who is seven and one girl who is three.
That means you're dealing with hands-on parenting right now, Jeremy. Is that something a lot of your listeners can relate to?
Jeremy: I would think so. I get a lot of emails and Facebook messages on the relatability of some of the topics we talk about. We've talked about how I want to put speed bumps in my neighborhood, because I'm sick of people driving so fast. I think a lot of our families and a lot of our parents can definitely relate to our morning show.
Dom: While the audience does stretch from eighteen or twenty to 55 or sixty, there's no doubt that our core listening audience is in the mid-thirties to mid-forties. That's smack-dab in the middle of parenthood. I think that's why they can relate to both sides. Some of the younger thirties or forties are experiencing what Jeremy is experiencing right now, and some of the people who are in the late forties or into their fifties have kids who have flown the coop, like me. We kind of reach both of those demographics.
The radio business has changed a great deal over recent years, and some folks feel that terrestrial radio is on the way out. Your popularity belies that theory. Do you feel that the audience is as large as it's ever been in part because you're gaining listeners online who might not even live in the Denver area?
Dom: The whole death of terrestrial radio idea is something we've been hearing for at least fifteen years. But a study I read showed that radio is reaching more people than just about anything, whether it's cable, television, podcasts. There are still something like 94 percent of people every week who are accessing radio. So I feel like it's still as strong as ever. And the point that you made about listenership from other places: We will get emails and Facebook messages from people who are listening all over the world. We have a regular listener from Australia who listens every day. We hear from people in Europe.
Jeremy: We're keeping up with the technology trend, too. We have so many podcasts — clips and bits from our show. We can see where those are being downloaded and listened to, and they're from all over the world. And then there are people with Amazon Echo devices. When you're sitting at your desk, it's easier than ever to say "Play Mix 100," and boom, you're there.
Jeremy, one of the things you guys can do that a syndicated show can't is to be very specific about things happening in Denver in a very timely manner. How important is that?
Jeremy: I think it's very important to keep it local. We do a trending report every day, where we cover all the Hollywood nonsense that goes on. But many times we'll start the trending report with things that are going on locally, whether it be concerts or the Powerball jackpot. When the Mega Millions jackpot was so big, we took calls where people gave us numbers, and we went down to the local Lotto office and picked the numbers. So I think it's incredibly important to stay local. What do you think about that, Dom?
Dom: I'm kind of an outlier about that. I know it's always banged into our heads to stay local, local, local, and I think we do a pretty good job of it. But at the same time, I feel the topics we cover are so evergreen — and I'm not talking about the town. They're the kinds of topics that people can relate to anywhere. So I'm actually grateful that we're able to do a show that works for Denver, because we drop in enough local flavor, but that also isn't just confined to Denver — that the things we talk about will resonate with someone who is a thousand miles away or 10,000 miles away. We like to talk about things in life, and in our personal lives, that people can relate to. So I get the local angle, but I kind of wonder sometimes if local media companies don't put too much stock in that. Good content is good content, and I don't think it really matters where you are. I guess I'm kind of in the middle about that.
Speaking of personal topics, have there ever been times where one of you has talked about something on the air, and in the middle of it, you've thought, "That's too much information"?
Jeremy: That comes up, but we do a pretty job of non-verbally looking at each other and kind of cutting each other off.
I think the classic story for me was, we had two really good friends named Erin and Jason. We did everything with these guys, and we found out that she was pregnant. They'd been trying for a really long time and it finally happened. And me, being kind of selfish, was like, "Man, we're going to lose our best friends. Now that she's pregnant, all they're going to be doing is baby stuff." This was before we had kids, my wife and I. So I went on the air and was kind of lamenting, "We're losing our friends, because she's pregnant now."
Well, it turns out that they hadn't even had a chance to tell their parents yet. Their parents heard it on the air, and, man, did I get into big trouble for spilling the beans.
Dom, have there been any moments like that for you?
Dom: There have, but it's been a while. Over the last several years, I've almost cultivated more of a man-of-mystery approach to what's going on. I've kept a lot of my private life private, and I do that sometimes just to create an aura on the show. So many listeners were flabbergasted when I got married. They had no idea, and I'd been dating my wife for four or five years. We talked about that a little bit before — probably three or four months before we got married, we talked about it a little bit.
Jeremy: Dom's nickname is "The Vault." He's the Vault down here. He keeps all his personal stuff fairly locked up. And you're always able to tell Dom a secret or something personal, because he'll keep it locked up. That's right! He's the Vault around here.
Dom: Tell me anything you want, it will go no further. But if you want a juicy story about this.... Part of my hesitation to share too much is that I used to be like Jeremy, in that I talked about everything at all times. And then I started running into listeners who were a little too intrigued by my personal life, to the point where, a couple of times, the police had to get involved. So I kind of pulled back a little bit. When a listener literally follows you home and rings your doorbell, it wakes you up to how scary it can be. Part of it is for fun, to have the man-of-mystery aura. But I also don't want any more police cruisers outside my door.
Dom, in addition to your work on the radio, you're a very prolific author. Can you talk about that part of your life?
Dom: I've been writing since I was a kid, but like a lot of people, I was worried that nobody would ever like it. I kept it all to myself and never showed anyone. But I also would go to schools — and I still speak at schools a lot, and I do writing workshops and work with students on writing. And one time, a teacher asked me if I had ever published a book for kids. I said, "No, but I could." That ended up leading to a six-book series that was published by Tor/Macmillan in New York. It was pretty successful for me, and that only made me kick myself for waiting so long to do that.
Now I have some fiction, some nonfiction. I write for kids, I write for adults. I write under various pen names so it doesn't get too confusing, and it's been a blast.
Over the next year, I'm going to be trying to help other people who want to get published. I'm putting together a little organization called Big Fat Words. Big Fat Words will be a place online where people can learn how to take their writing and do something with it, whether they want to publish it independently or try to find an agent. It's my way of giving back. I waited so long to try this, and there are a lot of people who want to do something with their words, but they don't know how. So I'm going to try to give back.
You mentioned earlier that your son is a freelance writer. Is he a good example of someone who just went out there and did it rather than worrying if his writing was good enough?
Dom: Yeah. He writes under the name Charlie Keaton, and he's a shining star, I think. He's the best writer in the family, there's no doubt. He's made me so proud. I never really encouraged him to do it. He just did it on his own. He had the get-up-and-go to get started. He's started to do some travel writing, which makes me hate him. He just got back from a little trip to the Carolinas, where they put him up for three or four days and took him to this resort and spoiled him crazy just so he can write an 800-word piece on it. I said, "I hate you right now."
What's the connection between the words you say on the air and the words you put on the page?
Dom: That's a good question. It's obviously a different form. But everything I've done in my life that's brought me any kind of income has involved words, whether it's talking on the radio or speaking on stage as a professional speaker or writing. Everything in my life has revolved around words.
I think I've started blurring the lines between what I've talked about on the radio and my writing, because the nonfiction I've been crafting is so much more personal — kind of like just chatting on the radio — and I've enjoyed it more. I still enjoy writing fiction, but the nonfiction allows all of us, I think, to maybe be a little more personal.
Jeremy is also a writer. Jeremy has contributed a regular column to Colorado Parent magazine, which obviously is nonfiction also. He's writing columns based around his personal life as a parent. And Jeremy, I think you'd probably agree that when you're writing something like that, there's not a huge distinction between the words that come out on the radio and the words that spill onto the paper.
Jeremy: No, I'd agree. I think being on the radio has helped me step into the writing. My writing is very conversational, so a lot of times, when I'm writing, I kind of feel like I do when I'm talking on the air. They kind of morph into each other. A lot of times I'll write something and then come into the station and say, "Hey, this would be a great show topic." So we'll actually take the writing and turn it into a funny bit on the show that everybody can enjoy.
How do you guys go about planning your show? Do you plan in advance the subjects you're going to touch on during the show? Or is there a lot of spontaneity?
Dom: We're going to give away one of our secrets that I truly believe has made us a successful show: We don't talk about our topics for the show in advance very much at all. We will basically come up with an idea. It sometimes can be just a sentence. And we'll even tell each other, "Don't say anything else. Let's not talk about this anymore." We just jot it down in our planner, and when we open up the mics and start talking about it, we've never talked about it before. So everything is spontaneous and fresh.
The best example I can give is a group of friends going out to a happy hour and laughing it up and having the time of their lives. But if they try to re-create that the next day, it will fall completely flat. It's not fresh anymore. Been there, done that. So we don't want to rehearse or talk too much about it. We want everything to kind of explode naturally out of the radio. And that, I am convinced, has led to the funniest moments on the show, because we have no idea what the other person is going to say or do.
Jeremy: I completely agree. The two words that stuck out there were "natural" and "fresh." And it is. There's something about hearing about it for the first time and not having a script in front of you — not going, "Okay, you say this and then I'll say that." There's none of that. And it bleeds over to our callers, too. We don't record any of our callers who come in. The producer puts up like a sentence on the screen of what they're going to talk about, but that's all we know. So our callers are spontaneous, too, and we have a blast, because we don't know what they're going to say to us.
Dom: I've had more friends who work at other stations, including other morning shows, that, when they find out we do all of our calls live, have their minds blown. Because they're not allowed to do that. They have to record everything and edit it and add in a laugh or a uh-huh.
Jeremy: It seems like so much work! [Laughs.]
Obviously you guys know each other very well at this point. Jeremy, how often does what Dom says surprise you, and how often do you surprise him with your take on a subject?
Jeremy: Occasionally I'll say something where I'll get an honest-to-goodness reaction from Dom. Like, "I can't believe you said that" or "Should we have said that?" (Laughs.) But I don't know if I get a lot of surprises listening to Dom necessarily, because we know what our styles are like as individuals.
Dom: I do think we can surprise each other with a specific angle, but I agree with that. I don't think we surprise each other that much. We just enjoy laughing with each other.
Jeremy: We do. There's so much crazy-good chemistry. We can play off each other so much. We'll get ourselves in tears a lot of times on the air from laughing.
Dom: The fact that we have kind of an organic chemistry together is also a huge advantage over shows at other stations where people are put together. Like, "You two people are now going to work together. Go make it work and be funny." That's really difficult, especially since there's a template for morning radio that other stations use and that we just don't subscribe to. I don't want to say we're completely different, because a lot of things we do are like other shows. But the template for doing morning radio is very confining and makes me gag.
Our company trusts us enough to say, "Just go do the show. All we ask is that you deliver ratings. If you don't deliver ratings, we'll go and find somebody else." But they never come in and say, "This is how we want you to do this. We want you to talk about this. Do it this way." They never do that, and that's another thing I'm grateful for. We have a lot of freedom on our show. We know who the audience is and who we should be trying to attract. But other than that, we're given complete freedom, and that's a huge blessing.
What's an example of something stereotypical most morning shows would do that you guys don't do?
Dom: One example is the amount of time we're allowed to pursue a subject. Morning radio is rampant with a rulebook that says, "Talk about this for no more than ninety seconds. And from the time you open that mic to the time you go into another song, it better not last more than three minutes, because the average person can't blah, blah, blah, blah." But there have been times when we've opened the mic and it's been seventeen, eighteen, nineteen minutes, which all the rulebooks say is going to make you come in dead last.
Jeremy: Which hasn't happened.
Dom: The chemistry has to be right. Podcasts — when they first came out, everybody said podcasts had to be three or four minutes, max. But now we have these long-form podcasts that have surprised so many "broadcasting experts," because they're two, three, four hours long. People want long-form if it's entertaining or interesting long-form.
Jeremy, do you think that when you guys talk about a subject for longer than most stations would allow, those are some of the times you connect most with listeners?
Jeremy: I would think so. If I look at it from an outsider's perspective and I'm driving into work and I have a ten- or fifteen-minute commute, I'd rather listen to a couple of personalities talk about something interesting than hear a song for the fifteenth time. I'd rather hear the story, hear something I've never heard before.
This is my first radio gig, but we have other sister stations here. And one thing we do here — Dom talks about this a lot — is we leave our door open to the studio. A lot of the other morning shows or other people who are on the air, they shut that door and they're in their own little bubble, whereas we like to keep our studio door open, because if there's something going on in the hall or a client walks by, you name it, we may pull them onto the show. It gives the show that organic feeling — like, there are no rules, and you get a little behind-the-scenes look at what goes on at a radio station. I don't really hear other shows doing that — leaving the door to the studio open so that you can hear what's going on outside.
We've already established that radio's death has been greatly exaggerated. What do you guys see as the future of your collaboration at the Mix?
Dom: I know that we would both like to take a little more advantage of the tech opportunities that broadcasters have these days — reaching more people through other platforms. That's for sure. Personally on the show, we're both going through life changes, as Jeremy's kids get closer to high school and beyond and me settling into married life, the amount of material we have will only grow. For us, I think the biggest challenge will be finding ways of expanding beyond Mix 100. We already have with podcasts, but I think there are probably other opportunities as well — and I know our company would support that.
Jeremy: I would agree. I don't want to give too much away, but I think a lot of the future is in video. So a little more video on social media, a little more live-cam stuff, things of that nature.
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We also go by "Your Boyz in the Morning," which is fun.
Dom: That's something against the rules, too. Before Jeremy, I had female partners on the air for years: Jo Myers back in the ’90s, Jane London in the 2000s. But when it just became Jeremy and me, there was concern about, "Oh, my. How are you going to attract that adult female audience if you don't have a woman on the show?" But instead of trying to hide from the fact or sneak it by the listeners, I said, "Let's put it in everyone's face. We'll just identify as your boys in the morning." And since we've done that, our female numbers have actually gone up considerably, so we are now consistently the number-one adult female morning show in Denver.
That, again, is flying in the face of the rulebook, the idea that every morning radio show targeting females has to have a man and a woman: Bob and Lucy, Tom and Teri, Dom and Jane. It doesn't have to be that way. I think people, including adult women, just want to be entertained, and I don't think they care if it's a man and a woman or two women or two guys. And the whole "Boyz in the Morning" thing — and that's boys with a z — has taken off, so that it's parroted back to us by all the women who call in. They will say, "How are my boyz?"
Jeremy: Or write in "Boyz," with, like, nineteen Zs after it. So it seems to be working.