The past few months have been insane for the new KS 107.5 morning-show combo of Tony V, Cedes and DJ Chonz. But the story behind their radio team-up is even crazier, as is clear from the following three-way interview, in which they tell the highly unusual tale in greater detail than ever before.
To set the scene: In March, Entercom, KS 107.5's owner, canceled the a.m. program starring Kathie and Larry J, which had been a ratings blockbuster for well over a decade, because of a contract dispute. (Larry and Kathie J have since resurfaced as the stars of Blazin' Hit Radio, an online station sponsored by the Green Solution chain of marijuana dispensaries.) After the hammer dropped, DJ Chonz had the idea of combining forces with fellow KS 107.5 vets Tony V and Cedes to fill the void. But there were complications. For one thing, neither he nor Cedes were on staff at the time — and she was actually living in San Diego. And while Tony V was still on the station's payroll, he thought there was no way in hell Chonz could pull off the scheme. After all, management creates new morning shows at big-time signals, not the employees.
How did they convince the powers-that-be to give them a shot? They explain that and a lot more in the following Q&A.
Westword: Let's start with all three of you talking a little bit about your background and how you got to this point in your career.
DJ Chonz: T's the O.G., so he gets to start.
Tony V: I started working for KS 107.5 in 1996, so I'm going on 21 years in October. Started out doing voices on KDKO-AM for the night guy. KDKO was the station Dr. Daddio owned. I got a gig with him. I worked there for a couple of years. Then I got a job at KS-104, which became KS-107.5, and I basically did every single shift. But everything started out for me just doing voices.
What kind of voices? Were you doing impressions?
Tony V: Yeah, voice impressions. The most famous one was Manuel the Crazy Mexican: "Hey, vato! The car show's coming to town, and we're all going to be there and have a good time!"
Today, we'd call that politically incorrect.
Tony V: Yes, but I did other voices as well, and it caught the attention of the owner, and I ended up doing general radio because of that. I was the sidekick to the night guy, George Martinez, and then he left and I took over nights there — seven to midnight, Monday through Friday.
What are the different slots you've been in at KS?
Tony V: I started out with promotions, and then I did weekends and late nights ten to two. Then I went straight to mid-days and did that for about seventeen or eighteen years. Then I got afternoons last year, and this is our first morning-show stint.
DJ Chonz: I'll go next. You were one of my first interviews back in the 1990s — not to date myself or anything like that [laughs]. It's an honor to be in the game for so long. When you first interviewed me, I was doing the mixtape game and trying to break into radio. And then I got the opportunity to do a little bit of Internet radio —which, who ever knew was going to be so big? And of course we did the 88.5 thing on KGNU, on the Eclipse show that still exists, with Chris Nathan. On that show, I was just a DJ. I would mix records and play. And then in 2001, we got the opportunity, with Kingdom and Francois [Baptiste], to do the mixtape show on KS-107.5, which was on Sunday nights. It was similar to Eclipse, but on a major scale. After that, I got asked to do more mixing, which is what I did on the weekends — mixing on the weekends on KS-107.5. That transitioned into doing the Five O'Clock Traffic Jam, which was the first live mixing in drive time ever done in Denver on commercial radio — with actual vinyl at the time. That entailed me getting a lot of exposure talking on the mic, which I had no interest in whatsoever....
So you not only hadn't ever thought about talking on the radio, but you didn't really want to do it? Is that right?
DJ Chonz: That's right. I started really talking more when I started mixing live at five o'clock, when the host was Lucas. I started conversing with him, and the program director at the time liked the conversations we were having, so he invited me to stay longer to stay on his show and carry over into the night show. That's when I started talking more — when I got paid for talking on the radio, too.
Did you get to the point where you enjoyed talking? Or did you feel, "I'd rather just be mixing"?
DJ Chonz: I was just trying to figure it out. I didn't really understand it and all that went behind being a personality on the radio. I was just concerned about the music. That was my forte, coming from the clubs and the mixtape era.
How about you, Cedes?
Cedes: I'm from San Diego, California. That's where I started my radio career. I've been in radio since 2005. I was a traffic reporter for iHeartMedia, which was Clear Channel at the time, and I went from being a traffic reporter to a night-show co-host on Channel 933 in San Diego. From there I got the call to come do nights in Denver in 2010. I took over the night show and stayed here for five and a half years, and then I went back last year to San Diego and did a mid-day show for Jam'n 95.7, which is a new hip-hop station in San Diego.
Why did you go back to San Diego? Was it about the opportunities there, or the lack of opportunities here?
Cedes: When I left, there was no progression at the time for me to move forward. When I left, I had no job lined up at all. So I kind of took a leap of faith and said, "I'll figure it out once I get there." Once I got there, they were getting ready to start this new station. I thought, this is the perfect time for me to hop on it, and they ended up giving me the mid-day show. And then I moved back here at the end of May.
What were the circumstances behind your getting called back to Colorado?
Cedes: I'm definitely going to let Chonz tell the story, because he was the mastermind behind that whole situation and all of us getting to that point.
So what's the mastermind story?
DJ Chonz: We all had shows together at one time. Me and Cedes actually worked together for four years, and Tony and I, when there was a position open for afternoons, I was his co-host, too. So I worked with both of them, and I knew we had chemistry. I didn't know the whole ordeal of the other morning show or their contract negotiations; I didn't know they weren't going to be available.
How did you find out about it?
DJ Chonz: A week prior to everything coming out, I saw the general manager, Amy [Griesheimer], at a gig I was doing up at AmeriStar, and I said we should get together — because I wasn't working at the radio station. And she said, "Yeah, we should do that," but I didn't hear from her for a while. Then, that following Friday, they let go of the morning show, which I didn't know was going to happen — and I received a phone call to have lunch with her the following week.
When that happened, I knew there might be opportunities, because there were going to be vacancies. Of course, no one wants to take their friends' job, but it's going to be somebody. And I had this idea. I thought, Tony's well known, Cedes is well known. How about we put the three of us together to do a show? I thought that would be something recognizable to the city of Denver. It wouldn't be as much of a blow as if you brought a whole different cast — and it would be really relatable to what's going down in the city. And that's what I proposed to her that day.
She hadn't given any thought to combining the three of you for the morning show before then? You introduced the idea to her?
DJ Chonz: Absolutely.
Did she immediately spark to the idea? Or did she take some convincing?
DJ Chonz: She thought the concept was interesting. And of course, that's cool, but they needed some proof that the three of us had chemistry together, and I think that was the deciding factor — when we created a demo to play for programming here at KS-107.5 to see if the idea had any legs and if it could move. We didn't have the basic nuts and bolts of it yet, but we showed what we would sound like if we got a show.
Since you'd worked together before, did your chemistry come together pretty easily?
DJ Chonz: We did the demo in one take. We conversed for fifteen minutes and did three segments. We did other takes with different personalities leading the conversation — like Cedes would lead the conversation or I would lead the conversation. But it naturally came to Tony being the lead. Since he could dictate the conversation, it only seemed right that he should be the quarterback of the show. So we did that one take, and that's all they really needed to hear from us.
So once they heard the demo, they were sold?
Tony V: They called us twenty minutes after the fact. They said they wanted to hear more. Cedes was actually flown in to cut the demo tape. She hung out for a while and we cut the tape. We were supposed to submit it on Monday, but we submitted it on Friday, and we got the call twenty minutes later.
But the unique part of all this was getting everyone together. We weren't so sure about it, but Chonz was like, "Let's do this! We're going to make this happen!"
DJ Chonz: Cedes was already committed to her radio show in San Diego. She'd just gotten back home, just gotten settled in, and it took a lot of twisting her arm to get her back in Denver. From the beaches to snow.
Cedes, were you under contract at the station in San Diego? And was it kind of tricky to get back to Colorado?
Cedes: It was extremely tricky. It turned into a buyout situation. I had a blast working for iHeartMedia, which is a huge company. But I think everybody in radio wants to be able to put mornings under their belt in their career, and when something like that aligns itself, I had to twist some arms in higher management to make it happen. But it ended up working in my favor.
How well did you guys know Larry and Kathie J? And given how successful their show was in the ratings, were you surprised by what happened?
Tony V: We knew them very well. Actually, KS-107.5 has always prided itself on everyone considering everyone family, so we were in constant communication with them. And when the idea for the new show happened, we let them know this was something we were interested in, and they had no problems with it. As far as us talking to them and not even having to ask for permission, but just being respectful, they said it was a no-brainer — and they loved the idea as well.
Was there any nervousness about following a show that had been so successful for so long? Or were you so confident in the combination of you three that you knew it was going to work?
Cedes: I think there was a sense of confidence because we've known each other for so long. We really didn't stress the little things. We know how each other operates. So there was a sense of calm. You see a lot of morning shows, and two people come in — two people who don't know each other, have never been around each other, don't know each other's habits. And when that happens, it takes a long time to get to know that other person. But we all know each other.
The three of you have been in the radio business for a long time, so you've got to know how rare it is for the idea of a new morning show to come from the talent as opposed to someone in management saying, "I'm going to put this person together with that person." Do you know of another morning show that's ever come together quite like this?
DJ Chonz: I don't off the top of my head.
Tony V: I don't, either. The story's so unique that Chonz even had to convince me. That's one of the things that happened. Chonz had been gone for a year, Cedes had been gone for a year and a half. So for him to even say, "Let's do this," I was like, "Our company's going through so many changes, and I don't really understand what you're doing, bro. I don't think it's going to happen." And he basically sent me a text that said, "Are you freakin' in or not?" And finally I said, "Screw it. Let's do this." And when I heard the tape after we'd completed it, I knew we had gold. I said, "We are going to get this job. And if we don't, we'll get a job somewhere else." So plan B had already come into place right when we'd made that tape.
How did the audience react in the beginning? And how has the reaction evolved over the past few months?
DJ Chonz: We addressed what had happened right away. We said we knew that we were replacing legends in the game and we had nothing but respect for them. So I think people embraced that and figured we were very humble about the position. And in the beginning, we maybe got one phone call from someone who disapproved of us. But we didn't get any other phone calls whatsoever from people saying they didn't like our show. Now, social media is a different thing, because everyone has a voice — and people may have taken a jab here or there. But now, in our conversations on social media, you don't find any negative comments whatsoever about our show.
Tony V: To add to that, the one person who called to complain actually called us back to give us props after he listened to one of our shows.
How long was it between the calls?
DJ Chonz: I think it was about a month and a half. We talked about a subject and it touched him, and he gave us props for going there. He said, "I was a non-believer and you guys won me over."
How would you describe your approach to the show and how it might be different from the way Larry and Kathie J did it?
Tony V: We talk about everything and we go everywhere. Now, I'm not saying they didn't do that, but we're not afraid to make fun of ourselves, and make fun of each other. We can call ourselves out, and call each other out, in the name of comedy or entertainment, and we're not afraid to...
DJ Chonz: ...to address our flaws.
Tony V: Right. And our listeners identify with that, because to them, that's keeping it real.
DJ Chonz: Like I said before, social media has a big voice, and early on, the people who didn't like us and didn't go through the phone lines — if they sent us a text message or something like that — we'd actually read that on the air and address it. We let everybody hear that this listener disapproved of us. We showed that we're going to take that, that we know there's going to be good and bad.
Did you get any pushback from management about that?
DJ Chonz: No, they embraced it. They embraced us doing that. Because it's fact. It's not like we're going to hide anything, sweep anything underneath the rug.
Has it also helped that all three of you are very much in touch with Denver and have a real feel for the city?
Cedes: I think that played a huge part. Being from the city always helps. Both Tony and Chonz are from here, and for me, I spent five and a half years here, and it's definitely a home away from home. So I think that definitely plays a part. People feel they can trust us.
You're just at the beginning of the show — but do you feel it's changed at all since you started out?
Tony V: I think there's been a continuous evolution since day one. We knew that day ninety was going to be different from day one. So we embrace the change and know we're going to evolve together. But because we know we have this chemistry, like Cedes said before, it's something not very many morning shows are able to kick off with. So we feel like we're already off and running because we have that foundation.
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What are your goals? Where do you see the show going?
DJ Chonz: We just want to keep changing with the city. The city's changing so much. It's great that Tony and I have been here for our whole life, and Cedes has been here for a good chunk of her career. But at the same time, there are so many new people coming here, and we're reintroducing ourselves to all these new people moving into the market. So we're trying to adapt to the ever-changing landscape of the city. It's good to have our roots here, and we're sure people here appreciate that. But we also have to respect the fact that so many new people are moving into the area. That's why we're trying to evolve every day with ever-changing Denver.
Denver has become a lot more diverse over the past twenty years or so. Does that make what you're doing even more exciting?
DJ Chonz: Definitely. It creates more opportunity. Diversity creates opportunity for our radio show, for our program. When I started, Denver was market 22 in the country. Now we're market 18, and I can see it getting into the top fifteen. Imagine a street kid, which is where I come from, being on that kind of platform. And Tony's background, and Cedes's, too, is similar. That's why being on this platform is so incredible.