Back in October, when we interviewed Fox radio personality Rick Lewis roughly two years after the departure of his longtime partner, Michael Floorwax, because of health issues, Lewis said he had some major new opportunities in the works, and he wasn't exaggerating.
First came the chance to partner with Dave Logan, longtime voice of the Denver Broncos, to call the Broncos-Jaguars game for KOA last month. And now the two are teaming more permanently, for Lewis & Logan, which airs weekday afternoons on KOA, at 850 AM and 94.1 FM.
But that doesn't mean Lewis is leaving the Fox, a KOA sister station that's also part of the iHeart Media cluster in Denver. Instead, he's continuing to helm The Rick Lewis Show each weekday morning at the Fox's 103.5 FM broadcasting home. As such, he's starring in two of the most high-profile programs in Mile High City radio five days a week — a schedule that's unprecedented in recent local media history. And Kathy Lee, his longtime Fox sidekick, and other key members of the Fox morning team are coming along for the ride.
The move makes sense for iHeart Media. Until recently, Logan had been heard during a mid-morning slot on Denver Sports 760, at 760 AM — too small a platform for a star of his magnitude. But if putting the two radio celebs together on Denver's most iconic and powerful signal seems ideal from a business perspective, the concept places incredible demands on Lewis, and after week one of the new show, he admits that he's still getting acclimated to the grind. But he's also thrilled by the results thus far (even if the show has admittedly freaked out some longtime KOA listeners) and is confident that the formula will only grow more potent with time.
Below, check out our interview with Lewis, conducted yesterday between his Fox and KOA shows — and right before he took a well-deserved nap.
Westword: Has management arranged to have a giant, Scarface-sized pile of cocaine to be on your desk at all times in order to give you enough energy to do both of these shows?
Rick Lewis: That's what it was like in the ’80s, when I first started in radio. I'm serious. At the first big rock station I worked at in Los Angeles — KMET, it's a legendary station — they had a KMET "blow mirror" right there in the studio. When they gave me my tour, they said, "Here's the KMET blow mirror. Hear's where you put all your roaches. And if you want to do any hard drugs, you've got to go in this room."
I was shocked. I was like, "Wow, this is what it's like in the big time!"
It's different today?
It's definitely different today, especially at KOA. And it's been an adjustment. We just finished our first week of shows, and it was a little more difficult than I thought it was going to be, just trying to get a schedule down. For me, I still like going to the gym, I practice my drums, I ride my motorcycle. These are the things that make me me, and I'm having a hard time finding time for that now.
I think there will be an adjustment period. I was dragging all last week, but by the time I got to Friday, I turned the corner, and today I feel really good. So I think it's just going to take some time to get the new schedule down.
When we spoke last year, you talked about some things in the works. Clearly, this was a big one. When was the two-show concept first discussed, and what was your response to it?
This was one of the things I was referring to, and it's probably been in the works since we talked. Tim Hager, our market president, called me into his office and kind of surprised me. This isn't something I'd been asking for or wanted to do. He called me into his office and said, "I've got an idea. What do you think about doing an afternoon show on KOA along with your morning show?" It surprised me, and we talked about it for a while, and about the huge potential this show has — and I committed to doing it.
We had other pieces of the puzzle to put together. Dave Logan, it was originally going to be him and me, for sure. But then we had to put together the rest of the team. First, there was Kathy Lee, and then Robbyn Hart. She's doing news on the new show. And then Dragon Redbeard. All three of them are on my morning show, and we brought them aboard because that's the kind of show they wanted on KOA. They wanted the same kind of show we're doing in the morning on the Fox to be on KOA in the afternoon, but with Dave Logan, someone who's been on KOA for twenty years and who everybody is familiar with, and who everybody loves. It was too good an opportunity to pass up.
Dave had most recently been on 760, which doesn't have nearly as powerful a signal as KOA does. Did management want to get him back on KOA but needed to find a way to do it so that it would work for today's radio audiences?
That I don't know, although Tim Hager kept saying, as he was thinking about this and talking to people that he trusts — he said it kept coming back that "the two biggest names we've got in the building, and two of the biggest names in the market, are Rick Lewis and Dave Logan." I don't know if that's true, but he keeps saying it. He said, "Everywhere I go, people ask me about Rick Lewis and Dave Logan. So I started thinking about it, and it just made a lot of sense to put you guys together. The potential for ad revenue and ratings is huge." And I think he's right.
There was never a conversation about you leaving the Fox morning show, which has been so successful for so long, and having you devote yourself entirely to the afternoon show?
Not at all. In fact, Tim joked, "You know, Rick, you're going to do the Fox morning show until you die." And then he laughed — kind of a sardonic laugh. And I said, "Um, yeah. I don't know if I like the way you put that, but yeah." [Lewis laughs.] In other words, the Fox morning show is a huge success. The revenues and ratings are great. There's no end in sight for the Fox morning show.
For me, doing both shows isn't something I think I could do for ten years. But I can certainly do it for a while.
A lot of listeners don't realize that there's a lot of prep time before radio shows. Most people can't just go on the air and wing it. Did you balk at all when you thought about how much time it would take to put together two separate shows every day?
It scared me a little bit at first. The same with Kathy Lee. We were both a little afraid about how this was going to work out. I admit that. But as far as prep time goes, when they told me they wanted the morning show on in the afternoon, that eliminated most of the prep for me, because I'd already done it all. When I do my morning-show prep now, I'll check off some stories or ideas or topics that I think will work on KOA as well or even separately. So that hasn't been a problem for me.
We really have a free-form show in the morning, and now we have a free-form show in the afternoon. We're just talking. We're three people talking on KOA about what we're interested in and talking about things everybody wants to talk about. So the prep work hasn't been a challenge for me. The challenge for me has been the energy brain-drain of talking for seven hours a day on the radio.
People who read that probably go, "I work twelve hours a day roofing houses." That's way harder work than doing radio. But it's still a kind of brain drain, where you just feel brain-dead. And you wouldn't know until you do it. I have total respect for people who work ten- or twelve-hour days, and I'm not even relating it to that. But there's a feel when you're brain-dead of having nothing left to say, nothing left to talk about. I'll come home at night after the KOA show, and I've got nothing. My wife might want to start talking to me about her day, and I've got nothing left — and I'll go to bed.
So the first week has been a little tough for me. It's eliminated the whole rest of my life. I'm going to find a way to adjust to that and get back to doing some of the things I do so I can stay fresh, stay healthy. Going to the gym is a big part of my life. It has been my entire life. I have to to to the gym every day. But I'll figure it out. Kathy's challenges are a little different. She's got a three-year-old boy.
If a big, national news story breaks, people will turn to KOA, and that happened this last week with the shooting in Fort Lauderdale. Has that been a challenge to incorporate into the way you've done things for so long on the Fox?
Not at all. I'm really comfortable doing that style of radio, and on the Friday afternoon show, we led off with the Fort Lauderdale shooting story. We did a couple of breaks on it; we had a reporter on from Miami. So we totally covered that angle of it. The only difference is, we transitioned from that into — on that day, I think — massages, and do you keep your underwear on or not. So it's a wide-ranging show. But I've been kind of doing the same thing on the Fox. I was on the air when 9/11 happened. I like the fact thatI can do that — that I can talk serious news and breaking stories, but also about just ridiculous, stupid stories and fun stuff, as well. I think that's one of the reasons I've been around for as long as I've been, because I can cover that wide-ranging dynamic. If something like that happens when I'm on KOA, of course we'll talk about it.
[Here's a Facebook video of Lewis and Logan reporting about the shooting in Fort Lauderdale.]
What kind of feedback have you gotten from longtime KOA listeners? Are they accepting the new approach?
It's been really mixed so far, because it's so different from what's been on KOA for decades. I think there were some people who were really shocked; they couldn't believe it. But there have also been some people who said, "This is the best show I've ever heard." I guess you can say it's been polarizing, at least for the first week. But we have a lot of Fox morning show people listening on their way home. I would expect a lot of those people will now listen to us — people who love the Fox morning show. We have noticed based on phone calls and comments that have come in that there's a lot of love coming from the Fox people. But the old-school KOA people, some of them aren't sure what to think of it yet. Some of them don't like it, but some of them are more open-minded and think, "Hey, this is really different. This is interesting." And we've literally had comments from people saying, "This is the best show on radio" after just one week.
Do you feel you're still finding the KOA show after the first week-plus? Or do you think you're already in a groove?
I think we're in a groove, and it happened right away. Within the first break or two, we found a really dynamic groove between the three of us. The chemistry is outstanding between the three of us. Chemistry is something you either have or you don't; you don't build chemistry. And right out of the gate, we had amazing chemistry and timing. Dave Logan is a really talented guy, and he's multi-talented. Dave can do a lot of things in broadcasting and do them really, really well. He's really smart, he's really quick, and I think adding him to the dynamic is what's made it so interesting for people, because they maybe haven't heard Dave like this before. And I feel like I've got a new best friend. I was just on the phone with Dave, and I told him that, and he said he feels the same way. Right away we were tight .We've got a very strong bond.
Do you think calling the Broncos-Jaguars game with him helped you find that rhythm even more quickly than you might have otherwise?
It did. This show was in the works when I got the opportunity to call the Broncos game with him. We knew they were trying to put this show together. But working with him on the Broncos game, doing a three-hour live broadcast of an NFL football game, with all the pressure there is, it showed both of us just how great of a partnership and a team that we have. And management, after listening to that, said the same thing. When we got back into town, they were all so impressed. They were like, "We're doing the right thing teaming you guys up."
Before we started this show, at the very end of the month, I did a couple of segments on Dave's show on 760 with Kathy, and he came in and did a couple of segments on my show on the Fox, and we killed it with no preparation, no show planning. We didn't say, "Let's talk about this, let's talk about that." He just came on and he killed it, and we knew how great this show could be. And management, too, was like, "Wow." So we got out of the gate really fast last week, and it's just going to get better and better.
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You mentioned that not all the old-time KOA listeners are on board yet. Do you feel you've got the support from management to stick with this over the long haul, rather than having them start to tweak constantly?
Absolutely. The market president is the one who came up with the concept, and when you've got the full support of the guy at the top.... This is his baby. And all of the people under him in management, they're really excited about this show. Once we can establish that it's getting ratings, and once the revenues come in, everything will settle in nicely.
I reminded everybody today at a meeting we had of what happened when we started the Lewis & Floorwax show. When Lewis & Floorwax started on the Fox, there really hadn't been a show like it in the market, and people hated it. You hated it; you wrote a really nasty article about it. [That's true: The piece was published in 1990.] It was a different kind of radio style, and I remember back then that sponsors canceled on the show. They were like, "You can't talk about that. You can't do this on the radio." And I'm talking about big sponsors. But we knew we were doing a great show, and luckily for us at the time, Randy Michaels, who was the president of the company [then known as Clear Channel], flew into town, listened to the show for a few days, hauled us into an office and said, "Listen, you guys have the magic. You guys are great, this show is great. Don't worry about all this other stuff. Once you guys go number one, these sponsors will come back, and guess what? We'll charge them double." And that's exactly what happened with the Lewis & Floorwax show.
I've been in this business for a long time, and I know what a great radio show sounds like. This is a great radio show, and it's only going to get better. So all of this fallout that's going on is going to be okay. We're going to find our audience, and it'll be a big audience.