Two years ago, Rick Lewis signed up for the craziest schedule in Denver radio. In addition to continuing his 28-year-plus run as morning-show host of 103.5 The Fox, he agreed to team up with Dave Logan for Lewis & Logan, a new afternoon-drive program on KOA, at 850 AM and 94.1 FM, as well as during KOA's broadcasts of Denver Broncos games, home and away.
Plenty of observers wondered how on earth Lewis would manage to do seven hours of live radio five days each week and travel regularly on weekends for months at a time. But Lewis has not only survived, he's thrived — and he's now inked a new contract with iHeartMedia, owner of both stations, to keep doing all of it for at least three more years. The pact runs through 2021, meaning it guarantees that he will be able to mark his thirtieth anniversary as morning-show host on the Fox.
"When I signed the deal to do this two years ago, I thought it was a great opportunity," Lewis says. "And that's how it's turned out, because I've been able to do some different things outside the box from what I normally do. Those two years went by fast, and I feel really good about how it's gone."
For most of his run at the Fox, which began in 1990, Lewis partnered with Michael Floorwax in a wild, ribald blend of comedy and classic rock. But in 2014, Floorwax announced that he was leaving the show for health reasons. (In July, Floorwax made his first radio appearance since that time, thanks to a new treatment he credits with giving him his life back.) So Lewis, with the able assistance of Kathy Lee, a quirky presence on the show for years, took charge, and since then, the program has remained among the most popular in the Mile High City in part because of the pair's collective spicy sense of humor.
The continuing success of the a.m. block inspired iHeartMedia execs to suggest that Lewis and Kathy Lee do double duty in tandem with Logan during afternoons on KOA. But when Lewis & Logan debuted in January 2017, some longtime listeners to the venerable news-radio outlet had their doubts about the combo.
"The Fox morning show just keeps chugging along at a very high level for ratings and revenue," Lewis acknowledges. "But in the beginning, I think there were some KOA listeners who tuned in and said, 'What the [pause] is this?' I know some listeners sent feedback in via Facebook and social media that they weren't happy with the change. It was a different kind of show than they were used to, and it took us a while to figure out that audience and adapt what we do to the KOA format and the KOA audience."
How long? "Probably about a year," Lewis estimates. "It's a totally different format, a totally different audience, a totally different clock [a radio term for scheduled breaks, updates and so on]. But now I really feel like the KOA audience accepts us and knows what to expect when they tune in. That first year, we were feeling it out a little bit, but then we got our legs — and we've been running since then."
One piece of evidence that he's right: Fans of Lewis and Lee on the Fox are switching channels later in the day. The iHeartMedia research department "did a recent survey of how many Fox morning show listeners are tuning in to the KOA afternoon show," Lewis reveals. "And it's a big number. We've converted a lot of Fox morning show listeners to KOA afternoon listeners, which is amazing. And it's made it way more comfortable. Now, we hear a lot of familiar voices on the phones along with a whole new KOA audience."
Regarding his role as color commentator for KOA's Broncos broadcasts, Lewis is having the time of his life even though the team is mired in an ultra-disappointing season for the second year in a row.
"For me right now," he says, "Broncos games are the most fun things I do, other than maybe playing music in my band" — the Rick Lewis Project. "It's new, it's a different dynamic, it's fast-moving and it's a challenge, because it's such a high-end broadcast and Dave Logan is so good. I have to bring my A-game to be able to hang with a guy like him, who's been doing this for as long as he's been doing it."
Lewis admits that "the games the Broncos win are easier to do. That blowout game in Arizona was so much fun. I was like, man, I could get used to this. But for the most part, it's been pretty rough for the team the last year and a half. So I look at it like this: Football is entertainment, and it's supposed to be fun — so I bring the entertainment value. And when things aren't going that well, I feel like I need to be even better to keep people listening, to make the broadcast palatable and come up with comments that make people laugh and have fun."
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One way he tries to do that, he reveals, is by conceiving "one or two things a game that stop Dave in his tracks — where he has to stop what's he's doing and look at me. He processes so much material in a game and he's so good at it that I love coming up with something out of the box that he has to respond to — and he always has the perfect response. I love when that happens. That's part of the magic of what we do."
Fans appreciate the effort. "Everywhere I go in the city," Lewis maintains, "people tell me, 'Even though the team hasn't been winning that many games, it's still fun listening to you guys. I turn the TV down and listen to you guys, and you still make it fun.'"
In order to keep doing so, Lewis has to look after himself. "I do what I have to do to stay healthy and still be me. I still go to the gym every day whether I'm tired or not, I still go in my hyperbaric chamber for an hour every day, I still play my drums, I still ride my motorcycle. I feel like I have to do all the things that make me tick, that make me who I am. I feel like if I quit doing that, I might lose my mojo and run out of things to say. But I never run out of things to say, and I haven't gotten sick. I can't remember the last time I even had a cold."
Lucky thing, because he needs to be in top condition to keep up with his schedule.