10 Questions with ... Rick Lewis
August 18, 2015
BRIEF CAREER SYNOPSIS:
1) What led you to a career in radio and was there a defining moment that made you realize "this is it?"
I stumbled into radio my first year in college at NAU in Flagstaff, AZ. A guy I knew at the gym had a show on the campus radio station and asked me if I wanted to sit in. I did and I was quickly hooked. I switched my major to Radio/TV and within a very short time was one of the top personalities in the program. People were telling me I was so good that I should move to L.A. and be a star ... LOL. I was so full of confidence and had absolutely no fear, so I did. I quit school and moved to L.A. I didn't have a car, had to hitch a ride with a friend from AZ to L.A. I only had $5 in my pocket and everything I owned in a pillow case. It wasn't long before I got an agent and started going out on auditions. I got some parts in some movies and TV commercials, but the work was sporadic as it is for most young actors.
After a few years, I had an event happen that changed the course of my life. I was working at a liquor store in Anaheim; it was a Friday night. I brought a little TV in to work with me so I could watch a show I was on that night. I wasn't paying attention and two guys came in. One guy came around behind the counter and the other put a gun to my head. I emptied out the entire cash register and they told me to open the safe. I didn't have the combination to the safe, but they didn't believe me. They told me to get on the floor with my hands over my head as they continued to try to get the safe open. I was hoping nobody would come in the store, as I was sure I would have been killed or held hostage. After a few minutes, they gave up and told me to count to 100 before I got up. I counted to about three and ran out the front door hoping to get a license plate. They were on foot so I never was able to identify them.
The next day, I was called into the corporate office and they informed me that they would have to fire me because the thugs got away with too much money. I remember asking the guy if he had ever had a gun to his head, he said no. I said, I would have carried the safe out to his (blanking) car if I could have. At that moment I decided to go back to school at Long Beach State and finish my degree in Radio/TV.
2) Can you give us some of the highlights of your radio career to this point?
So many highlights, it's very difficult to point out a few. Early on I thought working at KMET would be the pinnacle of my career. I was only a year out of college and was working at the biggest Rock station in the world! I was making good money and talking to all of Southern California every night. I remember feeling the power of opening that microphone and knowing that so many people were listening. Before my night shift I would stand in the parking lot on top of Metromedia Square and look down on Sunset Blvd. in Hollywood, and think to myself that I made the big time! A few years later, I moved to Denver and teamed up with Floorwax. We took a losing station from #13 to #1 in just one ratings book. Before that first book came out, advertisers were canceling because they had never heard a show like ours before. The GM and sales manager were panicking. Randy Michaels, the company CEO, flew into town and told us not to worry about it. He said, "You guys have the magic; listen to me, when you are #1, these advertisers will come crawling back and we'll double the rate on them." Well, he was right and the fans in Denver kept us at the top of the ratings heap for over two decades. The show was a revenue machine for the company. I know we had one of the best morning radio shows in the country during that time. We were fearless and tried everything ... and most of it worked.
3) One of your first radio gigs was with the legendary KMET/Los Angeles. I would imagine you have a few stories from that experience you can share with us?
As I mentioned before, KMET was a major highlight for me. I was very young and inexperienced. One of the things I remember was taking the tour of the radio station with the PD who hired me, and I was in total awe of the great personalities there. I couldn't believe I would be one of the voices on a station that featured legends such as Jim Ladd and Paraquat Kelley. In the studio, I saw an ashtray full of half-smoked blunts and the official KMET Blow Mirror. Now keep in mind this was the '80s, but for me I was a bit shocked to see that they were so open about it. I remember somebody telling me that if I was going to do any hard drugs, I should go into a special lounge just outside the main studio.
I was not into recreational drugs. I was and still am a health and fitness buff. The staff at KMET used to tease me a lot saying my drug of choice was steroids. I also remember all of the rock stars that would hang around the studio late at night. Tom Petty and Stevie Nicks and many others would be just hanging out. I thought it was so cool that Paraquat Kelley was living in the Roth mansion with David Lee Roth and his family. I also remember how many great bands we broke on KMET. We were allowed to play any cut off any album in the studio and there were thousands. Truly free-form radio, controlled by the DJs not the consultants. L.A. was a hotbed for hard rock bands and we were instrumental in breaking Motley Crue, Great White, Ratt and many others.
4) How did you originally get hooked up with Michael Floorwax to start the Lewis & Floorwax show on KRFX?
After KMET went down in 1987, I was looking to relocate and get a fresh start. I had so many near-misses in L.A. on radio and TV and I was getting frustrated. There was a lot of success and a lot of heartbreak in L.A. I got fired a few times because of format changes and PD turnover. PM Magazine was supposed to make me their #1 TV host. Dick Clark wanted to meet me and make me a star. I hosted shows on NBC Radio, did interviews for Westwood One, got TV opportunities and voiceovers. I had TV pilots that never made it. I was never able to break out the way I wanted to. It never happened for me in L.A. so I was looking to make a change and reached out to Tom Owens, an executive with Jacor at the time. He asked if I would be interested in moving to Denver and teaming up with comedian Michael Floorwax. I was reluctant because Denver was a much smaller market than L.A., but Owens assured me that if we could turn the then floundering station around, we could write our own ticket. At the time 103.5 The Fox was losing money and ranked 13th in the market. So I flew out to Denver to meet Floorwax and we did a test show together on a Sunday morning. The chemistry between us was amazing and I knew that we could do killer radio together. I moved to Denver absolutely knowing that Lewis and Floorwax would quickly become one of the best morning radio shows in the country.
5) I know there are many, but what are some of the best moments of your long run working with Floorwax?
So many fun and edgy radio bits over the years, we don't have enough time to talk about them all. The stunts we pulled off with our characters like Beerman and Boobzilla are most memorable for me. We did an airbag crash test with Beerman as the test dummy. We also had an attack dog chase Beerman in an attack suit covered with pork chops. We sent Boobzilla to Russia to find a bride, which he did the first day there! Another time we dropped Boob naked in a giant tank swirling with hungry trout and then threw in salmon eggs. Probably the two dumbest things we did with him is have a 350-pound tiger in the studio eat raw hamburger off his back. That tiger could have easily killed all of us in the studio. The final big stunt with Boobzilla, we had a professional archer come to the station and shoot a watermelon off his head in the radio station hallway! We blindfolded Boob so he wouldn't flinch and she made a perfect shot from 25 yards away right through the heart of the watermelon. In our excitement we accidentally pulled a mike cord out of the microphone and we had dead air. As far as the listeners knew he got shot in the head with the arrow until we came back on.
Ted Nugent came in and shot an arrow through our hallways once, too. We must have had a thing with bows and arrows. He drew a hole on the wall the size of a quarter, crouched down the hallway 40 yards away and put an arrow right through that little hole, Unfortunately the arrow also went through the hole and through the wall into our boss, Jack Evans' office. Needless to say he wasn't too happy with us.
9/11 is the most memorable show we ever did. We watched as that second plane flew into the Trade Center on live TV and we were live on the radio talking about it. I remember trying to stay calm and letting our listeners know what was going on without panicking everyone. It was the most challenging and moving show I've ever done. I'm also proud of our Kids fund we started and have raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for kids in the community. Denver has done so much for me; I always give back when I can.
6) I know that Floorwax left the show last year due to health issues, but it looks like you're re-tooled the show. How has the transition to this new incarnation been going for you?
The day I read Floorwax's good-bye letter on the air was very emotional. It was official; 23 years of the Lewis and Floorwax Show was over. I walked out of the radio station that day with tears streaming down my face.
The transition was tough; I wasn't sure what to do. I didn't know if I should keep the show going or start over somewhere else. The show still had a loyal fan base and I was encouraged by Joe Bevilacqua and Pat Conner to keep going and re-tool the show. Kathy Lee and Colfax and the crew really stepped it up and we started to hit our stride. Fans would tell me the show is different, but still good. That encouraged me to keep going.
The cool thing is ratings and revenues are way up from last year. KRFX was #1 in the latest Neilsen book Men and Women 25-54. It feels so good to have persevered and fight our way back. I still love doing this radio show. I look forward to coming in every morning. I'm doing what I was born to do and feel like the best is yet to come!
7) You just celebrated 25 years as the morning radio host of KRFX/Denver. To what do you attribute this longevity and success?
I was blessed with talent AND given opportunities in my career. I grew up in Detroit, Chicago and Ohio; I'm a blue-collar grinder, I never give up! I never take for granted that this could all end tomorrow and I do the very best show possible every day. It doesn't matter if I didn't get enough sleep, or I'm not feeling well, or we're having some technical issue or strange politics in the building, I always bring it! The fans are expecting my best and they get it. I never burn any bridges and I never quit!
Early in my career I would work seven days a week for long stretches at a time. In fact, I still do that with my morning show, my band and the Broncos. I like to have a lot of irons in the fire, too, like football play by play, hosting the Denver Broncos pre-game show, stand- up comedy, my band. I had an epiphany at the age of 19, realized I wanted to be the best I could be at everything I do in life. I don't take anything for granted and feel like it is my duty to try my best. These are a few of the reasons why I'm still around and still at the top of my game.
8) Over the years, you've hosted nationally syndicated shows for Westwood One, NBC and others as well as appearing in TV commercials, films and network shows. Where do you find the time to do all of this?
Like I said, I've been blessed with ability and opportunities. I feel like I have an obligation to use that talent and take advantage of opportunities when they come along. My wife Dionne is very supportive I couldn't have made it this far without her love and support. She lets me be me and do what I have to do in this very competitive business. She gets it and always has. I have an amazing family and they always come first. I currently have a TV pilot that is being shopped and produced by Dog the Bounty Hunter and Beth. It's a motorcycle adventure reality show. I never count on things like this to hit, but I think this one has a good shot of making it.
9) Besides your morning show, you also host a pre-game show on KRFX for the Denver Broncos. How do you think Peyton Manning and the Broncos will do this year?
I have always loved sports and have dabbled in sports broadcasting over the years. It's an honor to be a part of game day with a great organization like the Denver Broncos. I'm a bit concerned about the Broncos' young offensive line. If they can protect Manning, they will win their division again and make a run in the playoffs. If the line doesn't gel, this team will likely be 8-8 and on the outside looking in. Manning's age is a factor, too, because he didn't look good at all the second half of last season. From what I can see, he looks good in practice and if he is healthy and can still throw the ball they will be okay.
10) Finally, I understand you're also the drummer in your own band, the Rick Lewis Project. What are some concert highlights you can share with us?
Too many concert highlights to mention here, but a few stand out. We got a chance to open for ZZ Top, the final show at McNichols Arena before they tore it down and built the Pepsi Center. Billy Gibbons liked the band so much we were invited to open some more shows for them on the road. They told us to pick any shows we wanted on their upcoming schedule. We chose New Year's Eve in Austin, Texas, their hometown. Well, that show got canceled when Dusty Hill came down with hepatitis C and the offer was never made again.
Doing shows with James Brown and BB King were very special. We also opened for the Who at the Pepsi Center in 2007. My wife was in the third row and said she was so nervous she was about to pee her pants! She said "and you looked so cool and calm!". Playing in front of 18,000 people in an arena is a very powerful experience; you can't see the people because of the lights in your face, but you can sure hear them and feel them.
We have also been blessed to play several shows at Red Rocks, including our first time in 1998 with the Doobies. I was so excited, it felt like electricity was running up through my drum throne. The hairs on my arms and neck were standing up the entire set. We got a standing ovation and I walked off stage with tears streaming down my face. My daughters Jordan and Rio were five and three years old and watching from the side of the stage. I will never forget how they looked at me that day ... I wasn't just Daddy anymore, I was a rock star LOL!
You're stuck on a deserted island and you only have five CDs with you. What are they?
I would want either of the first two Led Zeppelin albums, I never get tired of hearing those. Also Marvin Gaye's I Want You. I love real Soul and R&B music; I grew up in Motown! John Coltrane's A Love Supreme, James Brown Live at the Apollo.