The Fan’s D-Mac Unplugged: Big Al’s Pal on His Bumpy Denver Radio Rise
Darren McKee, who is higher regarded to My Amend listeners of 104.Three The Fan as D-Mac wasn’t exactly an overnight fulfillment. Today, The Drive with Big Al & D-Mac, the afternoon show he co-hosts with former Denver Broncos exceptional Alfred Williams, is many of the highest-rated packages, sports activities-related or otherwise, on any metro-area radio station, as it’s been for the maximum of the pair’s almost eight years collectively. But as McKee tells us within the following in-intensity interview, his profession route previous to combining forces with Williams become marked by using as many downs as ups, and in all likelihood more.
In verbal exchange, McKee sounds loads like he does on the air. He speaks so passionately that his phrases seem to come with their very own italics and exclamation factors, and he pulls no punches. Among the ones he roughs up below are a former software director and a widespread manager for radio large Clear Channel who fired him twice — once at KBPI, in which he mixed speak with rock, and later at My99.Nine in Colorado Springs, throughout a duration that he portrays as a protracted and laborious adventure through the media wilderness. He also puts longtime Denver speak-radio icon Mike Rosen on blast and shares the moment when Willie B, his onetime teammate at KBPI, become so annoyed that he hurled a pen at his head.
As for Williams, McKee praises him effusively. But he also famous that once they had been first partnered, Big Al didn’t speak to him — and hadn’t achieved so for three months.
With the Broncos at the cusp of a key pre-season match-up day after today, August 19, against the San Francisco 49ers, at some point of which quarterback Paxton Lynch will make a bid to come to be a starter (and attempt to keep away from turning into considered one of the larger busts in nearby sports history), it is the best time to fulfill certainly one of Denver’s most opinionated broadcasters. And do not worry about McKee retaining lower back: As he effortlessly admits inside the following collection of highlights from a top notch ninety-minute chat, “I love to talk!”
Westword: Where are you from at first? And who could you recollect to be some of your early influences in radio?
Darren McKee: I grew up in a suburb north of Boston, and my range-one impact became a man named Charles Laquidara, who labored at WBCN in Boston. He did something referred to as The Big Mattress on WBCN, which become a rock station; he did mornings, and, yeah, he performed statistics. But he additionally had comedy, he talked about politics. It changed into just a mix of the whole lot. And it really is how I grew up taking note of radio. I loved the funny stuff, I cherished the social observation on matters. It wasn’t your conventional morning-zoo form of FM snicker-a-minute form of deal. There was wondering to it. They talked to athletes, they talked sports, and they performed rock track. Even even though it wasn’t a talk show, it was everything that I loved, and I loved it at a young age. I turned into like ten, eleven years antique when I started out being attentive to him, and I in no way genuinely stopped. And I turned into fortunate sufficient to definitely intern for him when I became two decades vintage and I turned into between my sophomore and junior yr of college. I went to Syracuse, however, I got here back home because I got that internship. Man, he becomes it….
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The progression of sports activities talks, to me, advanced from the roots of that form of radio inside the beginning. I became not a track-radio fan; I didn’t like track-radio guys despite the fact that I became one for many, many years. But that’s how you start. Because who inside the international desires to pay attention to a 21-, 22-, 23-yr-antique kid speak approximately something? But it really is the way you get into radio….
There become no sports speak returned then, no longer actually. A pre- or a put up-game show or multiple hours on the weekends, something like that. But there has been not anything like there’s now. When you heard people speak me on the radio, it changed into your normal morning-display radio, possibly. But no Howard Stern. I didn’t concentrate to Howard Stern at all developing up as a kid. I was in Boston, and he wasn’t in Boston. It wasn’t till I was given to Syracuse that I even found out approximately any person like Howard Stern. I actually have a super deal of recognition for Howard Stern, but he wasn’t an influence; I didn’t recognize something about him. Didn’t realize some thing approximately Top 40 radio. Boston became a rock market. New York City changed into more of a hip-hop/Top forty market. And after I was given to Syracuse, everything modified. My college radio station at Syracuse, WJPZ, Z-89, became a modern-day-hits radio station, which I idea become lousy.
D-Mac in movement.
D-Mac in motion.Facebook
What have been the modern-day hits whilst you have been in faculty?
Oh! We’re speaker Michael Jackson’s “Thriller,” Madonna, Bon Jovi, Def Leppard, Guns N’ Roses. Top 40 radio returned then performed everything. It’s so segmented now. You had a George Michael or whatever the hits of the day have been — Rick Astley, all that shock. It changed into 1987 after I was a freshman, and I labored at that radio station for six years, that is loopy. My spouse was my female friend then, and he or she changed into a year at the back of me — and I got a job at a rock station after I graduated. But once I graduated, I still worked on the college radio station. I labored there for a complete 12 months and trade, just doing an expansion of things.
Were you paid? Or became it for a laugh?
It was truly for fun, but we didn’t deal with it like that. If I’ve had any quantity of achievement in what I’ve accomplished, it’s because I went to a college where kids took the media and broadcasting so seriously. Yes, it becomes a laugh. But we, the scholars, got no investment from the college, so we had to go out and sell sponsorships. It changed into non-industrial, so you could not sell conventional classified ads, however, you may say, “This hour of a track is brought to you via XYZ.” It’s just like NPR…. We had been like that. You could not run 9 advertisements an hour; you could run one. However, the policies had been looser on what you could do for merchandising. We ought to do an advertising and say, “Hey, we are going to provide away a trip to Florida” or something. And then you could roll out the sponsors, say, “It’s introduced to you via Pepsi, and it’s delivered to you by way of this, and it is introduced to you with the aid of that.” And you may sell it like that, too. And because we sold our personal sponsorships, we stored the radio station on. We paid the lease, we repaired anything we had to repair. There became no virtual programming in the one’s days. Some of the songs were on information, if you may trust that, however, most of the tune became on carts, which look like 8-track tapes. You could place every person music on these carts; the classified ads, the sponsorships, the imaging — all of it would pass on carts. And the DJ needed to make sure all of this stuff fired. That became paintings! If you cross right into a radio station now, there are not any CDs, there are no carts. Everything is digital, and I’ve completed plenty of that, too, and I’m no longer in opposition to development. But I’m telling you, if you desired to genuinely get worried, desired to get at the air again then, you had to prove that you may run the radio station itself. You had to hit the buttons, you needed to be on the air live. We did not tape anything. And we stayed on 24/7, 365.
My thirty-12 months anniversary of my first on-air shift ever is arising on Thanksgiving. I stayed at Syracuse my freshman 12 months to do the 2-to-6-a.M. Shift on Thanksgiving night time and the next night time as nicely. That’s how busy the station became in terms of getting air shifts. That’s what I needed to do that allows you to get on the air for the first time at my university radio station. But the cause I’m pointing this out is that the environment was so competitive, and I labored with so many talented kids. Newhouse, the school of communications at Syracuse, was noticeably overestimated, due to the fact all of these professors, all they taught become principle. And I desired to do it; I wanted to be in the mix. I wasn’t the greatest scholar, it is for sure. But I changed into locating my competitive spirit at the radio station, due to the fact anyone changed into pushing all people else. And that lesson has served me well through some United states and downs, for positive. It’s a brutal commercial enterprise.
Syracuse is widely recognized for having lots of alumni who have been large in sports journalism. Did you figure with or take lessons with any oldsters who’ve long passed on to the one’s forms of careers?
I worked with Mike Tirico [longtime host of Monday Night Football now with NBC]. Mike by no means worked at WBJZ, however, he becomes a senior when I become a freshman, and we virtually crossed paths due to the fact he started doing sports activities reports at the professional radio station I ended up working on KIX-FM, a conventional-rock station. He did a sports activities-speak display on WFBL, a station that became called Music of Your Life — which became Frank Sinatra track. For anything purpose, the general supervisor offered this one-hour sports-communicate show, however, Mike would get no calls. As well-known as Mike is now, he became just a youngster then.
KIX-FM changed into in the equal building, and I changed into doing the Sunday night six-p.C. On the rock station, where you just put on the CD and you did not anything. You just permit the CD tune through. You’re like “Here’s Tom Petty, and there you cross,” or “Here’s Led Zeppelin, and there you move.” But Mike and I literally shared a pane of glass, and whilst the CD turned into gambling, I’d call in as Fred from Solvay and speak approximately anything Syracuse element was occurring. And he liked it, as it becomes an hour to kill….
A lot of different people went to Syracuse once I did, too. Ian Eagle, who’s been on CBS for a long time. Howard Deneroff, who is in fee of Westwood One programming. Craig Carton, who is the sports activities-communicate host on WFAN in New York City with Boomer Esiason. Mitch Levy was there; he’s been in Seattle for 35 years. And there had been lots of other men sort of like that. So the surroundings in phrases of broadcasting were extraordinary. We failed to realize what all and sundry could grow to be, and most of the people who labored at the radio station haven’t stayed in radio. There’s absolutely best a handful folk who have remained broadcasters during the years. But the matters those human beings have executed have been unreal in terms of their professional lives. It’s the whole iron-sharpens-iron element. Not to head all biblical on you, but that simply become the case at that radio station. It taught me how hard you had to paintings in an effort to move after what you need to do, and it taught me that in case you don’t have the coronary heart for it, in case you do not have the gumption for it, you probably should not be on this commercial enterprise, due to the fact it is so hard. And it turned into difficult for me early on. It wasn’t easy.
What else did you do at KIX?
I was a morning-show producer, after which the morning-show man left — he went to a competitor — and that they employed me as a 22-, 23-yr-vintage, simply out of university, to host the morning display with a pal of mine, Ed Wenck. Ed’s were given a funny call, but he is been in broadcasting all the time; he is a massive name in Indianapolis now. And I didn’t understand that the cause they hired me was to hearth me. They were a small corporation, and that they had been solving to promote the radio station. I idea I turned into extremely good, and that is why I become hired. But when I look back on it, the purpose I changed into employed turned into due to the fact they had been going to promote the radio station and they needed someone to literally hold it in the air. They had no purpose of doing something with me in the future. So they bought the station, became the USA, fired each person, and I ended up getting an activity as a manufacturer at a rock station in Buffalo.
That becomes a big mistake for some time because I went backward. I went behind the curtain. I become a producer, not a number, and I stayed in that producer role for extra than ten years. Yikes. I become presented a task at State College, Pennsylvania, however I concept, “Ah, it is too small.” And going from Syracuse to Buffalo changed into truly a huge deal. I went around and around the mill in Buffalo, however, I got into talk radio. My first actual communicate-radio gig becomes a display known as Infomania. It was on from 10 p.M. To midnight Sundays, and I worked with Dr. Jenny Bagan — and it changed into loopy. Aside from cursing, you could talk approximately something. It becomes billed like a health display, a public-service display. But I became the comic remedy. Jenny becomes the extreme man or woman. And this turned into earlier than Loveline with Adam Carolla. He came on once we had been doing what we had been doing. We were copying a show out of New York City, which was way earlier than Loveline.