D-Mac, Three Other Stars Out at The Fan, Denver Sports Radi…

Denver’s top sports station, 104.3 The Fan, has just tackled the most extensive talent reshuffle in recent local radio history.

On September 18, the station jettisoned one of its biggest stars, Darren “D-Mac” McKee, Westword‘s 2022 Best of Denver winner for top talk-show host, and split up Zach Bye and Brandon Stokley, the city’s finest sports-talk duo. Three other personalities — ex-Denver Broncos Orlando Franklin and Nate Jackson, plus Chad Brown, a University of Colorado Boulder legend who played for the Pittsburgh Steelers, Seattle Seahawks and New England Patriots — were given their walking papers.

The Fan added two new hires: Buffs and Broncos favorite Phillip Lindsay, who played with the XFL’s Seattle Sea Dragons earlier this year, and Josh Dover, snatched from the outlet’s biggest rival, Altitude Sports Radio. Dover will team up with Stokley in a new 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. weekday show, while Lindsay is being paired with Bye in afternoon drive from 2 to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday.

McKee learned of his ouster shortly before official confirmation of the moves, just after noon on Monday. But he emphasizes his appreciation for the station where he’s spent the past decade and a half, first as the partner of another CU Buffs and Broncos standout, Alfred Williams, who signed with KOA in 2019, and later palavered alongside two more Denver football favorites, Tyler Polumbus (now with Altitude Sports Radio) and Derek Wolfe, whose exit in late July after less than a year started all the other dominoes falling.

“Let me make this clear,” McKee says. “I wouldn’t have the life that I’ve had without 104.3 The Fan, and I am so deeply thankful for the time I’ve had there. It’s impossible to measure how grateful I am.”

Raj Sharan, program director of The Fan and overseer of its ambitious website, Denver Sports, insists that the revamping of the signal’s schedule, which now has three four-hour weekday shows (including the morning-drive offering with Mike Evans and Bronco-turned-broadcaster Mark Schlereth) rather than four three-hour programs, was not economically driven. Instead, he portrays the shifts as a way to get into better alignment with other stations controlled by its parent company, Salt Lake City-based Bonneville International, whose owner, Deseret Management Corporation, is among the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ for-profit enterprises.

“It had nothing to do with D-Mac’s contract or anything like that,” Sharan stresses. “We’re just trying to build the best lineup. And going with three four-hour shows rather than four shorter shows is something we’re doing at some of the other sports properties at Bonneville. I think it’s going to create a more consistent listening experience.”

In August, Sharan debunked rumors that Wolfe had been fired for voicing MAGA-style political beliefs, as did Wolfe himself, who said he left to make room in his schedule for other projects, including Wolfe Untamed, a hunting-centric YouTube channel. At the time, Sharan added that the station was in the midst of conducting a vigorous national search for new talent — and the process was deliberate.

“We had a ton of candidates for these positions,” he says now, “and we really tried to take our time to get to know them as well as we could. We did sample shows to hear what different people sounded like, and we had interest all the way up to market one in New York. We did it because we needed to find all the right people who would fit.”

In the end, Colorado connections prevailed, with Lindsay and Dover taking to the Service Formerly Known as Twitter to share updates. Lindsay’s post was succinct: “Excited for this opportunity! Everyone tune in…from 2:00-6:00 p.m. We are nothing without our followers.

Dover issued a statement after completing his final program on Altitude Sports radio last week. Under the heading “Thanks!,” he revealed, “I’ve decided to make a change. Friday was my last day at Altitude Sports Radio. I will be forever grateful for my 7.5 years with KSE [Kroenke Sports & Entertainment, named for Stan Kroenke, owner of the Denver Nuggets and Colorado Avalanche]. I learned, I grew as a broadcaster and a man, I laughed & cried. Most importantly I met some people I will consider family for the rest of my life. The opportunities I was given and earned during my time with KSE created lifetime lessons & memories that a man like me only dreamed of as a boy! Thank for from the bottom of my heart to everyone who had a hand in making my time there as unbelievable & amazing as it was. I’m not going to name names becaue I’d leave someone out and that’s not fair. The list is endless but you all know who you are. Thank you & I know our work relationships are changing but our life relationships are not.”

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Josh Dover (left) and Phillip Lindsay are new recruits to The Fan.

Bonneville International

Brown hasn’t posted his thoughts about what went down, but yesterday morning, Franklin delivered this: “I was just informed that my services will no longer be needed or wanted at @DenverSportsCom. They canceled our show. Funny how things work. Thanks to all the listeners locally for your support over the years. On to bigger and better.”

Jackson, a onetime contributor to Westword (the first sentence of a 2007 piece reads, “I don’t like the sound of morning radio show hosts”) weighed in, too. “Welp!” he exclaimed. “My time at 104.3 The Fan has come to an end, guys. I enjoyed every minute of it and appreciate the hard work of my colleagues and all of you who rocked with us on The Players Club. It was fun, and now it’s done. Much love. Go Broncos!”

McKee posted just five words: “On to the next thing.” But in conversation with Westword, he goes into much more detail about his journey.

“I started at the station part-time in the spring of 2008 and was hired full-time with Alfred almost fourteen years ago to the day: September 28, 2009,” he says. “Before that, I had been let go by [rock station] KBPI and had been working for a few years in Colorado Springs, but I didn’t move, because I wanted to have stability for my two sons, who were in elementary school at the time. I didn’t want to take them away from their friends and their schools, because where I lived was right behind their elementary school, middle school and high school. They never took a bus to school their entire life.”

D-Mac’s work in the Denver market prior to joining The Fan was eclectic. “I was doing news-talk radio at KOA, KHOW and 760, and while I was in Colorado Springs, I was working part-time for Lincoln Financial [104.3’s previous owner], and everybody was okay with it,” he says. “But being offered the full-time job at The Fan was amazing, and in this insane industry, I’m incredibly proud of the fact that my wife and I were able to get through a pretty rough patch. And since 2009, I was doing the same show until Monday.”

Social media reacted strongly to the shake-up at The Fan, with many commentators saluting McKee — and he definitely noticed. “It’s unbelievable,” he notes. “One of the things I decided to do over the years is give listeners my personal cell-phone number, and I’ve built up real relationships with people via texts. And it’s incredible to have people come up to you and say, ‘I grew up listening to you.’ To be on the air for 24 years — my first year at KBPI was 1999 — is a whole life, and it’s overwhelming to me when people say that.”

He’s also been heartened by the response from his sports-media peers. “I think we work in a very special place,” McKee says. “Whatever the next opportunity is — and I don’t know what it will be — I can’t wait to see my pals who represent the sports landscape so well in Colorado.”

Sharan is equally complimentary of McKee and the trio of now-former Fan employees. “I love D-Mac, and his contributions to this radio station are amazing, as are Orlando’s and Chad’s and Nate’s as well,” he says. “It’s just that we had the opportunity to look at the entire picture and make strategic moves while making sure we were in sync with Bonneville’s mission and values.”

Sharan stresses that “we’re really excited for all the guys who are part of our lineup. They have a positivity to them — not only the guys that are coming in, but the guys who are remaining as well. Our purpose at Bonneville is to build up, inform, connect and celebrate families and communities, and we feel like the lineup we’ve put together will do that very well.”

Do these words imply that The Fan plans to dial down its often pointed criticism of figures such as Broncos head coach Sean Payton, who was roasted on the air following Denver’s 35-33 loss to the Washington Commanders on September 17? Not at all, Sharan says: “Sometimes there are going to be challenging conversations if you’re giving opinions about a particular play or a game that hasn’t gone well. That’s part of being a fan. But we want to echo how fans feel, and we think the guys we have on the weekdays will definitely reflect that.”

Dover “has been in the market for a long time, and he’s a natural show driver; he’ll be able to step right in with Stoke and pick up where he and Zach left off,” Sharan continues. “And Phil knows what it’s like to be a fan here. His dad is an RTD bus driver who drives around listening to The Fan, and he played here. He just has this infectious enthusiasm about him that’s hard not to get swept up in. He’s a really positive, engaging person, and we think it’s going to be a lot of fun in the short-term and the long-term, as well. I’m very excited about these guys, and we feel they’re just going to get better and better and better.”

D-Mac is upbeat about the future, too.

“I’m very tuned in to what’s next,” he says. “I’ve been very, very lucky to have an incredible wife who has supported me, and I’m very proud of my two sons, who are doing great. They’re now grown and out of the house — so the energy I have to do this kind of job is through the roof. I’ve never had more energy and excitement based on what’s going on to do what I’ve been doing. I am so far away from being burned out and I can’t wait to find the next story out there. And just look at the stories we’ve had over the past couple of years, with the Avalanche and the Nuggets and now with Coach Prime — and even though the Broncos haven’t been successful record-wise, don’t tell me that’s not an amazing story. I’m just blown away wondering about the next thing. That’s how I roll with that. I’m a junkie for it.”

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