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They are the champions, my friend

Classic rockers Mitchell, Lea hearken back to old days of KKLZ

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Mitchell (back) and Lea, from their new HQ

Dennis Mitchell is the Beatles fan who will not let it be. Dan “Big Daddy” Lea is the Harley guy who, upon laying the bike down, simply dusts off and opens the throttle once more.

Mitchell and Lea, friends for 21 years (when Lea took a National Broadcasting School course from Mitchell) and former on-air personalities at KKLZ 96.3-FM, are the living-room broadcasters behind the website 963classicrock.com, a lingering tribute to the old days at KKLZ, once the premier classic-rock station in Las Vegas. Last year, the station, which in the spring of 2005 ranked as the No. 1 local rock station among males ages 25-54 (the group that seems to single-handedly keep classic rock alive), switched formats to “classic hits.” That was fine for fans of ’50s oldies and Motown classics, but the old format and many old mainstays—like Mitchell and his Breakfast With the Beatles show, and the popular Big Daddy—were gone.

What to do? Forge ahead. From his rock memorabilia-laden living room, Mitchell launched the new website in February. The concept is simple: hearken back to the days when KKLZ was the city’s classic-rock headquarters, home of an oddball assortment of personalities like “Professor” Jeff Anderson, The Warrior, Kim Kelly, Todd Hunter and Bill “Bad Dog” Monroe. Morning shows familiar to longtime KKLZ listeners that are recalled on the site include The O Brothers, Butz & Tucker, Johnson & Tofte, Kahuna & Company and Dennis & The Warrior. The site also links to each JuneFest classic-rock festival, which was held at Sam Boyd Stadium from 1993 to 2002.

Those were the days, indeed, and Mitchell and Lea are keeping the pulse alive with a playlist of about 1,600 songs (about four times as large as many classic-rock stations) filled with deep cuts from familiar artists. “We have 26 Bruce Springsteen songs,” Mitchell says. “Some classic-rock stations have one Springsteen song, or two—the ‘Borns,’ and that’s it.”

Mitchell and Lea convene weekly at the makeshift studio to record commentary between songs and to wax nostalgic about the good old days. Neither is free to discuss specifically what happened to send them out the doors at KKLZ, owned by Beasley Broadcasting, but the action says enough: They are no longer at KKLZ, KKLZ has since switched formats, and they are heading up a website that has revived the KKLZ format and personalities from their nearly two decades at the station.

It is not a moneymaking operation, at least not yet. The initial donor funding that helped start the website is nearly gone, and Lea and Mitchell are seeking ways to generate ad revenue on the site (the duo pays a royalty company a set fee each month to play its classics). They are seeking to expand listener capacity—only 20 people can stream at one time; when one drops, another is let on. The site is particularly busy with activity from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

“It’s organic radio,” Lea says. “It’s like it was in the old days. We play what we think will work. We go to our gut.” Which, in this grassroots operation, is the best way to find the notes.

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