Owensboro TV and Radio Broadcaster Lee Denney Dies
My friend and fellow WBKR air personality, Dave Spencer, said it best. Earlier this week, when I informed him that former WBKR News Director Lee Denney had been admitted to Heartford House with just days to live, he said, "Oh no. That makes me sad. One more dry sense of humor about to leave us." Well, I am very sad to report that it happened. Just before 2am this morning, one of the most distinguished (and hilarious) voices in our community passed on. Pardon the pun that Mr. Denney would have absolutely loved, but Lee has officially signed off after a storied and brilliant career.
I absolutely love that photo of Lee. In so many ways, it captures the essence of his personality. At first glance, Lee is regal and professional. This is the classic news anchor photo. But notice the slight smirk Lee has tried to tuck away in that smile of his. THAT was Lee. He was smart and dedicated. He lived, breathed local news. On air he exuded Edward R. Murrow and Walter Cronkite-inspired confidence and authority. He was the epitome of trustworthiness that people expect from broadcast news professionals. When the mic was off however, he was wickedly acerbic and funny. As sharp as his mind was, his tongue could be equally as sharp. And I was lucky enough, early in my broadcast career, to learn from Lee, sit beside him, absorb his knowledge and just bust a gut from laughing out loud at some of the comic genius that flew out of his mouth.
If you're a radio or television fan here in the tristate, chances are that you know Lee. Or you know of him. He attended undergraduate school at Western Kentucky University and began his career in April of 1984. He enjoyed a storied 30-year plus career in TV and radio that lasted through April of 2006. In fact, here's a throwback photo taken in the early 2000's.
Some of the faces in that photo (Barb, Dave Spencer, Brent Gardner, Traci Davis) are still on board here at WBKR. Others, for a variety of reasons, have moved on. Here's something you may not know. I am in that photograph because of Lee.
Yes. Lee Denney is the reason I have a career here at WBKR. When I moved back to Kentucky from California, I had no intentions of staying put. I applied and had been admitted to graduate school at NYU in New York City. I was headed there to study Broadcast Journalism. Well, as it happens, I had been back in Owensboro for about two months and Lee, who was News Director for Tristate Broadcasting (WBKR, WSTO, WVJS and WOMI), had decided to run for Daviess County Commissioner. Because of political "equal time" laws, Lee could not be on the radio. So, through a chain of events that some would call fate, I was hired to be Lee's voice. That said, I quickly became more than Lee's substitute voice. I became his student.
I can't even believe this as I type it. But, that was nearly twenty-one years ago. I had the pleasure of working alongside Lee from 1998-2006. He taught me about radio. He taught me about news . . . where to find it, how to write it and how to deliver it on air in a natural, yet commanding fashion. He taught me the importance of integrity and gaining the trust of the folks at the other end of the speakers. Honestly, Lee was the best coach I could ask for. In so many ways, Lee made my career possible. Literally, I owe it to him. Yes, I was headed to NYU to study in the classroom and would have ended up in this business eventually. But I got to learn from Lee on the job. That's experience I couldn't buy. And that experience is something I wouldn't trade for the world. I use what he taught me every single day I walk in the door here at WBKR.
It was an honor and privilege to call Lee Denney a mentor. It's even more a privilege to know he was my friend. Lots of folks feel that way. Lee was a friend to his radio listeners, his TV fans, his family, friends and this community.
There's never going to be another Lee Denney. But how could there be? He was truly one of a kind. Sadly, he's gone. And while that dry sense of humor may have left us, Lee's voice will live in this community forever.