When April Zesbaugh first sat down behind a KOA mic in the wee hours of a summer morning in 1996, Bill Clinton was campaigning for re-election, Mariah Carey and Alanis Morissette were topping the charts, and Google didn’t exist. Since then, in her role as the co-host of Colorado’s Morning News—weekdays from 5 to 9 a.m. on KOA, a commercial news, talk, and sports radio station now owned by iHeartMedia—the 51-year-old has covered two Broncos Super Bowls, traveled to Washington, D.C., to report on Clinton’s impeachment, and broadcast live from the Democratic National Convention in Denver in 2008. In advance of her retirement, we caught up with one of Colorado’s most recognizable voices, which you can hear on KOA’s airwaves (850 AM, 94.1 FM) for the last time on Friday, May 27.
Editor’s note: This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.
5280: How did you come to co-host Colorado’s Morning News?
April Zesbaugh: I was six years old when I asked for a tape recorder and microphone for Christmas and used it to “interview” my stuffed animals and family and neighbors. I majored in journalism and English at the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley, and I always liked the performance aspect of radio and television. I thought I might go into TV, but I was offered a job in radio first. I just fell in love with the storytelling aspect of radio, where people don’t have to be distracted by visuals and pictures. I went to Laramie for a few years to work at Wyoming Public Radio, got jobs in Denver at KCNC and KNUS, and finally was offered the morning job on KOA while I was on my honeymoon in Napa. I think I was a little tipsy when I took the job—but it was the best wine-induced decision I ever made.
What’s a typical day like?
I get up at 2:20 a.m. and get in [to the KOA studio in southwest Denver] by 3:30. My co-host, Marty Lenz, a news writer, and I write and edit tape until 5, and then we’re on the air until 9. Then we do post interviews, get ready for the show the next day, and record promos and commercials for a couple of hours before I come home and work out, have some lunch. I take at least a two-hour nap every single day so I can stay up when my 14-year-old gets home from school and have dinner with the family. I usually don’t go to bed until 10.
Obviously, a lot has changed since you started—but what are some major shifts in the industry you’ve seen?
The biggest change would be the advent of the Internet, podcasting, and social media. I have letters I used to receive from listeners—snail mail. People were like, Congratulations on your baby. Or, I’ve listened to you for 10 years and really appreciate the show, and I’ve got a question for you. You’re thinking, Gosh, they wrote this question four days ago, whereas now everything is so immediate. They can say, Why didn’t you ask the governor this question? So I really like the immediacy of being able to interact with our listeners right away when something’s going on. But then there’s also the familiarity; people feel like they can get away with any kind of language, and they can be cruel.
What hasn’t changed?
Our ability to cover stories hasn’t changed. We may be stretched a little bit thinner, but we still knock it out of the park. So many days of the week, I go home and I’m like, That freaking rocked. I’m proud every day of who I work with and what we’re able to produce. I want folks to know that I’m not leaving because I’m bored, angry, or sick of what I’m doing. I feel like I’m leaving on a high note. I’m leaving the party while it’s still going on. And that’s pretty exciting in this industry to be able to say that.
What’s one of the most memorable stories you’ve reported?
I did a story on swingers—not the dancing, but the folks who go out and look for other partners, open marriages. I interviewed a suburban swinging couple who lived in Lowry at this beautiful house. They had all these pictures framed of the parties that they’ve given at their house and the little outfits they wear and the toys they use. I also talked to a local pastor at a church about the institution of marriage, and I talked to a swingers club owner about the crazy stuff he sees there. It was a fun story, and yet I felt like I made it a whole story. And then I won an Edward R. Murrow feature reporting award for it. So that was icing on the cake.
Are there things about your job that you wish people better understood?
I think they think every word is scripted. Oh, you guys just read news. I would say at least 50 percent of it is off-the-cuff, thinking of a question in the moment. The moving-on-the-fly piece of it is what I love about it and what terrifies me about it, but you kind of get addicted to that: There’s dead air. A guest isn’t showing up. We try to cover really well for all the times that something is going haywire in the background. The mic lights are on and everybody’s trying to be quiet, but there’s just this sort of excitement underneath the current of what’s happening. I’m sure I’ll get itchy for that kind of excitement [after I retire].
What won’t you miss?
The most obvious is getting up at 2:20 in the morning. I’m going to be happy to see the family for breakfast and be able to take the dog for a walk in the morning. And I won’t miss the grind of just working every day. We’re moving to Las Vegas; I’ve got family in Arizona and San Diego, so it’ll be a little closer to them. I’m really looking forward to RVing. We’re taking a giant trip up to the Pacific Northwest and through Canada this summer. I’d love to travel internationally again. And I can’t wait to join a tennis league when I get to Vegas. We’re gonna play a lot more golf. Maybe down the road I would do some voiceover work. That could be something I pursue, just to make a little bit of money on the side.
You know the Raiders are in Vegas now…
KOA is the Broncos station; I cannot ever in my life root for the Raiders. It doesn’t mean I won’t go to a game, but they still feel like the same evil Oakland Raiders.
Did you think you’d stay at KOA this long?
Clearly, I’m afraid of change! But when you’ve got a good thing, why screw it up? I got job offers, especially early on in my career, in places that sounded exciting, like New York and LA. For whatever reason, those things didn’t pan out. We’ve loved everything about the work-life balance that you get in Colorado. I wanted to be able to go to the DCPA for shows, and I wanted to be able to go to the mountains to go skiing every weekend. We’ve really drained every ounce out of the Colorado experience. So, did I think I would be here this long? Probably not. But I don’t regret a minute of it.