Before you read this interview, click on this link to listen to David Lee's demo reel -- just so you know who we're talking about. Since the photo above will probably mean nothing to you -- unless you remember David Lee's career as a WQFM DJ in Milwaukee in the early '80s -- you'll be stumped until you hear his famous voice.
Done? OK, we'll continue ...
Lee's deep baritone voice is instantly recognizable to sports fans, who will recognize him as the voiceover guy for CBS Radio Sports / Westwood One, the company that broadcasts NFL games on the radio. He's also the guy who's voice shouts "Sunday! Sunday! Sunday" on TV and radio commercials. His pipes preview movies and have served as the imaging voice for more than 50 radio stations around the world.
And he's from Wisconsin. Lee grew up in Green Bay, cutting his teeth in radio with Kevin Harlan. He worked as a DJ at Milwaukee's WFQM, eventually relocating to Detroit. It was at WQFM that Lee interviewed David Lee Roth, from whom he took his stage name -- Lee's real name is David Olejniczak.
The 47-year-old Lee now owns David Lee Productions, and works from his home near Pleasant Prairie. We caught up with him by phone shortly after his famous voice presented yet another Super Bowl on CBS Radio.
OnMilwaukee.com: I'm a little surprised that on the phone, you sound like you do when I hear you on the radio.
David Lee: Well, there's a little bit of acting in that. If I really talked that way, I'd scare a few people.
OMC: Can you turn it on and off easily?
DL: Yeah, it's like an actor playing a part.
OMC: How did you develop your trademark sound?
DL: I guess it started back in the '80s when I was trying to emulate a guy named Joe Kelly. He was a DJ way back and did all the concert spots. He was the voice of every hard rock station in America. Kelly was the voice of WLZR. I picked up on him, and the other stuff was mostly being directed toward a certain sound.
OMC: What was it like working in the hard rock scene at WQFM in the '80s?
DL: Back then, it was party central. It was the hair band era.
OMC: Do you look back to those days fondly?
DL: Oh yeah, but I stayed away from some of the pitfalls of the era.
OMC: What happened after Milwaukee?
DL: I was in Milwaukee until 1992, then I went to Detroit where I became the imaging guy and production director of WRIF.
OMC: What's a day in the life of a voice imager?
DL: In the old days, we traveled from studio to studio. If the producer specifically wanted to direct you, you had to go to the studio. If they trusted you, you could do the product in your own studio, and FedEx it to them. Now we send them (the product) via the Internet. I do all my work from home.
DL: Yes, about 20 stations. Rhythm 94.3 (in Lagos, Nigeria), I believe is what it was. It's a cross between reggae and urban.
OMC: Is Westwood One your highest profile client?
DL: Yes, it is. I was the voice of a radio station in Washington, D.C., back in 2000. They were the Redskins' flagship station. One of producers for Westwood One heard me while driving through town or something. The light bulb went off and he said that's what he wanted for Westwood One. He got in contact with me, and it's been six or seven years.
OMC: Is that a particularly fun gig, or are they all about the same since you're working from home?
DL: They're all about the same. (Westwood One) had the idea to really hit certain words hard. I would do a take and they'd be like, "Can you hit 'now' like 'noooooowwwwww?'"
There was a guy named Ernie Anderson -- and I'm going way back -- who was the voice of ABC in the '70s and '80s. He had that voice like, "The Loooooove Booooat."
OMC: I remember that guy, absolutely.
DL: He would hit certain words really hard, stretch them out. They wanted to bring back that sound.
OMC: On the radio, you sound like you're 7 feet tall. But you're not. Your voice doesn't match your physical persona. Are people surprised when they meet you?
DL: I do surprise a lot of people who tell me I don't look like I sound.
OMC: Do you get recognized at the grocery store?
DL: No, not at all. Every now and then, I will get recognized, like, "Your voice sounds familiar."
OMC: You're back home in Wisconsin now. Did you ever expect imaging to be your full-time job?
DL: Not really. When I was working at QFM, there was a radio consultant who heard my imaging for the station promos, and recommended me to a few small stations like one in the Quad Cities, Iowa. From there, I started to pick up stations, the ones who couldn't afford Joe Kelly. I became like a poor man's Joe Kelly.
I started slowly accumulating stations, and that's when the thought occurred to me: if I could get enough of these, I wouldn't have to be a DJ anymore. Even though I enjoy being on the air, this had a better payoff.
Andy is the founder and co-owner of OnMilwaukee.com. He returned to Milwaukee in 1996 after living on the East Coast for nine years, where he wrote for The Dallas Morning News Washington Bureau and worked in the White House Office of Communications. He was also Associate Editor of The GW Hatchet, his college newspaper at The George Washington University.
Before launching OnMilwaukee.com in 1998 at age 23, he worked in public relations for two Milwaukee firms, most of the time daydreaming about starting his own publication.
Hobbies include running when he finds the time, fixing the rust on his '75 MGB, mowing the lawn at his cottage in the Northwoods, and making an annual pilgrimage to Phoenix for Brewers Spring Training.