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The Voice of the Lakers

Pine to Palm coverage has been a longtime passion for Andy Lia, seen here with Jim Bruflodt.(Brian Basham/DL Newspapers)1 / 3
Andy Lia broadcasts from the KLIZ studio in Brainerd where he was described as, "the morning voice of KLIZ Radio."2 / 3
KDLM broadcaster Andy Lia.3 / 3

Since 1980, the voice behind the microphone at Detroit Lakes High School sporting events has belonged to one man -- Andy Lia.

Lia, a Detroit Lakes native who was himself a Laker athlete during his years at DLHS, has been the sports director and operations manager at KDLM Radio in Detroit Lakes for nearly 30 years now.

His dedication to radio broadcasting recently caught the attention of Minnesota's Museum of Broadcasting, and on Oct. 10, 2009, he was officially inducted into the Museum's Hall of Fame.

But besides being the "Voice of the Lakers" for more than three decades -- he was also at KDLM for a three-year stint in the mid-1970s -- Lia has been the announcer for the local Pine to Palm Golf Tournament for many years as well.

In addition, he runs the cross-country meet sponsored by the local Rotary Club every year -- "I've been the chairman of that forever and ever," Lia says -- and he used to organize the annual Rotary-Kiwanis softball game, before that was discontinued.

And then, there's the volunteer work he does at Emmanuel Community, the local nursing home and senior living community where his wife Sandy has worked for many years.

Together, he and Sandy often play "Ole and Lena" at local Christmas, birthday and anniversary parties as well as the Becker County Fair.

"She (Sandy) is more the performer than I am," says Andy, noting that his wife was involved in theater during her college years. "She writes the scripts and everything."

Though Lia says his wife sometimes has to "drag me along" to these performances at times, "Once I get into it, I enjoy it."

The Lias have been married for more than 20 years, and raised two children who are now married with families of their own.

"We have four grandchildren in all," Lia says -- two from daughter Andrea and her husband Kyle, and two from son Craig and his wife Linda.

Wanted to be a teacher

After graduating from Detroit Lakes in 1959, Lia went on to get his one-year degree in radio broadcasting from Brown Institute in the Twin Cities. But it wasn't necessarily his first choice.

"I was going to be a teacher at one time, but when college fell through, I went to radio school," Lia says.

After spending a quarter at the University of Minnesota in Duluth, Lia found that he wasn't able to afford the tuition. So he got a job in the Twin Cities to support himself while he attended classes at Brown.

As the son of a long-time Detroit Lakes implement dealer, Lia had some contacts in that business, and ended up taking a day job at a John Deere implement business in the Twin Cities.

"I worked every day at John Deere, and went to radio school at night," Lia says.

After completing his coursework, Lia got his first job as a radio announcer at KTRF in Thief River Falls, in the fall of 1960. He stayed at KTRF for two years, and while there, was given the opportunity to call a few games -- "my early start to sports announcing," Lia says.

His next job was at KPRM in Park Rapids, as a sports announcer and program director. After just a year at Park Rapids, he moved on to KLIZ in Brainerd, where he was given his first job as sports director.

"I was doing play-by-play for football and basketball," Lia says. "There was no hockey there, and no girls' basketball."

After four years at Brainerd, Lia took his first -- and as it turned out, only -- job outside Minnesota. He spent a year as a radio announcer at Bismarck, N.D.

"I missed Minnesota, so I came back," Lia says simply. "There were no trees or lakes out there in North Dakota -- just the Missouri River."

He returned to KTRF in Thief River Falls, where he stayed for "about six or seven years" before taking a job as the sports director, FM operations manager and AM morning announcer at KDLM in Detroit Lakes in 1975.

But he would only stay there for a few years before moving on to equally brief stints in Bemidji (KBUN) and Minneapolis (KTCR).

Such frequent relocation was typical of the life of a radio announcer, according to Lia.

"You start at the bottom rung, and you work your way up," he says.

But Lia returned to KDLM in 1980, as operations manager and sports director, and "I've been here ever since," he says.

So why has he continued to work in the same profession, and the same community, for so long?

"It's easy work, and you meet a lot of people," Lia says, admitting that he also enjoys the notoriety. "It's nice when you walk down the street and people say, 'Hi, Andy.'"

And he also enjoys living in his hometown.

"I love the small town life, where you know your neighbors -- in Minneapolis, you're just a number down there," he says. "You've got the lakes here, and the change of seasons."

And while he has to get up and be at work every day at 4:25 a.m., Lia says he actually enjoys the early mornings.

"Unless I have a game, I try to be in bed by 9:30 or 10 p.m.," he says.

And while he has occasionally contemplated retirement, Lia still enjoys calling the local sports games.

"I love local sports," he says. "It's so wholesome...I just enjoy watching the high school kids play, for the love of the game, not money."

Lia also enjoys the unpredictability of local sports, and getting to know the athletes.

He appreciates the fact that local sports events are still broadcast live -- unlike many other radio broadcasts, which are pre-recorded.

"Radio is changing so much," Lia says. "You don't need as many people -- so much of it is done by computer."

Still, Lia works with a staff of about 18 people at KDLM, including advertising representatives, office personnel, and of course, his colleagues in the booth.

'He knows everybody'

Lia's work ethic and knowledge of the industry have earned him the respect of his fellow radio announcers.

"You can tell he really enjoys what he does," says Carol McCarthy, who has been the news director at KDLM for the past four years.

"I grew up with Andy on the radio, so I am honored to be working side by side with him," she adds. "And he's very knowledgeable about the industry, so he's a good source if you have questions."

"You can count on him -- he's true blue," says Marty Hembry, who has been an announcer at KDLM for 12 years.

Lia doesn't shirk off a task, no matter how large or small, he adds. "The work gets done."

Like Lia, Hembry is a radio industry veteran, so the two frequently find themselves reminiscing about the "old days" and how the industry has changed.

"It's nice to have someone to swap stories with," Hembry says. "He's a lot of fun to work with -- a sharp guy, on and off the air.

"And he knows everybody that walks in the door.... It's fun to meet the people that helped him grow up. He's got some interesting characters that he's collected over the years."

Hembry says Lia is a pretty easy guy to work for as well. "All you have to do with Andy (to please him) is just do what you're supposed to do."

"He's a wonderful coworker, very positive," McCarthy adds. "He never has a bad word to say about anybody."

Vicki Gerdes

Staff writer at Detroit Lakes Newspapers for the past 16 years, currently editor of the entertainment and community pages as well as covering city council and the Lake Park-Audubon School Board. Living in DL with my cat, Smokey.

(218) 844-1454