For as long as most people living in the lakes area can remember, Andy Lia has been the “Voice of the Lakers,” calling just about every Detroit Lakes High School football, basketball, volleyball, hockey and golf game for KDLM Radio since 1980.
He’s also been a fixture of the local station’s morning programming, with his radio show running from 5:30 a.m. to 10 a.m. every Monday through Friday. But this past Thursday, Lia signed off from his show for the last time.
“I guess it’s just time,” he said of his reasons for calling it quits after 36 straight years as KDLM’s operations manager and sports director. “I think I’ve been with Leighton (Broadcasting) for 40 years, altogether… I started in broadcasting when it was all records and turntables. Now everything’s computerized. I’m not nearly as tech-savvy as some of the guys here.”
Lia also says that after 36 years of getting up at 4:15 a.m. every weekday and going into the station for his radio show, plus traveling all over the region to call games for dozens of area sports teams at all hours of the day and evening, it’s not nearly as much fun as it used to be.
“I did anywhere from 50 to 60 games every year,” he said. “I think I’ll miss the coaches and the kids the most. You get pretty close after watching them play for so long.”
So what’s next? When asked that question, Lia grins and pantomimes taking a swing at an imaginary golf ball.
“I want to golf, fish, hopefully do a little traveling,” he said, adding that he and his wife Sandy “got the bug” to travel after a trip to Europe last year, and he hopes to get some time to visit with his sisters in Tampa, Fla., and Phoenix, Ariz., as well as his other two sisters in Minnesota, along with son Craig and daughter Andrea, who live in Rochester and Mora, Minn., respectively. He also has four grandchildren that he hopes to spend more time with.
One hobby he won’t be taking up again, however, is running. “I got interested in running in 1982,” he said. “I think I completed 10 marathons (including six Grandma’s and four Twin Cities marathons) and about 100 other races in 20 years… until my knee went kaput.”
A Detroit Lakes native, Lia’s enthusiasm for sports dates all the way back to his days as a Laker athlete.
After graduating from Detroit Lakes High School in 1959, he 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 said in a 2009 interview, prior to his induction into the Minnesota Museum of Broadcasting Hall of Fame.
After spending about half a semester 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.
“We listened to rock and roll on the radio all the time as teenagers… I wanted to be a DJ,” he said of his reasons for pursuing a broadcasting career.
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,” he said.
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.
“I always liked sports, and participated in both high school and college,” he said, so when the sports director asked him to come along with him to call a few games, Lia jumped at the chance.
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 said. “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 said. “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 said.
But in 1980, Lia made his final career move, returning to Detroit Lakes to become KDLM’s operations manager and sports director, and continued in that capacity until his retirement this week - though he added that he’s been “easing back a bit” from his management duties over the past few years.
Now that retirement is upon him, Lia says he’ll probably still be up before dawn every morning - but rather than heading into the office, “I’ll be out in the backyard, drinking coffee.”
Leighton Broadcasting will be hosting a retirement open house for Lia on Wednesday, July 20 at the Detroit Lakes Pavilion, from 4 to 8 p.m. All those who would like to wish Lia well on his retirement are welcome to attend.