With Jon Justice, thinking about Drew Lee

I’m joining Jon Justice in the studio tomorrow morning at 7:30 a.m. (Central) Minneapolis’s KTLK AM 1130 and FM 103.5. The channel can be live streamed here. Please tune in and call producer Robbie Rosenhaus to chime in on the studio line: (651) 989-5855.

Jon paid tribute to his late colleague Drew Lee on Twitter over the weekend. Drew died unexpectedly on Saturday, June 25, 2022. Jon and Drew had built a local following together as Justice & Drew on KTLK. Howard Root and I had spent three hours the day before with Drew on the show in the studio. Drew was ready to wind up the show with a story about artificial intelligence. Before launching into it, he turned to Howard and me. He asked if there there was anything we wanted to discuss before we got to it.

I told him on the air that I wanted to say I thought Justice & Drew was the most important news show in the Twin Cities (I meant Minnesota). Howard added his own thoughts along the same lines. When I specified an important story that I knew about only because of the show, Drew responded, “Funny you should say that” — and expanded on the point. We never did get to that AI story.

Jon was in the hospital recuperating from open-heart surgery and announced Drew’s death on the air the following Monday: “This is the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do in my entire radio career. Drew was my best friend. He was your friend. I don’t need to tell you how special he was. It goes without saying that I’m devastated and he will be tragically missed.”

Jon has carried on the show in stellar fashion since Drew’s death. It remains the most important show in Minnesota.

I offered a remembrance of Drew on Power Line last year. Prompted by Jon’s tweet, I was thinking about Drew again this weekend. I wanted to share my remembrance of Drew with readers today. This is what I wrote last year following Drew’s death:

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Having appeared as a guest of Drew Lee in the studio over the past few years, I knew he was funny, gifted, knowledgeable, and tuned in. He was always smiling. He had a joy for life. I learned from him. I enjoyed being with him. Most recently, I spent three hours with him and Howard Root in the studio on Friday, the day before he died. I can’t believe he is gone.

Last year [i.e., 2021] I covered the trial of Derek Chauvin in the death of George Floyd from the media center set up by the court across the street from the courthouse. After I wrote on Power Line that I would be covering the trial, Howard suggested to Drew that I comment on the trial daily for Justice & Drew. Drew must have thought it was a good idea. He invited me to become Justice & Drew’s Chauvin trial correspondent. I gladly signed up.

A 7:55 a.m. or so, producer Samantha Sansevere would call and put me on hold for a segment at the top of the hour discussing the previous day’s events. As I drove home at the end of the day, I heard Jon and Drew’s taped promotion of the segment featuring me on the next day’s show. It was a great kick and seemed to go well.

Four or five days after we had cranked up, Drew called me over the lunch hour. He caught me in the skyway downtown and in a troubled tone of voice asked if I had time to talk. I asked if it was something I said. No, he assured me, I hadn’t said anything wrong. Sales staff had come to him, he told me, and asked if they would insert WCCO-TV anchor Jason DeRusha in my place at the top of the hour. Jason was anchoring WCCO’s live stream of the trial on its digital platform and WCCO wanted to promote it. (Jason has just moved on to host WCCO AM 830’s drive-time radio show from 3:00-6:00 p.m.) I would immediately follow Jason.

Obviously anticipating that I would object — it sounded like he was inviting me to object — Drew asked if that was okay with me. I couldn’t believe he was asking for my blessing. Somebody over at WCCO must have thought we had a good thing going. I thought that was great. Jason was a big name who would give our coverage added credibility. I thought that was great. Jason’s lead-in would if anything amplify the audience for our segment.

So you’re okay with it?, Drew asked. I was more than okay with it. I was enthusiastic about it. I thought it would serve all of us well.

In the event, Jason DeRusha was a total professional. His daily summaries perfectly set up my commentary. Drew was the perfect host. The project seemed to be a success.

Thinking about this following Drew’s death, I am struck by how much it says about Drew. He was kind, thoughtful, concerned, and loyal. He was putting himself in my place and willing to defer to my preferences even if doing so would put him in an uncomfortable position with the company or come at some cost to himself. He was just that kind of guy and I can’t think of anyone else I know quite like him.

Jon Justice worked with Drew over a period of many years. They were colleagues and best friends. In the studio they worked every day at microphones across a table four feet apart from each other — a bit farther apart than the Everly Brothers, say, but the potential for annoyance and discord was there just the same.

During a break on one of the Friday “round table” programs I had joined at Drew’s invitation, Drew explained to me that he had hired Jon for the station he worked at in Tucson. Drew viewed Jon’s talent with awe. He omitted saying that his career must not have been too shabby if he was in a position to hire Jon.

Following his open-heart surgery last week, Jon announced Drew’s death at the top of Monday’s show from his room at the University of Minnesota Hospital. Speaking through the tears, Jon paid tribute to Drew from his unique perspective.

Jason DeRusha kindly tweeted out his concurrence with my remembrance of Drew.

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