God's Plan

At Dan Patrick's KPRC talk-radio station, it's politics with a capital G

 At 10:20 on a Wednesday morning, the only real talk-radio station in Houston is doing what any good talk-radio station should be doing: delving into a burning local controversy.

In this instance, it's yet another cop shooting -- the killing of a man outside a local hospital. Coming in the wake of a protest-igniting jury decision that saw a white ex-cop receive only probation for murdering his black neighbor, the latest incident is ripe for discussing the issues of race and violence and police behavior.

On KPRC-AM, though, they're talking with the police officer's pastor.

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Phillippe Diederich
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Patrick's radio empire started in Tomball.
Patrick's radio empire started in Tomball.

"I want you to know that this [officer] came to my church a few years ago and he fell to his knees, and when he came up he was a different man," says Pastor Bill Livingood.

He also offers a detailed explanation of the Bible's view on shooting people. "The Bible says, 'Thou shalt not kill,' but that is the King James Version; the ancient Hebrew actually translates as 'Thou shalt not premeditatedly kill someone,' " the pastor explains to host Dan Patrick, who also runs the station.

Just two days before, KPRC, 950 on your AM dial, had been ablaze, like every other talk-radio station across the country, with talk about Hillary Clinton's interview about her husband's infidelities. Afternoon host Mike Richards scorned the First Lady's comments, saying she is absolving him of responsibility for his actions and, like all Democrats, painting people as victims.

"There is another way, and it's not victimhood. It's God," intones Richards, a former state senator.

KPRC is not a Christian station, one of those weak-signaled outlets with shouting preachers and treacly hymns. It's the second-largest AM station in town, second only to all-news KTRH, and it's the city's highest-rated AM station from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. And when it comes to political talk, KPRC is effectively the only outlet in the fourth-largest city in the country.

It's not unusual, given the tendencies of talk radio and Houston's generally conservative outlook, that the station is a hotbed for those who think Democrats are evil and Republicans are saints. What is surprising, though, is a trend that has become much more pronounced over the past two years: At KPRC, God is in the house and on the air.

The usual partisan back-and-forth on the station's local shows has become more and more colored with religion. The Bible is quoted time and again by callers and hosts, as support for everything from banning abortions to tax cuts to the never-ending Clinton-bashing. There's an occasional God Squad segment where a Muslim, a rabbi and a priest talk about why they think they're going to heaven and the others are going to hell.

These days, if you want to talk about local or statewide political issues on the radio in Houston, you better be prepared to talk about religion, too.

"Of all the large secular stations in the country, we probably have more religious content than anyone," says station manager Dan Patrick.

But, he says, "This isn't a church, and this isn't a Christian station. It's a secular station with Christian overtones."

Some wonder, though, if the only bastion of local political discussion isn't being hijacked by the religious right.

For years, political talk-radio here and across the country avoided religion as a topic. Hosts would reach for the kill button as soon as a caller started in on God. Even today, the most famous conservative talk-show hosts shy away from the subject.

"Generally when you get into a Bible-quoting contest on the air, it's not a good idea. It gets old very quickly," says a former KPRC insider.

Rather than shunning God, though, KPRC is embracing him. And for that, blame or credit goes to Patrick, the station manager who first hit Houston as the wacky sportscaster who painted himself in Oilers colors on the air, then went broke in the sports-bar business, and then became rich after he took a tiny radio station deep in the woods of Tomball and parlayed it into a local radio empire.

According to Patrick, his improbable rise can be traced to two things: a call from God, who turns out to be a shrewd businessman, and a call from a then-obscure guy looking to syndicate a talk show, who went by the odd name of Rush Limbaugh.

Patrick says his station is having "a profound impact" both on the bottom line of the media giant that bought it from him four years ago, and on the lives of his listeners.

"I don't take any credit for that," he says. "That is God. It's clear to me that's what God wanted to happen with this radio station. It's clear to me that in this country today, [a country] that you might argue is becoming more immoral and a lost nation, that in the fourth-largest city in the United States of America, God said, 'I'm going to take a radio station and I'm going to use it to reach people in that community.' I believe that."

Such talk seems improbable for anyone who remembers the 49-year-old Patrick from his first days in Houston 20 years ago.

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