God's Plan

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

As the lead sportscaster at KHOU-TV during the height of the city's "Luv Ya Blue" passion for the Oilers, Patrick specialized in inane antics: wearing huge foam cowboy hats, painting himself Columbia Blue, taking part in any silly stunt that might get attention.

He opened a sports bar in Rice Village. He made outrageous comments. He was the toast of the town, or at least that portion of the town that appreciated idiotic gimmicks.

He was also, he says, leaving the station in between the 6 p.m. and 10 p.m. broadcasts each Wednesday night to attend services at the First Baptist Church.

Doing the Lord's work, with weather and traffic updates.
Doing the Lord's work, with weather and traffic updates.
Patrick always sports a "What Would Jesus Do?" bracelet.
Patrick always sports a "What Would Jesus Do?" bracelet.

Raised in Baltimore by a not-terribly-religious family, Patrick says he found something in the preaching by Pastor John Bisagno that he hadn't heard before.

"Church to me had been more pomp and circumstanceŠ.When I heard some of the Baptist preachers, I thought for the first time I was hearing someone speak to me about what was going on in my life," he says.

He considered quitting television to become a minister, but Bisagno warned him of the financial and personal sacrifices such a decision would create.

"He told me, 'Even if you are willing to make that sacrifice, we don't need more preachers; we need more Christians in the workplace; we need Christian politicians and business people and doctors and lawyers and broadcasters,' " Patrick says.

For all of his burning, though, Patrick's fervor started to ebb. "Preachers will tell you that's not unusual," he says. "I just became kind of a part-time Christian."

He also became a full-time bar owner, and not a very good one. KHOU had been purchased in 1984 by the Belo Corporation, owners of the staid Dallas Morning News. Unsure how receptive the new bosses would be to his flamboyant style, Patrick pushed for a long-term commitment as his contract came up for renewal.

The station manager refused to commit, and Patrick was out of television when his contract expired soon after.

He concentrated on Dan & Nick's Sports Bar in the Village, but he wasn't making much of a go of it. He had declared bankruptcy in 1986 and was struggling to reorganize and keep the place afloat in Houston's tanking oil-bust economy.

His first step on the path to radio Godliness came from a discussion held in the big toe of a foot-shaped swimming pool owned by a Tomball podiatrist.

The podiatrist had raised money from patients and friends and had purchased KTVT, a radio station in Tomball that broadcast from 700 AM on the dial. The station mostly aired big-band music, but the owners wanted Patrick to host a sports talk show from his bar.

A month after he took to the air in June 1987, Patrick says, he called the station to set up that day's show and no one answered. He soon discovered the station was deeply in debt to the IRS and a bank was seeking to repossess it.

Frantic investors "looked at me like a savior because they didn't know anything about radio, and I had been on radio and TV," he says. He convinced the investors and the podiatrist to drop lawsuits they had filed against each other, and the Federal Communications Commission appointed him to head the station, renamed KSEV, in a receivership status in August 1988.

A few months later, through a patron of the bar, Patrick came up with $1 million from a varied group of investors and purchased the station. The plan was to apply for a boost in signal power from the FCC and then sell the improved asset.

While trying to implement that strategy, they played syndicated programming from the Business Radio Network, Patrick did his sports show, and the station languished in obscurity, hardly able to be picked up at night, a seemingly amateurish operation headed by someone who appeared to have made an astoundingly bad career move by leaving his television gig.

All that changed early in 1989 when he got a phone call from a guy named Rush Limbaugh.

Limbaugh was trying to sell his radio show, without much success. Political talk radio was anathema to programmers at the time; they were certain they'd simply be pissing off half their listeners, who would move on down the dial.

In Houston, KPRC's talk lineup was dominated by Alvin Van Black, whose listeners called in about poor garbage service or how there's nothing good on TV, and TV weatherman Doug Johnson, who spent much of the day rhapsodizing about country biscuits or sea cruises he was hosting.

Limbaugh was offering his show to stations, who would let him sell some of the ad time each hour. No one was interested.

"What Rush was reduced to in those early days was contacting any [station] that was near a big city and getting on the air," Patrick says. "Tomball was near a big city. So I listened to the show and I liked it....I thought this guy was going to attract attention and it wouldn't cost me anything and I wouldn't have the boring Business Radio Network on all day."

Within six months, the tiny Tomball station was outdrawing its Houston rivals during Limbaugh's 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. time slot. "It was astonishing because we had no money to promote it, no billboards, no newspaper [ads]; no one had ever heard of our station."

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