God's Plan

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

Limbaugh's phenomenal popularity, duplicated all across the country, put an end to the plans of Patrick and his partners to sell the station.

Rush, he says, changed their whole game plan. We said, 'Gee, we can compete with these guys.' "

They moved the studio to Houston and hired recently out-of-work names such as former Oilers coach Bum Phillips, former Astros announcer Gene Elston and Ed Brandon, the Channel 13 weatherman who had lost his job in a drug scandal.

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

(One programming possibility never considered was the syndicated Howard Stern shock-jock show. "For my money, he shouldn't even be allowed on the air," Patrick says.)

The station rode the Rush juggernaut for all it was worth, but by 1992 that limit seemingly was reached.

"KSEV had a good day signal, but a bad night signal," Patrick says. "We had gone about as far as we could go. We were like a really good racecar driver in a car that just couldn't keep up with the pacesetters at the Indy 500. So I needed a better station."

Patrick's luck continued to improve. In 1992, the FCC changed its rules to allow a single entity to own more than one AM station in a market. That same year, the Hobby family decided to sell KPRC.

A representative of the family contacted Patrick. "The family didn't want to sell it to someone from out of town, and they didn't want KTRH to buy it because that would create too much of a monopoly," Patrick says. "And had KTRH bought it, we would've been just wiped out because it would have been two powerhouses and they would eventually have convinced Rush to change stations, and we would have been back to selling corn in Tomball."

Finding financing wasn't easy -- 43 banks turned them down. "The last year KPRC was owned by the Hobbys it lost $1.5 million, and my little business had just barely started turning a profit," he says.

Patrick and his investors, calling themselves Sunbelt Broadcasting, purchased the station for a reported $3.5 million in October 1992.

The sale came shortly before the election of Bill Clinton, God's gift to conservative talk radio. The once-maligned format became hotter than it had ever been.

In 1995 the media giant Clear Channel Communications of San Antonio was in the midst of a huge expansion, one that would eventually see it own such major Houston FM stations as Majic 102 (KMJQ), The Boxx at 97.9 (KBXX) and The Buzz at 107.5 (KTBZ).

Clear Channel offered to purchase Sunbelt's properties for $27 million (Patrick says he is "a sweat equity partner" who received a relatively small portion of the net proceeds left after paying Sunbelt's debt and taxes). Under the deal, Patrick would run the stations, and he and his partners would keep a 20 percent stake in the operation.

"It was too good an offer not to move forward on because a radio station is no better than the programming you have, and what I had to look at seriously Š in 1995 was that if Rush Limbaugh had a heart attack, or decided to quit, if he decided he had all the money he needed or some TV network gave him a big offer, our ratings would suffer dramatically and our revenues would suffer dramatically," Patrick says. "A radio station is a very fragile business."

With the sale, Patrick was in the best financial shape of his life. He decided to use his station to thank the person most responsible. In his mind, that person is not Rush Limbaugh, but Jesus Christ.

"I know God had his hand in my life because the things that have happened to me and this station, no man could have accomplished," says Patrick. "There is no question in my mind that it was part of God's plan for my life and God's plan for this radio station."

The words come pouring out of Patrick when he's in his full preacher mode. Even his nonreligious acquaintances don't doubt the sincerity of his faith. He's no longer the frantic yahoo of his TV days, but getting a monologue out of him is not a problem.

Patrick says he never had a blinding road-to-Damascus moment of religious discovery; instead he just looked around at his growing commercial success and decided there was something more to it than luck or skill.

"In the early '90s I was still searching. And it occurred to me that when I looked at my life and how I'd been kind of a phoenix rising out of the ashes, that I had nothing to do with that. [I said,] 'Why are all these good things happening to me?'

"I had never gotten mad at God because of all the bad things that had happened to me, frankly because I had made some bad decisions....If we look at our life, the good things that happen to us are God-inspired and the bad things that happen in life are things that we are the reason for....When I make a business decision now, unless it is clear to me that that is what God wants me to do -- clear to me -- then I won't do it."

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