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Radio Daze

One man, one jambox and four walls. For 24 hours.

"Houston radio sucks." You hear that truism everywhere you go. Google that unique phrase, and you get no fewer than 44 hits, and that doesn't count all the people who share the sentiment if not the identical phrasing of it.

But is it true? Does it in fact suck? All of it, or just most or some of it? If it does, why? Can it be saved, and how could this come about?

Armed with these and more questions, I decided to embark on an experiment: I would isolate myself and listen to the radio for 24 straight hours.

Not to the same station, mind you, but to all of the radio, or as much of it as I could get to. I would go through all the stations in turn, and with rare exceptions, I would linger at no station for less than two minutes or more than five. And there would be no other external sensory stimuli -- no TV, no CDs, no computer, no reading material, no solitaire, no crossword puzzles. No going out for food. Just me and my Philips jambox and the four walls.

I soon realized that I would have no choice but to do it in a motel. My office at the Press was out of the question -- I can't get AM in there. Also, I have two children and a wife at home -- too many distractions. So a motel it would be, and after a moment's thought, I settled on Grant's Palm Court Inn on South Main, an inexpensive but lovingly maintained Route 66-style hostelry just across the street from Reliant Stadium. I found out that it was for a time the favored H-town home of Elvis Presley, so I requested room 123, the King's old digs. A wee-hours visitation from the ghost of Elvis could come in handy.

So, on Thursday, January 20, 2005 -- Inauguration Day, as it happened -- I headed over to Fiesta for provisions. I bought some anti-nausea syrup just in case the tribulation made me physically ill. I loaded up on caffeine pills, a four-pack of Red Bull and a small jar of instant espresso. And leaving nothing to chance, your lapsed Catholic scribe also bought a candle to St. Jude, patron of lost causes. Next, I walked over to Antone's and picked up a stack of various poor boys, and then I headed back across the parking lot at the crack of ten and picked up a fifth of vodka.

Thus armed, I unlocked the door to the Elvis suite at the Palm Court and, at 10:17 a.m., I lit my candle to St. Jude, picked up a pen and a legal pad, switched on my radio and went to work.

So, does Houston radio suck? Is there hope? Would I shamble out of the Palm Court tomorrow at 10:17 a.m. a broken man, a gibbering lunatic? Could St. Jude save the day? Read on, and find out.

10:19 a.m.

KTRH/740 AM J.P. Pritchard and Lana Hughes are interviewing John Taylor, University of St. Thomas politics and government professor, about the imminent inaugural speech. "Do these things ever come back to haunt people?" Hughes asks. "No," Taylor chuckles. "They are usually full of platitudes." A prescient guy, that Taylor.

10:23 a.m.

KPRC/950 AM Syndicated conservative talker Glenn Beck is in rare form. He mentions that some leftists had launched a campaign for a national "No-Spend Day" to protest the inauguration. "I just want to go out and buy gallons and gallons of gas so the money goes straight to an oil company," he sneers, "and then just leave the car running all day." Are all these guys stone-cold sociopaths, or just this one?

10:39 a.m.

KCOH/1430 AMThe last of the Mohicans, the only locally programmed, locally hosted mixed music and talk station in town, KCOH is local to the point of navel-gazing -- it's not so much Houston-centric as it is South Side/Third Ward-centric, and that's definitely not a bad thing. Right now, though, it sounds as right-wing as some of the other Red State outposts on the dial. Host Michael Harris is interviewing another of the station's hosts, the Reverend Lisa Berry-Dockery, who is also a minister at Kirbyjon Caldwell Windsor Village United Methodist Church. The topic is the Reverend Caldwell, who was probably the most prominent Houstonian in America on this day. At the 2001 inaugural, Caldwell had outraged multiculturalists by closing his benediction by invoking "the name that's above all other names, Jesus, the Christ." Would he do the same this year? Harris wanted to know. And what kind of poorly mannered boor would have a problem with that anyway? Berry-Dockery's not gonna cross swords with her boss on this one: "If you get me to come speak at your event, there's two things I'm gonna talk about: Jesus and black folks," she says. Talk veers to Kerry-bashing. What had he ever done for blacks? Why was he not voting to confirm Condoleezza Rice? "He has that patrician attitude," Harris opines in his silky-smooth purr of a voice.

10:43 a.m.

KIKK/650 AM KIKK-A** Talk 650 offers a succession of syndicated shock jocks cracking wise and spinning recorded comedy bits. It's anchored by Howard Stern, whose sidekick Robin rips-and-reads an item from the New York Post about an aging groupie's tell-all book. Seems the groupie told Spin that Huey Lewis was hugely endowed. Peter Frampton, on the other hand, had an inapt first name.

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