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For years, sports talk was simply afternoon or evening programming on news/talk stations. KILT changed all that when it went all-sports in September 1994, seven years after the concept was first introduced by WFAN in New York. KILT had the field to itself for ten years, when KBME switched to all-sports in late 2004, stealing Pallilo from KILT and installing him as the anchor of the station. In January of this year KFNC entered the fray, and KILE is aiming to be up by football season. There are going to be some very, very thinly sliced pies out there.
Hey guys, how're ya doin'? I got you guys on my radio all the time, you're great. I had a comment and then a question. My comment is, there have been a lot of dumb coaches and owners in Houston. My question is, why are you guys so soft on them?
"This is a much kinder, gentler media market than most top-ten markets in this country," says Rich Lord, afternoon host at KILT and 20-year veteran of the Houston sports-talk market. "It's served me kind of well because I'm not necessarily the kind of guy who's going to go off half-cocked on teams, or GMs or players and call them out on the air and talk about what an idiot the coach is and what kind of moron the GM is and what a useless piece of human garbage that player is. I don't think it plays well in Houston."
Jon Madani is program director at KFNC; he's been in three different markets for ESPN and has been a keen observer of stations across the country. "There's a Southern charm here, there's a 'please' and a 'thank you' that's not attached to callers in Boston, I can tell you that," he says. "Up in the Northeast it's much more confrontational."
Pallilo, a Long Island native, brought in a bit of that attitude when he first came to town for KTRH in 1989, but he quickly learned to tone it down. "I don't know whether it's that we're an indoor/outdoor climate 12 months a year so you're not hunkered down miserably with the slush and the all-gray weather," he says. "Clearly there's still not generation-to-generation-to-generation roots. No one comes out of the womb cheering for the Astros. In Boston you come out of the womb cheering for the Red Sox."
It's somewhat amazing how hosts in Houston, who after all inhabit the macho world of sports, are so eager to proclaim that they're hesitant to go after people.
"There was a guy [in another market] called Peter Brown and he used to be known as "The Coach Killer." Well, I don't want to have a reputation where all I'm known for, all I become famous for is because I go after coaches and players in interviews," says Lance Zierlein, long-time cohost with Granato at KILT until a recent contract dispute. "That's not my personality. It would be a front if I did that." (Zierlein's dad, perhaps not coincidentally, is an assistant coach in the NFL.)
"I think it's probably one of the easiest major markets in the country," says Granato. "For the players, they don't have the guy coming after them with the really tough questions; the callers, they aren't like in New York where they can be brutal."
Don't look for that to change. "I don't think there's the need for the confrontational aspect you get on the East Coast," says Tim Collins, program director for KBME.
Yeah, hey, I had a comment on that previous caller. That might be okay with coaches and players, but I happen to be an absolute idiot caller. In just a second I'm going to propose trading Tracy McGrady for Tim Duncan and Steve Nash in a three-way deal, then I'm going to say that Barry Bonds doesn't have Hall of Fame numbers. Why don't you hang up on me, for crissake?
"You reflect your community, and Houston isn't a hang-up-on-you city," says Van Rysdam.
"Your discussion around the watercooler or at the pub in Houston is reflected on the air, just as it is in New York," says Berry. "Guys are going [in New York], 'Shut up' or 'You can't answer that, you're an idiot, I'm not going to listen to you, fahgedaboudit.' Whereas here you're going to get a more polite, courteous response. So shouldn't your radio show be a reflection of that?...We don't hang up on people, nor do people call in expecting to be hung up on; in New York or Philadelphia, they do."
So in Houston, idiot caller, you will be heard. And frequently are, unfortunately (see "Jock Radio: No-Call List").
If you're a reasonably intelligent host, what can you possibly be thinking when you see on your computer screen that some guy has been sitting on hold for an hour and ten minutes in order to get in a comment about the Texans' tight-end situation? Is that a sign of dementia?
"The whole dynamic is interesting," says Pallilo, "because I've never known any more impassioned sports fan than I was as a kid...[but] I called two shows in my lifetime." (One was as a 14-year-old, calling a national show famous for hanging up on kids. "I put on the greatest basso profundo I could come up with in the midst of puberty," he says. "It was a rite of passage I made it through the Pete Franklin show without getting gassed.")