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Finding a balance is difficult, but more and more shows will be seeking to do it. "That's where your growth opportunity is," says KBME's Berry. "There's a limited number of people to listen to sports talk...if you're measuring that by people who want to argue about whether .300 is the barrier of who's a great hitter and who is not. But there is a broader group of people who are trying to decide between political talk and sports and Ellen DeGeneres on the air, and you can keep them if you give them a little bit of all that and keep your core of being a sports station."
"From time to time we've been encouraged to explore [guy talk], but I think we're more about sports than anything else," Lord says. "I like to talk about that stuff as much as the next guy, but I don't think it should be to the extent that if someone tunes into the station randomly, he can't figure out what our format is."
Thanks for taking my call. I know you guys are up against the clock, so I'll just make this quick. Who's going to survive out of all these stations?
KILT has been the most roiled. They've lost their morning hosts, and Rich Lord is on his third cohost in the last two years.
KILT has replaced Granato and Zierlein in the mornings with Marc Vandermeer and Andre Ware. That's raised some eyebrows in town, because Vandermeer and Ware are the announcers for Texans games.
Vandermeer was already being criticized for going easy on the Texans when he was cohosting with Lord, so no one's expecting any huge onslaught of candor from the two when football season rolls around. (Vandermeer and Ware aren't paid for their NFL jobs by the Texans, but the team does have some say on who's in the booth.)
"They are going to have a hard, hard time establishing credibility," one host says. (It could be worse: There's a growing trend now of pro teams buying their own radio stations. The Washington Redskins and Los Angeles Angels have done it; the St. Louis Cardinals ended a 50-year partnership with legendary station KMOX to do it.)
Still, KILT has the numbers, such as they are (see "Jock Radio: Numbers Game"). They're not going anywhere, and KBME also looks like it's here to stay.
Which leaves KFNC and KILE. Here's the common wisdom on both: KFNC has a signal out of Beaumont that can be tough to get here; Houstonians are not accustomed to getting sports talk on FM and they want local talk as opposed to national. KILE (which will probably be renamed) is at the far, far end of the radio dial and doesn't have the resources for a start-up against the big boys of CBS, Clear Channel and Cumulus.
Speaking in KFNC's defense: Jon Madani, programming director. He says his station will have increasing local programming but still feature the popular national shows like Mike & Mike and Dan Patrick. As for the signal, "I hear all kinds of theories [about not being able to get it], from what kind of car you're driving to where you are in town," he says. "I just have to keep telling myself that for everyone who can't hear us, and I'm sorry they can't, there's a whole lot of people who can."
Speaking for KILE: Granato. "I know it's real hard to twist the radio dial to the right, I know that's going to be hard," he jokes. "But actually we are going where no man has gone before and that is something that is not a concern, but something we're going to have to tackle, getting people up there."
As for taking on the giants, he says most of those giants have tiny marketing budgets. (Which is true: There aren't many billboards around town promoting sports talk.) "The big conglomerates, they're like the Mom & Pops now because they're strangling; they want as much revenue dollars as they can get and they want to spend as little in the market as they can...Frankly, we're going to have way more marketing out there than the majors do."
There aren't many in the market who think Houston can support four stations. "Some natural selection at some point will take effect," says Zierlein. "The market may be big enough for three sports stations, but one of them is going to be very weak and if it's four, one of them's not going to survive."
No one appears eager to blink just yet. So, Houston sports fans, enjoy it while you can. No one's going to have more choice in local sports-talk radio than you. Plus you get to watch a big-time battle.
Hey, no time for any more calls; stay tuned for traffic, weather and an update! And listen in for our new evening show, where we'll be discussing the ten best sports movies, why Eva Longoria isn't all that hot and whether the Sopranos finale sucked.
Oh, and we might talk a little about the Astros.