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"I love improv because the show is improv." he explains, "Talk radio is improv."
Part of that improvisation includes the many impressions and characters in his repertoire such as SEC Guy (short for South Easter Conference, a nod to the character's home state of Alabama), a cantankerous Southern gentleman who is as antagonistic as he is vaguely racist. In fact, it is a story Zierlein told on the air that led to KGOW's "double rods" logo, created by a frequent listener.
Zierlein and his wife were leaving a University of Texas football game on a muggy, rainy Saturday afternoon. His wife took off the uncomfortable pancho she was wearing, leaving her husband draped in a similar orange, plastic raincoat. A group of Longhorn fans, seeing what they perceived to be a thoughtless husband letting his wife walk in the rain, shouted a few choice words Zierlein's way.
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As he walked away, he flipped them off with both hands behind his head, giving them what he referred to as the "double rods," which Zierlein called "just a friendly hello." Soon, the "friendly hello" became a greeting from callers and a part of how the station presents itself to the world.
Zierlein's slapstick plays well off Granato's straight man. The comfort level the two have achieved with one another took time to cultivate, beginning with a decision to ignore suggestions from management at KILT and to just be themselves. "John got to me and said, 'You've got to start letting out who you are, your personality, your comedy,'" he said, adding, "Our show is an extension of who we are."
Granato, for his part, is much more than simply a morning drive-time co-host. The 51-year-old Chicago native is the vice president of operations and has a financial stake in the station. He is largely responsible for recruiting the on-air talent that fills out the lineup at the station, and functions as a de facto leader and godfather. "John was first in, and he hired most of the rest of the lineup as he had far more experience than the others," said Gow. "They look at him as their mentor and somebody who can develop them."
The one-time host with Zierlein of the most popular morning sports talk show on Houston radio, perhaps the most popular sports talk show in any time slot, Granato left KILT after filing suit against it for breach of contract. The suit was settled out of court. Zierlein followed soon after, having to wait for his six-month non-compete clause to expire.
The chance they took, moving from the most successful sports station in the city to a start-up, is not lost on either of them, but they believe trading the stability of a large, corporate-run station for greater creative control and like-minded talent was well worth it. "Over there, it was every man for himself," says Granato during a commercial break. "Here, we're all in this together."
John Harris would agree. The co-host of the mid-morning show with Ramzanali, who is moving to the national overnight show on Sporting News Radio April 4, was working as an accountant in his wife's home state of North Carolina when Granato asked him to join 1560. Leaving North Carolina and the stability of his job was a huge risk he believed was worth taking. "You don't get rich doing this," he said, "but you never know what opportunities might come from it."
Harris, a lifelong friend of Zierlein and a former high school football coach in Florida, had appeared on Granato and Zierlein's show at 610 talking college and pro football, but had never hosted a show before KGOW. "The opportunity was amazing," he said. "It changed my life."
Gow, who purchased the station's license with a group of local investors, is quiet and friendly, with an unassuming, almost buttoned-down demeanor that belies the station's more colorful personality. While KGOW's call letters bear his name, it is something he resisted. "It really wasn't my first instinct," he said, laughing, "but Granato and others arm-wrestled me on it one day and I acquiesced."
Gow grew up appreciating radio and loving sports, but his reason for purchasing the station was more idealistic.
"I liked the idea of working in a business where the mission was greater than the day-to-day tasks," the 47-year-old native Houstonian said, emphasizing the importance of "supporting the development of lots of important causes."
He and Granato, whom Gow refers to as a "partner" with the investors, created the culture that drives the station and Granato's morning show with Zierlein is its heartbeat, setting the tone on an almost daily basis and affecting the shows that follow them.
Ramzanali took a traditional career path to radio, interning for McClain at 610 while he was a student at the Univerity of Texas. He interviewed with 1560 at its inception and started on nights and weekends, eventually moving to mid-mornings leading into the Sean Pendergast show.
Before coming to KGOW, Sean Pendergast's only brush with broadcasting occurred in the mid-'90s when he was a five-time winner of Jim Rome's "smack-off," a one-up-the-previous-caller-with-insults-and-sports-takes contest. A native of Connecticut, he worked in sales for 20 years before losing his job as the result of a merger.