Getting into The Game with Chance McClain

Some of you doubtless remember my “glowing review” of KGOW and its programming last week. Some of you may also remember that I got a comment from Chance McClain, who works for KGOW and invited me down to the station for a tour. He also promised me the best spaghetti sauce in the world.

Well, I’m not one who can turn down the offer of the world’s best spaghetti sauce, so this week I took a trip out to KGOW’s Galleria-area studio.

And the bastard lied to me: there was no spaghetti sauce.

But aside from that, it was a good meeting. And perhaps it’s time for me to eat a little crow (and since the Chron’s Ken Hoffman is one of the station’s talk hosts and has probably eaten at every food establishment on the planet, perhaps he can give me the location of a good crow restaurant).

McClain and I talked for about an hour at his desk tucked away in a cubbyhole of the KGOW offices – he’s only been there about two weeks after leaving 610 and the station’s still figuring out where to place everybody. I tried to record the interview, but the machine stopped working about ten minutes in, so what follows is based on my scribblings and my memory. And I’m sure Chance will eagerly take the opportunity to correct whatever I get wrong.

Here are a few basics: KGOW went on the air last August with numerous transmitter problems. McClain says that while the signal is improving, there’s still much work to be done. “Directionally, it’s still not exactly where we want it,” he says. However, they are now broadcasting at 50,000 watts during the day, but can only broadcast at 100 watts out of Bellaire at night. “Inside the loop, it’s fine, but it’s not really anywhere out in the burbs. It’s certainly not where we want it.”

McClain says the lawyers are following the rules and regulations, and he expects the station to be broadcasting at 19,000 watts from a transmitter in Katy come fall. The transmitter will be aimed at Houston and it will give KGOW the second best nighttime signal in Houston, behind only KTRH.

“It’s a pain in the ass to start a radio station,” McClain says. “It’s not just buying a signal. I’m proud of these guys.”

And, unlike Houston’s other sports talk radio stations, KGOW is locally owned, with the primary owner being David Gow. McClain says he’s discovered that people around the city love the independent angle of the station. “People want to deal with mom and pop,” he says. “And we’re mom and pop.”

Programming wise, The Game isn’t going to change much over the year. They’re keeping with the same hosts and the plan is to move the weekend guys into a nighttime slot when the station goes to 19,000 watts at night. “The weekend is kind of our training ground,” he says. And one of the best parts about the weekend are the callers. “I can come in at nine on a Saturday morning” and the phones lines are all lit, he says. “We’re not going to be going to Tool Time on weekends.”

The Game has the right of first refusal to LSU football once again this fall. And though McClain wasn’t willing to divulge names, he did say the station is close to signing a deal with a local university and a non-local university for the rights to their football and basketball games.

He also plans to program the dead time this fall with college football. The main difference is that instead of all-UT or all-A&M, it will be a different school every week. Missouri one week. Boise State the next. “There should be several Boise State games because I like Boise State,” he says.

And The Game will be carrying the NHL Stanley Cup Finals come June, which makes me one happy man. As you’ve probably learned from my Aeros writing, I like hockey and the more coverage, the better. So, Chance, thanks for taking the chance (sorry, I couldn’t resist).

One of the things I was most interested in was how The Game planned to compete with the three other sports talk stations, especially since none of the other stations has yet to make a mark in Houston.

“The market can’t handle four stations,” he says. But he predicts that 790 will be flipping in a year to ESPN Deportes with Charlie Pallilo moving back to 740. As for 610, it’s becoming formulaic, he said. “Everything on the station is run through the lawyers.”

As for 97.5 The Ticket, he thinks they’re good for getting a national view on sports, essentially saying that this is the best place to go if you want to know about non-Houston, non-Texas based sports.

But The Game is going to succeed because “enough people in Houston will like the way we construct the station,” he says. “There is no fear of the corporate crap here.”

He does promise plenty of Astros content for this season, though it’s not yet decided if there will be a deal with any one player to appear on the station. He likes the deal the station has with former NBA player Nick Van Exel. “We get good content with Nick,” he says. “He’s irresponsibly honest.” And while basketball doesn’t always get callers, he’s convinced that it does get the station listeners.

The station is busy scouring the message boards and Facebook for listeners in a quest to attract the younger group. “We’re trying to build younger listeners,” he says.

The Game is also the only Houston station streaming content to cell phones. “That’s something 610 wouldn’t go for,” he says, because it wouldn’t guarantee enough listeners to make up for the effort. But while 610 might not be happy to just pick up 100-150 listeners by cell phone, he says, The Game is very happy. Computer users are also able to go the The Game’s Web site and watch the shows. And, he promises drastic upgrades in August.

McClain had to sit out six months after leaving 610 because of a non-compete clause in his contract, and he says that time off was brutal, especially since he didn’t know for sure that he would have a job waiting for him at KGOW. “I didn’t know if the station blew its wad on John [Granato] and Lance [Zierlein] and Richard [Justice].”

The station had problems at the beginning with the transmitters. They’re now on their third transmitter. And he thinks they might have launched too soon, before having all of the technical matters under control. But now the station is set. “We’re getting our feet under us. Now we’re going to start charging on.”

I know what I wrote last week. And I just don’t think I’m ever going to become a fan of John Granato and Lance Zierlein. But I find myself wanting this station to succeed. Maybe it’s the whole underdog thing. Maybe it’s just a hatred of all things Clear Channel. Maybe it’s just the force of Chance McClain’s personality. I’ve never been happy with Houston’s sports talk programming. Hopefully 1560 The Game will find a way to pull it off. The enthusiasm among the staff is there, for what that matters.

So there you have it, me eating crow. And Chance, I’m still waiting for that killer spaghetti sauce you promised. – John Royal

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