Can Controversial Sports Talk Host Josh Innes Find His Second Wind in Houston?

Will Josh Innes (center) be able to compete against tough competition in Houston sports talk radio?
Will Josh Innes (center) be able to compete against tough competition in Houston sports talk radio?
Courtesy of Josh Innes

"I believe in talking about emotion, human emotion. Most people couldn't tell you about the I formation or the ACE formation or a pro-style offense or a hook or a slant or a dig or a curl. They don't care about that. They don't care about cover-two, the cover-two press. You don't care about that. What you care about is emotion."

On the air Monday afternoon, the day after a huge win for the Houston Texans, this is the hope for Josh Innes, newly minted host of the afternoon drive-time show on KBME 790 AM. This is his second go-round in Houston — his first ended in 2013 after three years at rival KILT 610 when he joined Philadelphia's WIP-FM, one of the longest-running sports talk stations in the country.

From the time Innes hit the airwaves in Houston, his brand of brash, unapologetic sports talk was polarizing among avid sports radio listeners. He says he believes in talking about emotion, but it is clear he also believes in being emotional. His passionate approach to sports talk — really "guy talk," as his topics tend to meander from sports to pop culture and beyond — can be a bit of a shock to the system for the average, sometimes demure, Houston sports talk listener.

This is particularly true given that he is replacing veteran Charlie Pallilo. Not only is Pallilo one of Houston's longest-tenured sports talk voices, but he is at virtually the opposite end of the talk universe from Innes. Pallilo favored stats and analysis, often lecturing callers with his huge breadth of sports knowledge. For fans, he was a throwback to old-school sports guys, crunching numbers and dissecting plays.

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But Pallilo's show was flagging in the ratings and his approach didn't jibe with modern talk radio. Attempts to pair him with more wide-ranging talents like Lance Zierlein failed, and Pallilo was ultimately dumped unceremoniously, angering those who tuned into his show for its persistent, if, some might argue, dated, approach.

Ironically, Pallilo's rise came more than two decades ago alongside Rich Lord, Innes's former on-air partner at KILT. Lord remains in the afternoon spot at KILT with Sean Pendergast (a fellow contributor here at the Houston Press) and former New England Patriots linebacker Ted Johnson. Their afternoon drive show opposite Innes, the Triple Threat, has dominated the sports talk ratings wars since Pendergast took over for Innes when he left for Philly.

During Innes's time at KILT, he and Lord had an often-contentious relationship. Innes pushed boundaries that clearly made Lord, a much more low-key voice, uncomfortable. One notably awkward segment involved comedian and impressionist Frank Caliendo and 30 minutes of cringe-worthy radio. After Innes finally left the booth upon Caliendo's urging, Lord told the comedian, "He may like you less than he likes me, and that's saying something." 

When Innes left KILT for Philly, he made that point clear in an exit interview in the Houston Chronicle: “The main reason I decided not to stay here is that I didn’t want to do that show with Rich anymore,” he said. “I don’t really like him. I’m not going to say that I’ll miss him or that he’s a friend of mine.”

Last week, within days of his return, he went off on his former radio home when a Reddit poster dropped an alleged screengrab of an email from a KILT senior account manager attempting to woo advertisers away from KBME by sharing what we can only assume is an unflattering clip of Innes on the air at 610. Innes responded in kind, according to the Chron:

"There's an email going out about me because the cowards over at CBS Radio, the absolute chicken-bleep cowards at CBS Radio are so concerned that this show may come into town and take some business and some listeners from them that their sales people are emailing the clients of this radio station and besmirching my good name," Innes said.

"A fella named Sean Russell - I don't know if he's the only one sending or the guy above him ordered the Code Red; I don't know if it's a company-wide thing that they said, 'You must send this to the clients of people at 790,' I don't know. Sean Russell, who I thought was a buddy of mine ... This guy shouldn't have a job after this, though."

All of this comes on the heels of Innes's firing from WIP earlier this year after a series of racially charged on- and off-air moments that angered listeners. In retrospect, most of the controversy appears to have been somewhat overblown, but, much as during his time in Houston, he was clearly a divisive figure in what is already a harsh Philly sports scene.

Acceptance from listeners in the somewhat more subdued Houston culture doesn't appear to be an issue for Innes. He has followers remaining from his days at KILT and plenty of others who prefer his brand of talk to that of his predecessor. Additionally, no one would question his talent as both a knowledgeable sports commentator or a broadcast personality. He has both in spades.

What remains to be seen is whether or not he can break the ratings juggernaut at KILT by going head-to-head with both his former Houston broadcast home and on-air partner Lord. That would be a tall task for anyone, but KBME is betting on Innes, handing him the reins of a struggling time slot.

Back in the city he calls home, Innes seems undeterred by any criticism, diving headlong into an approach that made him as famous as it did infamous. On Monday, he ranted against Texans players who were critical of fans leaving the Sunday night game before a furious comeback and win over the Colts in overtime. Innes was, as it turns out, among those fans. "Don't tell me you're a tough football team. Don't tell me you're a never-say-die football team. You just finally exploited that garbage defense of Indianapolis and it took you 56 damn minutes to do it...all right, let's talk to people."

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