When we wrote about KGOW 1560 The Game for our 2011 cover story, changes had already come for the growing Gow Media company that owned the station. Soon, it would acquire Sporting News Radio (eventually becoming Yahoo Sporting News radio and SB Nation radio) and ESPN 97.5 FM. There was a growing concern among both those working there and longtime fans of the station that 1560 would be abandoned for more mainstream options. Their worries were justified, as we have written about several times.
But nothing could have prepared local sports radio listeners for the announcement Wednesday that Gow Media had acquired CultureMap, the online social scene website that began in Houston but spread to cities across Texas, including Austin and Dallas.
Rumblings had been going on for some time that CultureMap had been in trouble. Just under two years ago, Dallas-based firm ViewMarket purchased the company, and there have been reports of layoffs and rumors of internal struggles ever since.
During the recent Super Bowl in Houston, Gow Media hosted a joint party with CultureMap, in retrospect a clear signal of the merger to come. On Wednesday in an announcement on the CultureMap website, Gow founder and CEO David Gow expressed his excitement.
"It's a great move for both companies," said David Gow, CEO of Gow Media. "It's a chance to create a large media company and offer more to our existing audience and advertisers. The combination of Gow Media assets and CultureMap creates one of the largest media companies based in Texas."
Undoubtedly, CultureMap's successful events, along with the chance to provide a range of advertising and sponsorship opportunities across multiple platforms, were attractive to Gow. He has clearly demonstrated he is not shy about making deals to expand his holdings, as he did with SB Nation radio and ESPN 97.5.
Still, both local stations are well behind competitors KILT 610 and KBME 790 in the ratings wars (1560 still has signal quality issues because of a weak transmitter that has been a source of problems since its inception). And the extensive holdings of the massive multimedia empires behind those stations (CBS and Clear Channel respectively) don't bode well for their future success. Nevertheless, Gow has hung in there, quietly expanding his inventory of media holdings.
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In the announcement, Gow said he would also like to see more sports reporting at CultureMap. Prior to this merger, there had been only a handful of sports stories written for the outlet, most of them by Chris Baldwin, now at Paper City magazine. But even those were primarily think pieces and opinions. Baldwin and CultureMap's sports coverage may best be known for rather public feuds with well-respected sports media personalities, including former KGOW morning co-host Lance Zierlein.
It's hard not to consider Gow as one of the best incubators of sports radio talent in Texas. At its peak, The Game arguably had the greatest assemblage of on-air sports talent in Houston radio history. Now, only Jon Granato and Raheel Ramzanali remain within the Gow Media family at ESPN 97.5, while the others have carved out radically successful careers at other stations: Zierlein (morning drive on 790), John Harris (on-air host for the Houston Texans), Travis Rodgers (KLAA in Los Angeles morning drive), David Nuno (KTRK Channel 13 sports reporter and anchor) and our Houston Press colleague Sean Pendergast (610 afternoon drive).
Shortly before that cover story ran in 2011, many former KGOW staffers believed they were on the cusp of becoming one of the most popular and well-respected sports stations in this part of the country. They had the talent, the creativity and the kind of rabid, core fanbase typically reserved for cultural radio icons like Howard Stern or Jim Rome. It is clear now that Gow had designs on a broader media empire and the ascendance of KGOW was not to be.
It's ironic that a company once known for releasing hundreds of crickets in a radio control room or running a lawn mower in the studio on air would now own a website best known for reporting on Houston socialites. No doubt it's another bitter pill to swallow for former fans of The Game.