The Houston sports talk landscape is complicated and fascinating. We are blessed with four full-time sports stations, several other sports-themed shows scattered along the dial and one national sports network headquartered right here in the Bayou City. When I ranked the best sports talk shows in Houston a few weeks back, I knew that this list would have to be next.
As is the case with radio, things change rapidly. Not only did Marc Vandermeer leave his spot as co-host of the 610 morning show, but Gow Entertainment, the group that owns 1560 and Yahoo! Sports Radio, bought 97.5. Even with those changes and how thin things can be spread with four stations, the truth is we are really lucky in Houston. We have some extremely good sports programming on the radio and a ton of different choices. My rankings certainly reflect that.
This list is only the main hosts during regular shows airing between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m., which excludes weekends, overnights and others. Additionally, I freely admit that I prefer my sports talk guys to actually talk about sports. I really don't like "guy talk." It can be fun when personalities occasionally veer off topic for a segment -- particularly if the hosts in question are entertaining -- but I would rather hear a 90-10 split with sports making up the 90 percent, and that certainly factored into these rankings.
Okay, now the list.
Off the List Nick Wright, KILT The newest addition to 610 and the replacement for Marc Vandermeer has only been on the air a few weeks, so I'll spare him any rankings at this point. Maybe next time.
Dave Tepper and Julie Takahashi, KNFC Tepper is the program director for ESPN 97.5 and fills in with Carl Dukes on the drive-time show. Takahashi is the producer. While they both add to the show in their own ways, this is Dukes' baby and, as such, he is the only one included from this show.
21. Barry Warner, KILT I really hate to give it to a guy who legitimately is a legend in the sports media business, but he is just SO tough to listen to. The ceaseless anecdotes and constant attempts to be clever belie the fact that this guy has reported on Houston sports longer than many of you reading this have been alive.
20. Josh Innes, KILT Innes has real talent. Of that there can be no doubt. But his on-air persona of "I'm just a jerk and, oh well if you don't like it" and his need to be the center of virtually every on-air moment makes him sound, at best, a kid in need of Ritalin, at worst, an amateur. Exhibit A: his ridiculous on-air fight with comedian Frank Calliendo. He could be so much better than this, which is what makes his antics so frustrating.
19. John Lopez, KILT Lopez is another guy who has been in the sports media business in Houston a long time, but his personality, at least on the air, is so abrasive, it's almost purposefully dickish. Maybe he is trying to ignite controversy and draw in listeners or maybe that is just who he is. Either way, it makes for a difficult listen. We'll have to see if this continues with Wright.
18. Dylan Gwinn, KBME Gwinn has improved since he first hit the airwaves, but he still carries himself too often like he is trying to be Rush Limbaugh instead of a sports talk host. It doesn't help that he is often way off base in his opinions and refuses to recognize or acknowledge it. If I had written this six months ago, he might be number 20, so that's something.
17. Mike Meltser, KILT Meltser's biggest issue is that he is young and still learning. He is cast as the hyper-logical guy on his show with Brad Davies and he may be that way in real life, but his inability to bend on issues can be really frustrating, particularly for someone who is still learning.
16. Shaun Bijani, KILT In a way, Bijani suffers because there is such a gap in age between he and his partner, Warner. Bijani has some talent and I get the sense he could be a guy who, if he sticks it out, might wind up like Matt Jackson with a sizable resume in local sports. But he needs quite a bit more seasoning to get there.
15. Brad Davies, KILT I've grown to like Davies since he joined Meltser on their noon show. He strikes an interesting balance with his younger, less flexible partner and often puts Davies in the position of voice of reason, which suits him. He can get off point and occasionally they both make me want to beat my head against my steering wheel, but, overall, he's a solid listen at lunch.
14. N.D. Kalu, KBME Kalu is one of my favorite former players on the radio. His takes are insightful and that Rice education certainly helps. He can sometimes sound a little uncomfortable on air and I'm still unsure if he and Greg Koch can hold down a show without a regular radio guy, but it's nice to have former pros on the air every day.
13. Fred Faour, KNFC I have listened to Faour and his on-air partner A.J. Hoffman for a while now. Faour, like his partner, has one of the better voices on radio, but he is too fixated on gambling -- he even wrote a book on the subject -- that it pulls the focus away from sports more than it should. It often feels like he should be a guest talking betting lines rather than a full-time host. Still, he is clearly a pro and when he stays off the gambling takes, he's very, very solid.
12. Greg Koch, KBME What I said about Kalu is pretty much the same for Koch with the key difference being that Koch is quite a bit more natural on the air. He can get a little too edgy with callers at times, but he's definitely got a knack for speaking his mind and the insights of a former player is often fascinating.
11. Carl Dukes, KNFC I've listened to Dukes since he was on KTRH. He's a guy that can be a polarizing figure among sports fans with some of his takes, but he knows the Houston sports scene well. His approach can sometimes feel like he learned it at the Calvin Murphy school of outlandishness, but he's got an interesting perspective and a good demeanor.
10. A.J. Hoffman, KNFC Hoffman might have the best voice on sports radio and he has talent to back it up. Like many young sports talk guys in town, it feels like he is a stand-up comedian biding his time on sports radio rather than a sports guy who occasionally makes a joke, a trend that frankly makes me uncomfortable. Fortunately, he's also very knowledgeable, which often translates into a good balance of facts and entertainment.
9. John Granato, KGOW It's hard not to appreciate a guy like Granato, who seems to just sail through changes that would take others down. From TV to multiple stations to rotating co-hosts, he handles it all like it is no big deal even though it usually is. He has suffered without Lance Zierlein -- their chemistry was so good for so long -- but he is still a steady voice of Houston sports radio.
8. Matt Thomas, KBME Thomas is a guy that, to me, is better than his show, which sounds weird considering he flies solo. He's got solid takes and a great voice. I just think there are times when he could benefit from a co-host to help him carry the load, particularly in a tough lunchtime slot where good guests are hard to come by. Still, he's entertaining and handles both guests and callers extremely well. Bonus points for his regular use of Lou Rawls.
7. Ralph Cooper, KCOH One of the longest-tenured and, unfortunately, most under-appreciated voices of Houston sports is KCOH's Cooper. He's been on the air now since 1973 and his knowledge of Houston sports is rivaled by only a rare few. His appearances on channel 13's Extra Points helped to elevate his status among listeners, but not nearly enough.
6. Matt Jackson, KBME It's funny to say this now considering he's still a fairly young guy, but Jackson is a survivor. He's bounced around from show to show, but his greatest success has come with long-time on-air partner Adam Wexler. The two are one of the best tandems on sports radio. Jackson's unflinching takes and unrepentant love of all things Houston are as entertaining as they are refreshing. 5. Sean Pendergast, KGOW Setting aside the fact that Pendergast is a colleague isn't easy, but putting him this high on the list was. I never cared for the Smack Off, so I was very skeptical when he got a job in local sports radio thanks to his multiple wins on the Jim Rome Show's annual contest. But, he is funny, even-tempered and intensely prepared. Plus, he uses social media as part of his show probably better than anyone else on the air in Houston. He's the best thing 1560 has.
4. Rich Lord, KILT Too many people rag on Lord, but if he has suffered at all the last 10 years or so, it is because he has yet to find a suitable partner to match what he had with Charlie Pallillo for so many years. Lord is the ultimate co-host. He's affable, smart and honest. But he is better with someone to play off of and KILT hasn't found the guy since CP left. Still, Lord's approach is laudable and he is still a damn fine radio man.
3. Adam Wexler, KBME At one time years ago, Wexler was marginalized because he doesn't posses your typical radio voice. His other atypical trait, however, is his massive sports knowledge and ability to communicate it clearly, accurately and not without a sense of humor. His voice may never put him in the running for a play-by-play announcer, but it doesn't prevent him from being one of the most knowledgeable voices in Houston sports radio.
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2. Lance Zierlein, KBME I can't think of another person that has the depth of understanding of sports to go with the charisma of Zierlein. Whether it is his meticulous breakdowns of NFL players or his hilarious takes in the voice of the SEC Guy, Zierlein is pure nerd in all the best ways. There are few guys with as much talent as Zierlein in radio, let alone in Houston radio.
1. Charlie Pallilo, KBME It's good to be the king. No matter which way you slice it, no one in Houston has the savant-like sports brain of Pallilo. His takes are so spot-on accurate, it is tough to criticize his delivery, which can be chilly if not downright dismissive. There are still times I wish he had a co-host with the knowledge and personality to balance him (Zierlein would have been perfect), but even solo, he is exceptional most days. He can be a bit of a know-it-all, but when you actually do know it all, I guess you're entitled.