Almost three years ago, I wrote a story about how a local upstart sports talk station was waging a kind of David-versus-Goliath war against corporate-owned stations, and doing it with wit, attitude and creativity. No one argued that the group of young hosts and creative staff assembled by what was then 1560 The Game was some of the best up-and-coming talent in the city. They struggled with a poor transmitter signal and a hastily organized sales staff, but they were making inroads with ratings, something that surprised plenty of people in the industry.
Today, John Harris, a stalwart of the midday slot at what is now YSR 1560, tweeted that he had been let go from the station effective immediately. With Sean Pendergast's departure from the station -- a longtime co-host of Harris in the early days of 1560 -- for a drive-time slot at 610, only afternoon host scout John Granato remains from 1560's version of the Not Ready for Primetime Players. Granato was the first at the station, brought in with an ownership stake, and was responsible for assembling the talent that brought the station to prominence.
But a series of significant changes marked what would be the beginning of the end of 1560, namely the purchase of Sporting News Radio and, ultimately, the partnership with Yahoo! Sports Radio, both of which brought in new investors and a more urgent need to demonstrate real ratings and ad-dollar progress. With those pressures came a new direction, and, slowly but surely, the heart and soul of 1560 began to abandon ship.
First it was program director Chance McClain and creative mastermind Frank Bullington, known collectively as "Chank" and as the driving force behind the station's over-the-top on-air hijinks. With the station and its new network taking a much more conservative approach to what was being said and done on the air, McClain and Bullington no longer fit the mold.
Shortly thereafter, it was like the last one left gets stuck with the check as Lance Zierlein left his morning show with Granato for 790, breaking up one of the most successful duos in Houston sports radio. Raheel Ramzanali and David Nuno, two of the station's early young guns, moved on (Nuno is now a weekend sports anchor at KTRK Channel 13) as well. Just days ago, Pendergast announced he'd be leaving for an afternoon slot at 610 with Rich Lord, and today, Harris is gone.
Despite all the changes, 1560 remains mired in poor ratings, something it has not been able to overcome, though it was much closer in 2010 with its early lineup. It is not helped by continued problems with a weak transmitter and interests spread across two stations -- Gow Media also owns 97.5 FM -- and the Yahoo! Sports Radio network. Frankly, without a better transmitter, particularly at night when the station is virtually off air, it will be difficult to imagine 1560 making any advances in the ratings war. Since 97.5 feels like an afterthought -- people have had a hard time embracing FM sports radio for whatever reason -- it appears the investors and David Gow (chairman and founder of the whole ball of wax) are more interested in the national network than in the local station, something I argued could be a problem back in 2011.
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Now, the question becomes who will replace Harris and Pendergast. Both Matt Jackson and Adam Wexler, who were let go this past summer at 790, have done stints recently on 1560 and 97.5. It seems like a foregone conclusion that one or both -- maybe together again? -- will end up at one of the two local stations. Wexler is also working as a sideline reporter during Rockets games for Comcast SportsNet Houston, but my guess is that isn't enough of a full-time gig for him.
Both would be welcome additions to what is quickly becoming a mostly national lineup. Former pro QB Sean Salisbury has been solid on middays with Harris, but with both an afternoon seat (Granato is unlikely to leave given his financial investment in the station) and a midday seat open, some shuffling is obviously in order.
How it will all shake out is hard to guess, but it's unfortunate to see such a vibrant, creative team be pulled apart piece by piece. If anything, it underscores just how dramatically things can change in radio. For a glimpse at the talent that has come and gone on Houston sports radio, take a look at the list assembled by the Chron's David Barron. Pretty incredible.
I think, with the loss of Harris, it is safe to say goodbye to 1560 The Game. Double rods.