In April, our cover story featured the irreverent, independent nature of local sports radio station KGOW 1560 The Game. It appears both of those characteristics may be on their way out as changes at the station inch them closer to the mainstream.
Longtime program director Chance McClain -- one of the creative minds behind the station's alternative approach to sports talk -- was recently replaced with Craig Larson, the PD at Sporting News Radio, the network purchased by KGOW investors last year.
"Craig is one of the top program directors in the country," station president David Gow told Hair Balls via e-mail. "In this move, we are trying to deploy our team in areas/assignments where we can achieve the best possible total impact." According to Gow, McClain has been put in charge of new media initiatives they believe "will be big winners for us and that leverage his [McClain's] creativity well."
For his part, McClain is being a team player, but his disappointment over the demotion is apparent. "I guess this is the natural evolution of a growing company," he told Hair Balls via e-mail. "I appreciated the opportunity to put my spin on the sound and content of 1560 for the first few years of the company and hope that people had some laughs. The gang at 1560 will continue to try to put smiles on faces and I am glad to be a part of it."
How dramatically this will change a station culture that was built around an outsider mentality is yet to be seen, but it seems clear that the station is making moves to boost its ratings, which currently place them fourth among the city's four sports stations. None of the stations rank better than 20th in any given ratings period, however, and KILT has a built-in advantage as the play-by-play home of the Rockets, Texans and, until a looming switchover to KFNC, the UT Longhorns.
One immediately noticeable change has been the incessant airing of promos with the station's new slogan, "Houston's best sports talk," which has caused some grumbling among regular listeners. The repetition, Gow says, is part of the station's overall marketing plan. "We really do believe we have the best sports talk," he said, "and feel a need to make that message clear."
Not all the changes are necessarily a bad thing, however. There is no doubt that the over-the-top nature of the station has left little room for the kind of traditional radio professionalism listeners expect. Midday host and Hair Balls contributor Sean Pendergast believes there can be a blend of the two concepts, leading to a better overall quality of radio.
Rumors have been floating that Pendergast will be going national on SNR in the near future. "That was always the plan," he said. Gow denies there will be any changes to the current line-up or that Pendergast will move to SNR, but if Pendergast's show were to go national in its current time slot (noon to 3 p.m.), it could mean six hours of air time weekdays of non-local radio including drive time -- Pendergast from noon to 3 p.m. followed by Travis Rodgers's syndicated program from 3 to 6 p.m.
Right now, with all three major sports teams in Houston suffering mightily, there isn't much to talk about on the local front anyway, but how local news -- like yesterday's 2 p.m. press conference announcing the sale of the Astros to Jim Crane -- will be handled if the rumored changes were to occur is anyone's guess.
Ultimately, Gow believes listeners are drawn to talent. "I can tell you that we feel really good about our lineup," he said. "We honestly believe we have the best talent in the city." So far, that talent hasn't been enough to significantly increase their ratings, but the powers that be at The Game are surely hoping some of these changes will.