I am and have always been an avid listener to sports talk radio. I enjoy the banter with callers, the analysis and I even manage to make it through the randomly juvenile antics that occasionally make their way across from morning shock jock-ery on other stations. Listening during the past few months, however, has been frustrating for fans of sports other than football.
In the case of the Astros, that might be warranted despite recently opening the season with a pair of impressive wins against the Yankees and finally calling up George Springer from the minors. But the Rockets are good...really good. They have secured home court in the first round of the playoffs and the team is populated with young, athletic guys who are fun to watch. They might be one of the most entertaining teams in the NBA.
Yet, outside of a scattering of segments with players and coaches, finding Rockets talk on the sports dial is damn difficult. Unfortunately, it isn't likely to get much better with the playoffs and there is a reasonable explanation, however unpalatable that might be for fans.
5. Sports talk is becoming less and less about callers.
Fewer and fewer sports talk shows are solo operations. In fact, only two of them -- Matt Thomas and Charlie Palillo (both on 790 KBME) -- exist. Gradually, sports talk has moved from caller-centric to host-driven with more analysis and opinion about the day's events mixed in with caller interaction. Anyone who has called in to shows over the years has probably noticed that call screeners are far more aggressive and often don't even bother to let people onto the show, rather taking the information and moving on. Social media and text messages have also become integral to sports talk limiting the need for callers, who can often slow a show down and even make it unlistenable. As Jim Rome has been fond of saying for many years, "More of me and less of you is a good thing." Sports radio formats have clearly taken that to heart.
4. More shows are dominated by former NFL players.
In the last few ratings books, Greg Koch and N.D. Kalu's morning show on 790 has dominated overall ratings. This is despite the fact that neither is a seasoned broadcaster. Both are, however, former football players. The show is, naturally, focused on football, pro football specifically and the Texans in the micro. Stations like KILT 610 have taken notice and now two of their shows each day are co-hosted by former NFL players Seth Payne (on the midday Mad Radio show with Mike Meltzer) and Ted Johnson (he joined my colleague Sean Pendergast and sports radio stalwart Rich Lord recently on the "Triple Threat" afternoon show). This is in addition to the significant amount of Texans programming on 610, their flagship station. The result is a lot less talk about sports other than football.
3. Johnny Football
When there was a chance Vince Young might be drafted by the Texans (and then when he wasn't), sports fans in Houston went nuts. Lance Zierlein has been known to bring up that time on sports radio with real disdain in his voice. Nothing could stop the surge of VY fanatics inundating sports talk with reasons why the Texans should draft the University of Texas QB and, ultimately, why the Texans would fail because they didn't. Johnny Manziel, another Texas product, hasn't generated quite the feeding frenzy -- perhaps his lack of a National Championship has limited it a bit -- but there is still massive interest in Johnny Football. When combined with the Texans drafting No. 1 next month, it is understandable that a good chunk of time will get devoted to the now former Aggie.
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2. The CSN mess is causing real problems.
There is no denying the fact that the TV home for the Rockets having no carriage deals for providers not named Comcast has been a serious problem for generating the kind of rabid interest we might expect from a talented team like this one. And this extends to sports talk hosts as well. Not all of them have Comcast and, as a result, many simply don't see that many games. I grew up on sports on the radio, so I don't really have a need to see every game, but the reality in today's world is a bad TV deal means out of sight, out of mind. These are the times when fans really need sports talk experts to drive the conversation, but with so much football discussion and the inability to watch the games, it puts a serious damper on all things Rockets.
1. Football is king.
Other sports are still worth talking about. Just glance at Twitter during a Rockets game or drop by fan sites like the wildly popular ClutchFans.net and you'll see that interest is far from waning no matter what the lack of a TV deal might indicate. But, in Texas, football is still the king. It always has been and it always will be. There is no getting around it and the result is a sports talk landscape absolutely dominated by the topic, mostly centered around the Texans, but with so many people born in other cities living in Houston, it is no surprise to hear questions about other NFL teams. Add the fuel of fantasy sports, for which football reigns supreme, and it is impossible to escape.