Houston’s sports talk radio scene is a crowded one. Whereas some cities have one or two stations dedicated to sports talk, our city has four – KILT 610 AM, KBME 790 AM, KGOW 1560 AM and KFNC 97.5 FM. Each offers something unique; some skew more local, while others offer up more national programming. Some dedicate themselves almost solely to Texans talk, whereas others try to spread the narrative a bit.
As for the hosts who inhabit those stations, well, it’s a diverse and talented lot. In fact, Houston is quite blessed with a plethora of skilled radio personalities across the sports talk radio dial. But what if Houston had only one station? And what if we paired up the talent from our existing stations into one dream team lineup, slotted accordingly?
— Morning drive: 6-10 a.m.
— Late morning: 10 a.m.-Noon
— Mid-day: Noon-3 p.m.
— Afternoon drive: 3-7 p.m.
— Evening: 7-10 p.m.
It would look something like this:
MORNING DRIVE: John Granato (97.5) and Lance Zierlein (790)
You know that couple that breaks up and moves on with other people, but you always got the feeling they were happier together than apart? Yeah, that’s Granato and Zierlein, who rose to local fame years ago at 610, spent some time apart, then reconvened at 1560 during the station’s early (and best) days. Granato now pulls double duty at 97.5 – two hours with Raheel Ramzanali and Del Olaleye, another two with former ESPN national personality/NFL player Sean Salisbury. Zierlein, probably the most talented sports talk personality in Houston, has gone through a number of co-hosts since moving over to 790.
He began as the third wheel to Matt Jackson and Adam Wexler before moving to afternoons to team up with Charlie Pallilo. Then it was back to mornings to team up with Adam Clanton for the Proper Gentlemen of Sports, only for Matt Thomas to take Clanton’s spot last year. In short, Zierlein has witnessed a revolving door of sorts since joining 790, something that could easily be remedied if the station simply placed him back alongside the best teammate he ever had in Granato. The two have undeniable chemistry, a solid rapport and, most important, history with a loyal crop of Houston sports talk radio listeners. They say you can’t go home again; they are wrong.
LATE MORNING: Ted Johnson (610), N.D. Kalu (790) and Greg Koch (790)
The late-morning slot is one best suited for nuts-and-bolts sports talk and insight from those who played, scouted or coached in the game. Kalu and Koch, both former NFL players, do an admirable job of providing such perspective on their current 790 show In the Trenches. Johnson, a former Super Bowl champion linebacker for the New England Patriots, obviously has the pedigree to study and break down the game as well, and does just that as part of The Triple Threat on 610. However, Johnson feels a bit third-wheelish alongside Rich Lord and Sean Pendergast. His football acumen would be better served alongside two fellow football lifers.
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MID-DAY: Josh Innes (790) and Mike Meltser (610)
Innes and Meltser are both young, rising talents in the Houston market. They are even friends and former colleagues (Innes worked at 610 before heading to Philadelphia for a few years). Their paths diverge greatly from there. Whereas Meltser is a more traditional, inoffensive presence, opinions vary wildly on the polarizing Innes, who returned to the Houston airwaves in October, when he took over for Charlie Pallilo. Some find him brash and over-the-top, whereas loyal listeners find Innes topical and magnetic. Personally, I find Innes to be a rare talent, one capable of carrying his own show, albeit one that needs someone else at the table to help rein him in when he begins to stray or get off topic. Producer Jim Mudd has a prominent on-air role with Innes, but in more of a sidekick capacity. Innes needs an on-air equal and occasional foil. Meltser would fill this role perfectly, and their off-air friendship would only benefit their on-air rapport as both continue to grow in their respective careers.
AFTERNOON DRIVE: Adam Clanton (790) and Sean Pendergast (610)
Clanton is the most underrated sports talk host in town, a role previously inhabited by Pendergast before he went big time three years ago and left 1560 to lead 610’s afternoon drive program. A five-time winner of Jim Rome’s annual “smack off” challenge, Pendergast is good in his role at 610, though his chemistry with co-hosts Rich Lord and Ted Johnson is lacking when compared to what it was with former 1560 co-hosts like John Harris (man, 1560 really was must-listen radio in its early days). Part of this can be attributed to 610’s approach, which tends to be somewhat vanilla. This makes sense to an extent; the station is the Texans flagship and upsetting the biggest game in town isn’t exactly exhibiting sound business sense. Point being, Pendergast is best when paired alongside someone of similar wit, a co-host who can match him verbal jab for verbal jab. Other than perhaps Zierlein, no host in town better fits that bill than Clanton, who adeptly blends sports talk, pop culture and personal anecdotes on his 790 midday show with Sean Jones (the highest-rated show on the channel). This pairing has the potential to be the Granato/Zierlein of its era.
EVENING: Paul Gallant (610) and Raheel Ramzanali (97.5)
It’s been quite an ascent for Ramzanali, who has grown leaps and bounds from his annoying little brother days at 1560. Dude is now a legit co-host and entertaining presence alongside Granato on the pair’s late morning show on 97.5. Gallant, meanwhile, hosts the evening show at 610, which just so happens to be the station’s most entertaining program. Both guys are young, confident and full of opinions, making them ideal for evening radio, which can get away with being a bit looser and more spontaneous than its daytime predecessors. Give both guys a mike and let ’em fly.
Editor's note: Sean Pendergast is a sports columnist for the Houston Press.