I've been listening to sports radio in the city of Houston a very long time. Too long, probably. While I don't remember much about Edmonds and Martini, I do remember when the only sports radio show in Houston was Sports Beat, which ran evenings on KTRH. Amazing to think that we've gone from one four-hour show to four sports radio stations in 20 years.
My job allows me to listen to shows all hours of the day and I flip around to all the stations. There is a pretty wide range of programming out there, but there is no doubt that the sheer number of slots to fill does tend to stretch the talent pool thin, even in a city as large as Houston. Last week, I started thinking it might be interesting to rank the local shows, particularly now that Jim Rome is gone from our market.
Before I get too deep into this, I decided to exclude Sean Pendergast and John Granato's show from this list. Sean is a Press writer, making it a conflict of interest. And when I got right down to it, I realized that, with the impending sale of 97.5 FM, it made the most sense to stick with 790 KBME and 610 KILT, the two giants in the marketplace, both of which put most of their eggs in the local basket, something 1560 AM just doesn't.
Here we go.
Unranked: In the Trenches: Greg Koch and N.D. Kalu (790) -- 10 a.m.-11 a.m. Since this show featuring a pair of former NFL players is only a couple weeks old, I won't give them a ranking just yet. Both have performed solid duty alongside other radio guys in the past, but it remains to be seen whether the two can hold down a show without a seasoned radio voice to moderate. It's an intriguing pairing and both are sharp as tacks, so it bears watching.
8. The Odd Couple: Barry Warner and Shaun Bijani (610) -- 6 p.m.-10 p.m. Warner is one of the oldest and most frustrating voices in Houston sports. He is paired with a fairly promising youngster in Bijani, but Warner makes the show difficult to listen to on a regular basis. It's unfortunate that the immeasurable knowledge he's built up over the years as a local sports reporter is mostly wasted on his endless pontificating. The guy really is a legend in Houston sports media. It's a shame he has to keep reminding everyone over and over.
7. The Mighty Gwinn: Dylan Gwinn (790) -- 11 a.m.-noon I'm going to be honest and say I used to hate Gwinn. His takes were (and occasionally still are) often out of left field and his voice is, as a friend of mine in the radio business diplomatically described it, "a tough listen." But Gwinn HAS improved, markedly. He still needs to tone down the "Mighty Voice" and get a little more knowledgeable about a wider range of sports, but he is improving.
6. Matt Thomas (790) -- noon-3 p.m. Thomas is the former in-arena voice of the Rockets and a UH grad, who worked at 950 AM before leaving for Minnesota. He's a solid voice in the afternoons, but sometimes gets sidetracked with topics that don't play to his strengths. It's tough to hold down three hours and Thomas does a solid job, but it wouldn't hurt him to have a regular co-host. As much as I like Thomas (and I enjoy listening to him quite a bit), this show would rank higher on the list with a sturdy number two across from him.
5. Vandermeer and Lopez: Mark Vandermeer and John Lopez (610) -- 6 a.m.-10 a.m. In general, I think the "voice of the Houston Texans" is a solid radio personality. Unfortunately, he's leaving the station in the near future to go full time with the Texans, leaving Lopez and a giant hole. Lopez is one of the more opinionated guys on sports radio, the result, no doubt, of years as a newspaper columnist. The problem is that it feels as though his opinions are simply a means of pissing off listeners. They may be his actual thoughts, but he delivers them so often with such unwavering intensity, that it is grating to listen to him, particularly when he is so off base it hurts. Vandermeer is a solid voice of reason, but his attentions are so focused on football, it's tough for him to balance the whole thing out. Whoever they get to replace "the voice" will need to be a strong personality to counterbalance Lopez's abrasive tone.
4. J&R: Josh Innes and Rich Lord (610) -- 2 p.m.-6 p.m. I know a lot of people don't care for Lord. I guess I get that opinion, but it is not one I share. I still believe his show with Charlie Pallilo -- now, long since gone -- is the gold standard for Houston sports talk. Lord is honest and intelligent, something that has kept him working in a tough business for many years. Unfortunately, he's paired with Innes. He may be a radio wunderkind of sorts, but his abrasive, over-the-top personality is very difficult to listen to. I'll admit that I really don't like the "guy talk" format that is popular in many markets. Innes seems to have that down and that will probably serve him well, but the juvenile commentary, inside jokes and audible disdain for those who don't like his shtick gets old. It's unfortunate, because he has real talent. I just wish he would use it for sports a higher percentage of the time.
3. MaD Radio: Mike Meltser and Brad Davies (610) -- 10 a.m.-2 p.m. When Jim Rome was booted off 610, the powers that be wisely opted for a local lineup to span the four hours between the morning and afternoon shows. It's such a better option than multiple one-hour shows and, with the local talk, I listen more, not less. Davies has bounced around over the years, but recently found a spot at 610 doing Texans coverage. He balances nicely with Meltser, who is pitted as the hyper-logical counterpart to Davies's everyman. The pair is surprisingly solid despite only a few months on air. I hope 610 sticks with them. They have quickly become one of my regular listens.
2. Charlie Pallilo (790) -- 3 p.m.-7 p.m. No one in Houston has a bigger sports brain than Pallilo. He's almost a savant. His four-hour drive time show is everything the stats and history geek could want and more. He has gotten to be a much better interviewer as well and ably carries his entire show solo. It's true that he is acerbic. The know-it-all, brainiac persona can rub people the wrong way, particularly when he is raking a caller over the coals for a perceived lack of knowledge, but no one brings the hardcore sports talk like CP. I'm still waiting for that perfect pairing to help balance him out, but he is so good by himself, it makes little sense to rock the boat.
1. The Big Show: Matt Jackson, Adam Wexler and Lance Zierlein (790) -- 6 a.m.-10 a.m. I've been a fan of Matt and Adam for a long time and was happy to see them get their own show at 790. When Zierlein came over from 1560, I was a little perplexed by the three-man show concept. I was secretly hoping Zierlein would man the chair across from Pallilo in the afternoons. But, when they aren't struggling to keep from talking over one another, this is the most entertaining and informative show on sports radio. They still need to improve on their interactions and try to stay on point -- it can sometimes feel like a bunch of guys at a bar fighting to get a word in -- but they clearly are at the head of the pack in terms of good sports content balanced with entertainment.