In what feels like the dismantling of KGOW 1560 The Game, long-time morning show co-host Lance Zierlein announced via his Houston Chronicle blog that he would be turning in his microphone and leaving the station effective immediately.
Over the last year, the station has gone through some big changes and has begun shifting directions in attempt to do what they believe is best for growth in this market and in markets around the nation. The promotion and growth of Yahoo! Sports Radio has become a priority with the station and I believe it has a chance to catch on around the nation as a viable option for national syndication if managed properly.
Unfortunately for me, the station is much different from what it was when we were No. 1 in the morning amongst the four sports talk stations and I have philosophical differences with the current management team that probably can't be resolved.
In the last six months, the locally owned station that was the subject of our cover story in April replaced their original program director, Chance McLain, with the PD from their national network, Sporting News Radio, and saw two of their other regulars -- creative director Frank Bullington and mid-morning co-host Raheel Ramzanali -- depart on their own terms (Ramzanali announced his exit last week via social media).
At the same time, columnist Ken Hoffman was being brought back to partner with fellow Chronicle sports writer Richard Justice. It was fairly clear that the move would pave the way to a mid-morning show featuring the two, though they are currently splitting time with the show currently hosted by Ramzanali and David Nuno.
Adding to the tumult, just weeks ago, KGOW announced they had started a new network -- the Yahoo! Sports Network -- partnered with the search engine/online news giant. Midday host and Houston Press writer Sean Pendergast took his noon to 3 p.m. show to the national network as well, a good move for him, but leaving a gaping hole in local sports coverage on the station in the afternoon.
Pendergast, who is enjoying his network slot and appears to be thriving as a national commentator, is sad to see Zierlein go. "He's a really good friend of mine," he told Hair Balls. "As big a loss as it is on the radio side, it's one more person I'll miss working with every day."
With much of their weekday sports programming now nationally on the network, the employee exodus and the move to a more corporate culture, Zierlein no doubt saw the writing on the wall.
"I didn't know how viable 1560 would be locally when so much emphasis and effort being put into the station is around the national side," he told Hair Balls.
It's a massive overhaul for a station that continues to tout its locally owned status in Houston. In a crowded sports market, KGOW had struggled in the ratings against the four other sports stations. Clearly, the change in creative direction and the greater focus on network programming is part of an effort to boost their visibility locally, but, according to Zierlein, the 1560's eggs are in the Yahoo! network basket.
"We're in a major market city," he said. "People care about Houston sports and I'm a little worried that's being lost."
No word on how the station will fill the hole alongside veteran host John Granato on what was the most popular sports morning show on the airwaves for a number of years at KILT before the duo moved to 1560. Zierlein said the decision to part with his broadcast partner of 14 years was very difficult and called the discussion the two had about his leaving "tough."
Now that he has officially left the station, Zierlein says he will continue work on his football Web site, TheSidelineView.com, which he operates with his close friend and Yahoo! overnight host John Harris. But, he wants to be back on the air as soon as possible and he is actively seeking a new gig.
Given his history with 610, it would seem unlikely he would land there, but there are two other sports stations in Houston. Some creative and quick-on-the-draw Facebookers (Facebookians?) posted a group today called SportsTalk 790 with Zierlein's picture as the group photo, obviously hoping that KBME 790 would be his next broadcast home, and it looks like a good fit.
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Over the last year, KBME 790 has made a number of moves in the local market that have made them a formidable opponent to current reigning ratings-war champs KILT 610. They've added Matt Jackson and Adam Wexler to mornings, and Matt Thomas's lunchtime show has consistently ranked well in the market.
With the backing of Clear Channel Communications and the strength of an improving lineup, it seems like a logical choice. In fact, one wonders if the brilliant but dry Charlie Palillo could pair with a new co-host, years after splitting from arguably the best sports talk pairing in Houston radio history with Rich Lord. If that were to happen, KBME would bookend their day with four of the more well-respected voices in Houston sports radio. Don't hold your breath, but it's fun to speculate.
Wherever Zierlein ends up, it's a loss for 1560, which needs to figure out a direction quickly before there is no one left to jump ship.
Update: AM790 has announced Zierlein will be joining their morning-drive team later this month, putting him head-to-head with his former co-host Granato.