Changes at 1560: Is KGOW Losing Its KAPOW?

richcover 3_31.jpg
Our April 6 cover on KGOW.
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.

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Keith Orsag
Keith Orsag

Funny I actually told,via FB, Sean about a year ago that 1560 was going all CPOD. It is part of the sucess that the station has had. However they have gotten away from the renegade ''fuck you establishment'' that made it awesome in the begining. The station early on had very accessable hosts and we had some fanfreekingtastic fun hanging out. Sadly that has all gone by the wayside as sucess is gained. John Harris going national was a big indicator as were the Travis Rodgers and ComCast cable partnerships have arisen. I have been around listening to JG and LZ since the days at shitsten. zierline may have a good football mind ,however harris is very much his better, as in who is your daddy better. All this being said the airwaves are better with 1560 in mix. Shits 10 has Rome, hooray? 1560 has the man who helped make rome funny. And the man who killed like a million smackoff titles. Adding Brian Beckner to the end of the week is a stellar move,,FACT. This dude is just west coast Gamer who needs to cut loose with a directors cut of Friday Facts. Watching the maturation of Raheel and Nunio has been alot of laughs and does make for an entertaining midmorning to noon listen. These two are still very much in tune with those of us who have been listening since all you could hear at 5 AM was the static clad voice of Granato commmenting on LZs whereabouts with ''no comment due to contract limitations''. Overall it has been solid success. However will management, D. Gow and the hosts forget those of us who also aided in that success? Our support of the station , its sponsors and its spirit if you will, that heralded in part to this growth and change? I truly hope not.

GM on a mobile
GM on a mobile

Since the sports radio guys spend so much time advising the local teams' GMs on how to run their teams, maybe their GM needs some advice on how to get their station out of last place:

1.  Give your hosts a better "clock" to work with - this means less time for commercial breaks (you'll have to figure out how to make up the lost revenue from better ratings), less time for cutesy bumpers and lead-ins (they're only clever the first time they're heard) and less time spent promoting and cross promoting other station shows or events.  In other words, give the listeners more of what they tune in to hear and maybe they'll stay with you.  Sean Pendergast and Travis Rodgers are way more talented and entertaining than Jim Rome is, so give them a better chance to succeed in the ratings book.

2.  Only have guests on that add value.  Dull guest = Dull show.  Charlie Epps, Darryl Hamilton, Peter Gammons = great guys, but dull guests.  Pretty much anyone pushing a book or an event is likely to be a dull guest.  More guests like Bryan Geltzeiler and Bryan Beckner and Billy Liucci. 

3.  Tell your morning team to really, really cut back on dropping in free advertising during "show" time.   May cost them some freebies and may cost the station some advertiser goodwill, but see 1 above and your ratings.  They have loads of talent, but have maybe lost focus on what makes them good - being funny and debating sports.

4.  More Hatchetman.  Much more Hatchetman.

Beoilet
Beoilet

 Is it really surprising that 1560 is slowly becoming what they said they would never become?  I still listen every day, but the loss of integrity is disappointing.

Buff224
Buff224

1560 used to listen to their very loyal audience well I guess that isn't the case anymore. The whole best talk in Houston is crap. Who's gonna bring a lawnmower into the studio? The whole point of 1560 was to be different but the more they say Houston's best sports talk the more they sound the same. I know this last comment is going to be roasted by other commentors but everyone makes fun of Rome and how terrible he is but Travis is Rome and it's terrible. I stop listening at 3.

PS I miss Hoffy!

Bryanford
Bryanford

I understand what you are saying about Rome.... But it's more like original Rome was Travis Rogers. Rome became tame when he partnered up with espn the second time. Travis is more like the early Rome years.

If they ever lose team Chank then we will know the full on corporate radio turn is on.

Tacoboy
Tacoboy

 Chance, Granato and whoever else has been running the show over there have done a miserable job as noted by David Barron in his ratings recap.  That place would go out of business if they didn't try and do something.  They are damned if they do and damned if they don't unless the shows get better.

sam
sam

 SNR is very much the "indie" sports network as opposed to fox and espn. I think the reality is there's going to be less local talk but more and more locally based guys talking. 

Eric S
Eric S

 I've been with 1560 from their first day on air. I love Travis' show, but the SNR clock really kills him. From what I can tell, his segments are only 12 or 13 minutes long. That means each of his three breaks is 8 minutes long. Substituting "best of" content from the other KGOW shows in place of sports flashes adds a little amusing content, but it's usually taken from segments I happened to hear earlier in the day. In other words, they're a poor substitute for more TRodge goodness.

I usually flip over to Palillo, especially during the break at the top of the hour. If Charlie's in good form, I don't flip back. I doubt I'm the only one. 

Denise
Denise

Agree SNR does kill the Travis segments, cutting of really good guest to get to break is just crazy not to mention rude. They are really killing John Harris during the 1-5 hour. More breaks & callers & none of Johnny's extensive football/sports knowledge. Sad.  Have listened since day one to 1560 switched from 610 at that time. Lance is one of best in business with his sports knowledge & his different personalities/antics. Hoping that Sean's show remains like it has been at 1560.  I can't agree with you on Palillo, that guy just pisses me off for some reason everytime I listen.  

Denise
Denise

Crap I meant to mention how bad I think it is with Chance's position changing. I thought that he & Frank were a major reason that 1560 was successful.  Also made 1560 not such a vanilla sports talk show.

Devil
Devil

I still enjoy 1560, but can hear the very slow erosion of what sounded like a sand box for the guys over there the past few years. I suppose when the reality of bills to pay combined with low ratings finally hit home, that's when "corporate" stepped in. I still think 1560 can retain its charm and tweak of few things to improve the ratings at the same time. At the end of the day, the core audience, although quite small, is still very loyal, so the low numbers are a bit misleading. I admit...the "Houston's Best Sports Talk" thing is just a wee bit generic, kind of like "Houston's News Authority" or any other corporate-sounding positioning statement. Still a fan though.....

Dent
Dent

I'm in agreement with the other commenters. Zierlein's knowledge is second to none. When you get him and the others on sports, you're listening to talk radio at its best.

On the other hand that secret society shit gets old. My round trip commute is 50 minutes - and I'd prefer to spend that time listening to sports talk, not a bunch of inside jokes from people that aren't that funny.

Matt
Matt

I was just settling into 1560.  I really thought they would stay private and do whatever they wanted.  I really thought the philosophy was to screw the establishment.  It was a niche, but they had an extremely loyal listening base.  Sporting news will make KGOW just like the other guys.  Except that they are less talented at straightforward radio talk than Charlie P. or Lopez and Vandermeer. 

I tune to 1560 for the humor, not the information.  SNR will ruin the best thing they have going.

ric flair
ric flair

LZ has a great football mind for an on-air personality. But he tends to be one of these guys who thinks he's way funnier than he actually is. And don't get me started on the circle jerk that is South Bound Food. Screw caswell, JJ and all those jerks.

Granato is probably the least intelligent on-air guy in town, with the possible exceptions of the whiny (and how he ever got on the air...?) Matt Jackson on 790 and the TERRIBLE, overly-sensational John Ennis on 610. And completely agree with Notanks. Way too many inside jokes, familiar callers, etc. The best guy in town always has and always will be Charlie Pulillo. And Richard Justice is a jackass who needs to move to Austin and get a longhorn branded on his ass.

Lauren
Lauren

 agree that Palillo is the most knowledgable of the bunch, but he is very much a smarta$s.  My favorites remain the odd pairing of Rich Lord and Kenny Hand.

Nothanks
Nothanks

And the long slow death of 1560 continues.  Things were going well until they started pandering more to the 'secret society' listeners.  IMO, the average listener is getting sick of the same old tired act.....make fun of Milo, Drayton, Carlos Lee and all the radio stations that are beating them in the ratings.  Oh yeah, and don't call out Richard Justice when he says something completely idiotic.  It's waste because LZ is one of the best in the city.  

wilf
wilf

So, I have a feeling this means no more on-air mentions of "corporate pile of dung." 

Keith Schul
Keith Schul

IMO this sucks pretty bad.  Can't wait to see what Chance can come up with in "new media initiatives".  Sean going to national won't make much difference as he has a national following anyway.  If Houston teams ever become good again they will have a problem.

P1 from day one, but 1560 has been feeling cpod-ish since SNR's arrival.

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