2012 has been a bittersweet year for Jim Rome. Not only has the longtime sports radio host switched television allegiances, from “Jim Rome Is Burning” on ESPN (and later ESPN2) to the two-week-old “Rome” on CBS Sports Network, it was also the first year in a long time that his radio show was not heard on the Houston airwaves.
Houston was one of the first major markets to clear “The Jim Rome Show” back in 1997, when the show was in its infancy. The show was so influential in Houston, it was named as the site of a prized “tour stop” the very next year. Not only that, one of the city’s most popular callers, Sean “The Cablinasean” Pendergast, won the annual “Smack-Off” caller competition five times, including an unprecedented four times in a five-year period. Pendergast capitalized on his radio success and hosted his own radio show, at KGOW “1560 The Game”. “Sean The Cablinasean” (a nod to Tiger Woods’ self-described nationality) also appears on the national sports radio network Yahoo! Sports Radio (nee Sporting News Radio). (Incidentally, Rome’s former radio show producer, Travis Rodgers, has been based in Houston at KGOW/YSR but has planned to return to the Los Angeles area earlier this month.) Also, the popular Rome fan website Stucknut.com – named for an isolated part of a “live read” for a spot on the show – was started by a listener in Houston.
So it was a major blow to many listeners in “H-Town”, as the city was affectionately referred to on “The Jim Rome Show”, when KILT-AM “Sports Radio 610,” which had carried the show for close to fourteen years, announced late last year that they would be canceling the program in favor of local fare. The main factor that led to this decision was KILT-AM, operated by CBS Radio, finishing second in the time slot to Clear Channel’s KBME “SportsTalk 790” and Matt Thomas, who had hosted the midday show for two years at that point. Sports Radio 610 program director Gavin Spittle also cited the fact that the coveted male 25-54 demographic had subsided during Rome’s show, while at the same time, it increased on all of the other shows on Sports Radio 610, the flagship station of the Texans and Rockets.
“We have been huge fans of Jim Rome,” commented Spittle, who had taken the reins as KILT-AM PD in the summer of 2009. “Unfortunately… the ratings in Houston have slid to a point where a change is necessary.”
Naturally, Rome was “sad” and at the same time “pissed” that the station decided to go into a different direction. “I think it’s the wrong decision, personally.” But he vowed this to his Houston “clones”: “I’m not giving up on you, H-Town. Don’t give up on me… We’re exploring options to make something happen.”
Houston is a rare radio market in that it has four different sports radio stations. One would think that KBME would be a shoo-in to land Rome’s show, since the station is owned by Clear Channel, which also owns Premiere Networks, which syndicates Rome’s radio program. KGOW, with its employee ties to the Rome show, was also another possibility.
Then, there’s KFNC, best known as “ESPN 97.5”, the fourth sports radio station in town which, according to the latest PPM’s, is tied with KBME for the second most popular sports station in Houston behind KILT-AM. (KGOW, which for the longest time did not have their signal encoded for PPM, is mired at the bottom of the ratings with a 0.1.) The midday show on ESPN 97.5 is “The Blitz,” hosted by Fred Faour and A.J. Hoffman. On Friday, a bulletin on the show’s Facebook page posted right before showtime informed followers that veteran sports radio personality Adam Clanton, who spent the late 2000’s at KILT-AM and currently serves as sports anchor of local NBC affiliate KPRC, would be filling in for Hoffman. The status also read, “we’re feeling a little Romey.”
The show would open with Iggy Pop’s “Lust For Life,” which for years Rome has used as the theme song for his radio program. “What is up, a tremendous Friday to you, clones,” greeted the host. “I am feeling it today.” The host mentioned that he was “the pimp in the box, Jim Rome… in Southern California… and that includes in H-Town!”
Is it true? Was “The Jungle” finally back on Houston radio after a three-month absence?
“It is good to be back on the air in H-Town,” the host rejoiced. “Many of you know I was off the air in H-Town after our longtime affiliate pulled me there, but I am back and it is all good.” He credited “my man Dave Tepper”, KFNC’s program director, for “picking me up.”
The host then proceeds to give out not only the toll-free telephone number for “The Jim Rome Show,” demanding “I want to hear from H-Town,” but the show’s text message number and e-mail address.
After another minute of telling listeners about how he “took care of” Rome’s show being cleared in “H-Town,” and giving out the telephone number several more times “in case you hadn’t heard the telephone number,” suddenly, another voice – that belonging to Fred Faour – chimed in. “You know what, screw you, Jim Rome… Let’s do this Blitz-style.” ESPN 97.5 then plays the regular “Blitz” show open.
Faour would then introduce listeners to “one of our favorite fill-ins… in case you haven’t figured it out by now… Adam Clanton.”
“Theater of the mind,” Clanton called the Rome bit, as Faour told him he “loved your Rome imitation.”
As for ESPN 97.5 adding Rome’s show for real, Clanton commented, “Dave Tepper would never do something that stupid.”
“It’s kind of funny,” Faour added, “because we’re the ones who pretty much put him out of business in this city.” To which Clanton, with a hint of Rome still in his voice, exclaimed, “Love it.”
ESPN 97.5 listeners, meanwhile, were not exactly loving it. “WTF, oh hell no. Rome sux ass,” wrote one person on “The Blitz’s” Facebook page. “I almost downloaded the ESPN app so I could listen to [Scott Van Pelt]. Not funny. But good one,” wrote another.
At the end of the show, Clanton discovered that the faux Jim Rome bit made Deadspin, and shared the link with the show’s 8,700+ followers. About 100 people liked the link. He also wrote on Twitter that he was “VERY happy about this development… I’m guessing Jim Rome is not.” Clanton later admitted on Facebook that “the fact that ratings at opposing stations were dwarfing Rome’s” was what inspired the Rome bit on ESPN 97.5.
If you want to hear the bit, featuring Clanton’s dead-on Rome impression, click here.
Needless to say, with no takers among the four outlets in the market, it could be the last time until Jim Rome – or a reasonable facsimile – could be heard on Houston radio again.