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Houston Radio Legend Unloads

Barry Warner laments the rise of douchebag sports talk radio, questions journalism training of 610 AM hosts

Barry Warner sport talk radio 610 AM
Barry Warner, the "Sports Mouth," has parted ways with SportsRadio 610.
Eric Sandler head shot column mug July 2013

Barry Warner has left the building and the longtime Houston sports radio legend is anything but happy with the genre he helped build.

"It's at an all-time low . . . (a sign of) the dumbing down of America," Warner says of the current state of sports talk radio. "Once upon a time, you could go in and talk sports. Now they want guy talk and gimmicks.

"It's (supposed to be) talk radio. Not text message radio or tweet radio."  

Think Warner's done? You don't know Barry, who has been on air since the 1950s, building a style that's all his own before abruptly resigning from KILT 610 AM this week because he found it impossible to embrace the new 10 p.m. to midnight time slot he'd been forced into. No, the 70-year-old Warner had much more to tell CultureMap in a wide-ranging, exclusive one-on-one phone interview.

As for the way current sports talk hosts communicate on air, Warner says he's "Not up with calling someone a douchebag." Unlike some hosts who Warner says might compare the Houston Astros defense to a "double-headed dildo that needs batteries," he's concerned about parents who listen to the station in the car with their kids.

Warner doesn't want some father to hear the question, "Daddy, what's a dildo?" while he's driving around. "Believe me, I'm not a prude, but there's a time and place for everything," Warner says. "In today's environment, that's lost."

Unlike some hosts who Warner says might compare the Astros defense to a "double-headed dildo that needs batteries," he's concerned about parents who listen to the station in the car with their kids.

Warner contrasts his experience as a journalist who focused on the "Who, what, why, when and where" with that of a 610 host Paul Gallant, who's only a few years out of Syracuse University's famous broadcasting school. Although he calls Gallant a "tremendous talent" and says 610 hiring him "is no different than (Texans general manager) Rick Smith or (Astros general manager) Jeff Luhnow taking a chance on a young prospect," Warner says he was surprised by Gallant's lack of training in the fundamental basics of journalism.

"They never taught us any of this stuff," Warner recalls Gallant telling him.

"Heaven forbid you have to cover" an actual news story like when then Astros manager Larry Dierker suffered a grand mal seizure during the middle of a game and was rushed to the hospital, Warner notes.   

Another aspect of sports talk radio that Warner disagrees with is the obsession with ratings. "Since 1964, I've never worried about ratings. According to Arbitron, a little over 300 pagers are dedicated P1 for sports talk . . . 300 people determining the ratings in a city of 4.5 million. To me, that doesn't mean squat.

"I've always said there's something incredibly wrong when NASA can show you what's on Mars, but we can't tell what people are listening to on NASA Road 1."

A Radio Legend Gone

Warner tells CultureMap that the reason he resigned is "very simple. When they moved my shift, I tried it. It just wasn't feasible." Warner said he wouldn't get to sleep until 2 a.m. after getting off the air at midnight, but he continued to wake up at 6:15 a.m. every morning. 

He had been hosting from 6 p.m. until 10 p.m. since 2009, but was reassigned to the later time slot this April.

 "They never taught us any of this stuff," Warner recalls Gallant telling him.  

Warner now plans to devote the time he spent preparing for the show to a variety of other interests. They include motivational speaking and sales training, writing a book and continuing his work with Asian Southwest Media to train journalists for Chinese and Vietnamese language publications. He also plans to determine whether he could teach broadcast journalism as an adjunct professor starting next year.

About 610, Warner says, "There's no rancor. No animosity. (Sports talk hosts) are all cooks in a kitchen. If (station management) wants to change the menu, they're entitled to do it . . . I had tremendous times there."

He says that working with Shaun Bijani on their Odd Couple show was "the next best thing to working with my own son." As for his relationship with Bijani's replacement Fred Davis, Warner says, "It just did not work." 

Reflecting on his career, Warner says, "I've been truly blessed. At five years of age, I knew I wanted to be a broadcaster, and I have been since three weeks after my Bar Mitzvah."

Warner's famously cantankerous demeanor comes out when asked about the current state of sports talk radio.

Warner says he's "Not bitter. Not waxing for the days of yesteryear, (but) I would like for someone to turn on sports talk radio and hear sports talk radio for an hour instead of the guy talk that's popular on some stations." 

Reading and hearing some commentators and message board reaction to his departure, Warner found himself unsurprised by the criticism.

"People would rip me for my age," he says. "Age to me is just a number." For those who believe he talked about the Luv Ya Blue era Oilers or other teams from Houston's past too much for today's audience, Warner's response is simple.

 "That's who I am. I always prided myself on telling it like it is. If friends ask me for advice, they have to be prepared. I'm not going to sugar coat it." 

"Whether sports talk radio or anything else, in order to understand the present and future, it does not hurt to understand the past," he says.

Warner compares sports talk hosts to home cooks preparing a Thanksgiving dinner. If everyone's making turkey, what sets one apart from the other?

"It's the sauce. We're dealing with the same issues . . . Why am I listening to Charlie (Pallilo on SportsTalk 790)? It's because he used mesquite (instead of some other seasoning)."

Warner contrasts the current state of instant communication via Twitter and blogs with the way things were when he started. "If Anita Martini broke a story, she had three hours on me . . . I was shit out of luck," he says. "Now, we have 12 minutes. Who cares who was first?"

Rather than obsessing over who broke a story, Warner thinks broadcasters should focus on "Explaining to me what it means."

Warner makes no apologies for his confrontational style when speaking to team officials or players — a style that's sometimes been derided as grandstanding. Warner infamously asked Texans players  how they felt about ruining the fans Christmas after the team lost at home to the Minnesota Vikings a few days before the holiday last year. 

"That's who I am. I always prided myself on telling it like it is," Warner says of his style. "If friends ask me for advice, they have to be prepared. I'm not going to sugar coat it." He does allow that "I may not be as colorful, as theatrical at Kenny & Ziggy's" as he is in the press room.

Warner still plans to be in the press box this year.

"It's my 53rd NFL season," he says. "I've been covering the NFL longer than anyone in Houston." Warner's perspective on pro football comes from his time scouting for three Hall of Fame owners: Al Davis, George Halas and Paul Brown.

"To be in their presence when they spoke was . . . just incredible," he says.  

As for book he's planning, Warner notes, "I will not write a tell-all book. I have too much respect for the people (in my life). I would rather die penniless than prostitute myself."

Instead, Warner's book will focus on "the characters and people with character (I've met) since 1956." 

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