August 20, 2007, the day 1560 the Game hit the airwaves in Houston, I remember asking this young guy hanging around the station: “What’s your name?”
More than 10 years later, this young guy is still with the station, now beaming as ESPN 97.5 Houston on the FM dial. Ramzanali has grown as a person, he’s married with a daughter, and a talent, he co-hosts the station’s midday show with Del Olaleye. Some things haven’t changed, though, like his love of sports, his irreverent sense of humor and pride in who he is and where he came from.
Here we go: 10 Questions for Raheel Ramzanali.
Ken Hoffman: Radio people traditionally change their name to something simple and easy to remember. Usually it's two first names, like Rick Howard or Ron James. You have not done that. Why?
Raheel Ramzanali: Because my name is so unique in the media, I thought it would hurt me if I changed it to something simple like Roy Ronzoni. I also wanted to use my real name so I could inspire the next generation of South Asians to explore a career in radio or TV.
While I will always appreciate Marvin Zindler and Bob Allen, growing up I didn’t think I could pursue a career in the media because I never heard somebody with my name or somebody that looked like me as inspiration. Now, if a kid is inspired by me, I can’t guarantee they won’t be let down after they meet me.
KH: Tell me about coming to America.
RR: I am incredibly proud of my heritage. I am from the Ismaili community, where we pride ourselves in the saying “it takes a village to raise a child.” Growing up, I could count on my parents, my uncles and aunts, and members of my community to help me navigate through any challenges life presented. Like most immigrant kids, my parents left everything behind in their native country [Pakistan] in 1990, and moved to America so their three kids could get a better education — and a better chance at success in life.
My parents were lucky enough to have my uncle and his family already in Houston. We lived with them for a while before we moved into a two-bedroom apartment. Eventually my dad started a business on Harwin selling watches. Fast forward 27 years [and another kid for my parents], my Dad still owns that business and has four kids with college degrees from the University of Texas system. My heritage is the perfect blend of the American dream and Pakistani culture.
KH: When you were a kid, whose photos were on your bedroom wall?
RR: Basketball will always be my love because it helped me learn about the American culture, make lifelong friends, and introduced me to a mythical hero named Hakeem Olajuwon. Like most kids growing up in Houston in the ’90s, Hakeem was larger than life. But he was even more of a hero to me as a Muslim kid. Here was a Muslim man playing the sport I loved at the highest level. He also gave me validation when I played basketball against other kids.
I felt like I belonged because Hakeem belonged. I would cut out every picture from the paper and pin it to my wall. We couldn’t afford jerseys growing up, but my dad surprised me with a Rockets practice jersey with ‘34’ on the back for my eighth birthday. That was on my wall from that day I got it until I graduated college. That jersey means the world to me because I know my parents worked hard for it and because it connected me to Hakeem.
KH: How did you land your first job in radio?
RR: Luck and hard work. In college I never took a summer or winter break off. I always interned and worked as much as I could. After interning at various smaller stations in Austin, I contacted Sports Radio 610 and landed an internship the summer before my senior year. While at that internship, I worked under Chance McClain and bothered him to teach me as much as he could during my time there. I was pumped! I showed up every day ready to work. That’s the hard work part of the story.
Here’s the luck part. After I graduated from UT with honors, John Granato left SportsRadio 610 to start 1560 the Game. He brought me in for an interview for the reporter and weekend host opening. I’ll forever be thankful to John, Chance and David Gow for taking a shot on a Pakistani kid from Sugar Land.
KH: How jealous are your friends that you get to talk about sports — and get paid for it?
RR: My friends really aren’t jealous because they know the con will be over soon. My brother Sunail, on the other hand, is super jealous. He happens to be a dentist, but he loves sports even more than I do. Unfortunately for him, he’s actually smart and had the drive to finish dental school.
KH: You are known for having a silly streak. How are you going to explain this to your daughter?
RR: If everything goes according to plan, my daughter will have the same silly streak and I won’t have to explain anything to her. My wife hates this, but I’ve already started teaching her the basics of fart jokes. She’s about to turn three, and I’m happy to report she has a sense of humor like her dad. Now if only she can get the smarts of her mom, so she won’t turn out like daddy. I’m more worried about explaining the birds and the bees to her when the time is right.
KH: You were classmates with Astros and Rockets broadcaster Julia Morales at UT. Does it kill you that she’s 100 times more popular than you?
RR: My daughter loves “Miss Julia.” I have to name drop Julia to my daughter so she thinks I’m cool. Julia is the kindest person and handles her fame with class and grace. Once, I was walking to the press box with Julia and she was stopped at least five times in a span of 30 feet for a picture. She didn’t say no to a single fan. Now, if I had the fame that Julia has? Forget about it. I wouldn’t be wasting my time answering these dumb "10 Questions."
KH: Sports talk stations don’t typically look like backstage at a bodybuilding contest. Of everybody at ESPN 97.5 FM, you're probably in the best physical condition. Tell me your workout and diet regimen, and how you stay in shape despite all the food goodies that are delivered to the station.
RR: This one is simple: I work out so I can eat all those goodies that come up to the station. I love basketball and still play as much as I can. I need to stay in shape so I don’t get run off the court. I work out six days a week and my workouts range from hard cardio days to interval training. I still play in competitive basketball and flag football leagues.
There was even a time when I trained in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and Muay Thai kickboxing. As for my diet, I bring a healthy lunch to work that usually features an ancient grain, lean protein, and veggies. On the weekends? All bets are off. I’ll eat anything.
KH: Who was your most memorable or favorite guest? Has any show ever gotten out of control?
RR: I’ve interviewed UT and Houston Oilers legend Earl Campbell, I made national headlines with an interview of Chad Johnson, and I’ve even been lucky enough to ask Kobe Bryant a few questions. But none of that was as memorable as rap battling WWE superstar John Cena. Even though the fans voted him the winner, I still think I had the better rap verse, with lines like ‘I’ll be finished with you in a hurry, my rap is stronger than the smell of curry.’
I’ve been part of a few shows where things got out of control — including one where I was suspended for a week for saying a naughty word. But that’s the fun of radio. Now that I have a family of my own, I don’t let things get too out of control, but every now and then I like seeing where the line is.
KH: In football, why do you think it's impossible for a right guard to move to right tackle? I mean, the player is moving only a few feet away, and doing the same thing — blocking the fat guy in front of them.
RR: I’ve dedicated my life to figuring out why one really fat athletic guy can’t move over two feet to do the same job. I’ve started watching film with Lance Zierlein, but even he doesn’t have an answer.