ALONG THE SOUTHERN PERIMETER OF the majestic Florida swamp, civilization on the east and west coasts is connected by a primeval thoroughfare known as Alligator Alley. On a March night in 1977, a man driving a Chevy station wagon decided that this highway might be the ideal setting to attempt to break the sound barrier.
The wheelman understood the historic implications of his effort, and Randy Galloway was telling the world about it, via CB radio. That ridiculous squawk box was Galloway’s favorite toy. For a month, we’d been sharing the so-called Gonzo Wagon for the purposes of covering baseball spring training for Dallas-Fort Worth-based newspapers. Thus, for endless tortuous hours, I’d been forced to listen to Galloway, aka the Dixie Chicken, chatting it up with whomever was out there.
Galloway was bonding with this fraternity of pilled-up. psycho-rural truck jockeys and, on one occasion, we actually stopped at an interstate greasy spoon to have coffee and a cheeseburger with some Mississippi barn burner.
So it was business as usual in the midnight blackness on Alligator Alley. I was propped in the rear of the Gonzo Wagon, studying Ecclesiastes by candlelight, when the voice of some pinhead appeared on the public airwaves: “There might be some women listening in on this channel, so you guys need to watch your language.”
The Dixie Chicken came undone. “If there are any women listening in, they’re goddamn sure not riding with you,” Galloway shrieked. “So shut the (…) up!”
At that point, I instantaneously realized that Randy Galloway owned a huge future in sports talk radio. The essential difficulty in his accomplishing that destiny stood in the fact that in 1977, the concept essentially did not yet exist.
Times have changed drastically. From left to right, all along the AM dial, sports talk looms as the dominant influence in the North Texas radio megamarket. With the never-ending saga of the Dallas Cowboys generating pathologic passions among vast portions of the populace, sports talk radio has fashioned a profitable symbiosis. An industry insider (actually a guy who sells air time) estimates that these programs now generate ad profits of a quarter of a billion dollars annually in this region. Sports talk radio has replaced prison construction as the premier growth industry in North Texas.
Now, slightly more than two decades after his debut on CB Channel 19, the Dixie Chicken reigns as the premiere practitioner of the craft. Like Tom Landry and Timberlawn, Galloway has become an institution. “He is the King of the Hill and we’re proud of that,” says Galloway’s radio boss, Tyler Cox, operations manager at Galloway’s conduit to Americana, WBAP-AM 820. Now that he’s become genuine royalty, Galloway declined to participate or be interviewed for this article, contending that he remains furious about something thai appeared in D Magazine when this publication was produced by previous management. But when you’re King of the Hill (Cox’s words, not mine), who needs ink?
Cox defines the extent of his liege’s domain-WBAP-that now serves as one of the gaudier rhinestones in the Disney media-entertainment tiara. “Ratings are like circulation numbers. Any one of us can make our numbers look better than anybody else’s. Stations will claim, ’ Based on demographics involving people with bright blue eyes…’ and that sort of thing. The true test is going back to the basic total audience of people who are able to be measured, and that’s what we in the radio world call the 12-plus audience-anybody who’s old enough to fill in a ratings card and be counted,” says Cox. “In the spring rating period among persons 12-plus, Randy’s two hours pulled a 4.5 share, and that’s good enough for fourth place on all radio stations: AM-FM, music, the whole schmear.”
These substantial numbers are accomplished without the assistance of Top 40 hit singles, comedy routines, or an on-the-air sidekick. In the fine tradition of the Boston Strangler, Randy Galloway works alone.
In the AM afternoon, drive-time news-talk arena, Galloway’s spring numbers out-distance KRLD-AM 1080 (3.7, 10th place), KTCK-AM 1310 ( 1.6,20th place), and KLIF-AM 570 (1.0, 27th place). The value of one rating point equals approximately $2.5 million in ad revenue, according to one industry analyst.
“In the previous winter ratings period- same basic story. And I can go back however far you want, to show that Randy is the King of the Hill,” Cox adds.
“That’s simple,” contends Mike Thompson, former programming director at one of Galloway’s rival stations, all-sports KTCK (the Ticket). “Randy is kind of unique to this market in that he doesn’t sound like some smart-ass Yankee.” Since Thompson himself is a Yankee-with-an-opinion (he’s moved back to Philly, by the way), his succinct assessment maintains some credibility.
Tyler Cox, who says he is responsible for every word that’s uttered on WBAP, expresses it more tactfully. “He’s not a pol-ished broadcaster, although he’s good at the craft,” he says. “When he first started 11 years ago, I’m told that it was pretty rough listening. He was some guy who put down his pen and started talking into a microphone. He’s become accomplished at it, though, and what you hear on the air is exactly what you hear sitting next to him in a restaurant.”
It is here that I would disagree with Tyler Cox. On the air, Galloway is tolerant of other people’s opinions. In restaurants, that is rarely the case, up to and including the choice of the restaurant itself.
“’Well, he has strong opinions, and that’s what makes a successful talk show host, no matter if it’s sports or news issues. Strong opinions create the spark for the show,” says Cox. “Randy is a host that a lot of people love to hate. He makes no bones over the fact that he has strong feelings over the coach of the Cowboys, and that gets some folks’ blood boiling. But they won’t miss what he has to say.
“He’ll allow [the caller] to tell him what kind of so-and-so Randy is for trashing Barry Switzer this way.”
The rustic aspect of his delivery remains one of Galloway’s biggest strengths. He sounds like the guy who does the Wolf-brand chili commercials. “If you sent Galloway off to announcer’s school, it would destroy him.” Cox contends. “He’s the only person on this station that I will allow to say ’Dub-ya-B-A-R’ He couldn’t say ’double-yew’ if his life depended on it.”
The fact that Galloway’s station in life happens to be “Dub-ya-B-A-P” strongly enhances his ratings status. At sundown, the station’s signal, described as a “50,000-watt blowtorch,” can reach 38 states and seven Canadian provinces. For years, the Bill Mack late-night trucker show probably reached more people than Johnny Carson. When the studio was located on Broadcast Hill in East Fort Worth, the call letters (issued as We Bring A Program by Commerce Secretary Herbert Hoover in 1922) were posted in an arch over the gateway into the facility. The WBAP arch disappeared one night when a trucker drove his semi into the station to meet Bill Mack in person and ripped the call letters down.
Sports talk has replaced Ernest Tubb on “the mighty 820,” but the signal remains potent. According to Cox, “About three years ago, a station with the 820 frequency in Chicago that shut down at sundown signed off by saying, ’Stay tuned for the Randy Galloway Show.’ So you’d have to say he’s got a national following.”
GALLOWAY’S STORY IS TYPICAL OF many kids who grew up in Grand Prairie. After graduating from high school, he went immediately to Huntsville.
In Galloway’s case, thai meant attending college at Sam Houston State, where he took journalism classes. He’d already sized up his situation. He viewed sports writing as an easygoing gig and the only reasonable alternative to “shooting rivets at the bomber plant.” If Galloway offers any natural traits as a journalist, he probably absorbed those from his mother, Margaret. She worked for years at a newspaper in Arlington.
After a stint in Port Arthur, sports editor Walt Robertson hired Galloway in the mid-1960s at The Dallas Morning News. For about five years, Galloway’s byline could be located at the bottom of page 6-B, covering high schools, the Possum Kingdom Relays, or some off-Broadway college. “But I worked my ass off,” he once contended.
Galloway, now 54, got two breaks. The first came in 1972 when the Texas Rangers moved to Arlington from Washington. Galloway became the Rangers beat man for The News, though in those years that job was tantamount to filing daily reports from the party room at Sparkman-Hillcrest. The Rangers beat man was certainly never overpaid. Galloway recalled a time when he gave baseball hall-of-famer Brooks Robinson a ride to the airport following some sports banquet: “The upholstery on my front seat was busted and I remember Brooks Robinson getting out of the car and walking into the lobby of Love Field with foam rubber stuck all over the back of his blue suit.”
But he established himself as a reporter and news gatherer on the Rangers beat. Unique to most of his colleagues, Galloway’s marriage withstood the rigors of baseball road life. He started dating his wife, Janeen, in high school, and the couple has two grown daughters. While not averse to prolonged sessions in saloon districts ranging from Fort Lauderdale to Seattle, Galloway (unlike certain unnamed others) was never prone to head over to Chinatown to try to score some opium. That explains his longevity. Galloway used to sport an ample scotch gut. But, inspired by the superior conditioning habits of a fellow Rangers beat man, he started running in marathons, took on a gaunt look, and now closely resembles the Western character actor Jack Elam.
Galloway can offer some thanks to columnist Skip Bayless for Break No. 2- in style and deportment, they are polar opposites and a “mutual admiration society” does not exist. In January 1982, Bayless departed The News for an offer involving indescribable riches at the rival Dallas Times-Herald during the pinnacle of the late and lamented newspaper wars of that era.
Executive sports editor Dave Smith, at the time still entrenching himself as the Imperial Wizard within the management ranks at The News, countered by elevating Galloway and David Casstevens as co-lead columnists in his section. Whether or not it was Smith’s design, the Casstevens-Galloway tandem functioned as a good cop/bad cop rotation that meshed nicely.
Casstevens frequently explored the sentimental side of sports. He wrote a column about how Bear Bryant died the day CasStevens daughter was born. In fact, he wrote that one about four times. So, while Casstevens attempted to evoke tears, Galloway was utilizing his column as a forum to pimp-slap the likes of Mark Aguirre and Eddie Chiles on a daily basis. In this capacity, to the delight of Dave Smith. Galloway promptly demonstrated a knack for pissing people off in print.
As a sensitive stylist, David Casstevens stood out as one of the few genuine writers to appear in the news columns in this market. But when Casstevens cheerfully informed Smith that he’d received a job offer at the Arizona Republic in 1990, the columnist received a surprise. “Smith told me he though! it would be in my best career interest to take the job in Phoenix,” Casstevens says. A week later, David found himself in the desert, rooming with his wife’s uncle while his wife tried to sell their house in Dallas.
In the wicked world of major media, the bad cop prevailed. By now, Galloway had set roots in the broadcast universe with his “wimp-free radio” format. An episode from childhood perhaps planted the seed of Galloway’s broadcast approach. As a kid, Galloway was looking forward to a trip to New Mexico with his hard-of-hear-ing uncle.
“Uncle Joe, will we see any Indians in New Mexico?” the kid asked.
“Idiots? Hell, yeah. There are idiots everywhere,” responded the uncle.
Apprised of that reality. Galloway introduced his “Idiot Alert Button” as a feature for callers with ideas and opinions that the host views as flawed.
Galloway received his first on-the-air opportunity in 1987. By then, programming executives could see sports talk emerging as a ratings grabber. Cellular technology fueled the phenomenon. Trapped in traffic and armed with a phone, Bob from Mesquite could insinuate himself into the mass listenership, big as Ted Koppel, and vent his angst over the Cowboys’ inability to protect the quarterback, or whatever. And Bob from Mesquite could accomplish this with the shield of absolute anonymity. In many cases, Bob from Mesquite is actually Jack from Lewisville.
These same programming people who saw the potential of sports talk radio also viewed sports writers as a form of cheap labor to offer knowledgeable and sometimes insider info to the fans of this broadcast genre. Radio experience was never a prerequisite. No lessons. No audition. Like topless dancers, you jump on the stage and find out it anybody will throw some money.
Most of this ilk proved mediocre, driven by the delusion that Jerry Jones will take care of them in the afterlife. Then there were pec pie like me who got kicked off the air for casting aspersions on Bill Clinton’s sexual proclivities. Galloway stands above the remainder of the field probably because of an innate knack for the spontaneous response. For example, a woman called his program to complain about the Fort Worth rodeo:
“It’s terrible the way they treat those bucking animals,” the woman said. “They tie their genitals back with leather straps and whip them with ropes and…”
“Whoa. Sounds good to me. How can I get in on some of that action?” Galloway countered.
In 1994, the Dixie Chicken elevated himself beyond the ranks of cheap labor. His status was secured that January when he received a| call-not from Donnie in Duncanville-but Jimmy in Valley Ranch. Jimmy Johnson phoned Galloway’s program unannounced and uninvited and “guaranteed” that the Cowboys would beat the 49ers in the upcoming NFC championship game. Barry Switzer refers to that as “Jimmy’s famous six-Heineken phone call” and it stands out as the most memorable event in the recent annals of local radio.
When the Texas Rangers left WBAP for KRLD, the people at 1080 offered Galloway a bundle to come along as well, viewing him as the natural lead-in for the baseball play-by-play. WBAP countered with an offer that stunned even Galloway. Jerry Bobo of KRLD sighed and said, “Well, if nothing else, Galloway can thank KRLD for tripling his salary.”
Now that Galloway draws an income comparable to that of the average NFL cornerback, he has become part owner of a thoroughbred race horse.
While Galloway continues to dominate the ratings, his competition is hardly going broke, and sports talk radio shows no sign of reaching a saturation point anywhere on the dial. This is evidenced in the rise of KTCK, which bowed in as the 24-hour, all-sports station in January 1994. At KVIL, Ron Chapman smirked and predicted that a station with that kind of forChuck Cooperstein, who handles late-night talk chores on WBAP after Galloway signs off, stands with that roster of challengers who have come and gone. On the day KTCK ventured onto the airwaves, By now, however, the competition concedes that the AM drive wars stand foreordained to remain fighting for second place.
“Galloway has stood the test of time,” says Tyler Cox. “Challengers come and challengers go. and Galloway is still here. And he will be here for a long time because he is real.”
Chuck Cooperstein, who handles late-night talk chores on WBAP after Galloway signs off, stands with that roster of challengers who have come and gone. On the day KTCK ventured onto the airwaves, Cooperstein handled the key afternoon drive slot for the fledgling Ticket. Because of his arsenal of information, rat-a-tat delivery, and willingness to terminate lame callers, Cooperstein could be termed the Sports Uzi.
But after three years at KTCK, it was Cooperstein who got shot down. His assessment of the reasons for this is blunt. “1 can honestly say that I never paid attention to the fact that Randy’s numbers were twice or two-and-a-half times bigger than mine were,” Cooperstein says. “AH I could do was prepare myself as well as I could for each show. You can try to chip away at his lead all you want, but you won’t make a dent.
“The fact that Galloway works for a great radio station helps those ratings, but more than that is the fact that he’s also the lead columnist for The News’ sports section. That’s a nice platform.”
Cooperstein was replaced in the late afternoon prime slot at KTCK and dismissed altogether because, according to the station, his presentation was too nuts and bolts and lacked entertainment value.
“It’s a trend, I guess. They want everything to be ear candy,” says Cooperstein. “But lemme tell you this. I was told I was being discontinued at 3:00. Word hit the street at 3:01 and at 3:02, the first person on the phone to me was Randy Galloway, asking, ’What in the hell is this?’ That’s the type of person that he is, and ever since 1 started over here at WBAP-even before I went full-time-Galloway has been nothing but supportive.”
The problem Galloway now confronts lingers with the possibility that he is too popular. Recently, a caller to his program was calling collect from the county jail in Belton. He said he wanted Galloway to settle a sports argument involving the caller and some of his cellmates.
Galloway seized the opportunity. “Do you like your lawyer? Maybe 1 can help you out. Have they set bail for you yet?”
“Yeah,” said the caller, “It’s S100,000.”
Cough. Pregnant pause. ’LRick from DeSoto. You’re up next! Welcome to dub-ya-B-A-P!”