Ken Hoffman: Getting to know ESPN 97.5 morning host John Granato

John Granato (left) and Lance Zierlein. GOW MEDIA

Originally appeared on CultureMap/Houston.

Morning host John Granato is a day-oner. He was with 1560 “The Game” when it debuted in August, 2007, and he’s been the morning man ever since, moving with the station — renamed ESPN 97.5 — to its current location on the FM dial. Here are 10 questions to see what’s rattling around in that head, a dark, spooky place, where wise men fear to tread.

(Author’s note: Some of Granato’s answers were hostile, and made me very uncomfortable in the workplace. I have notified my union shop steward: Ken Hoffman.)

CultureMap: You grew up on the mean streets of Chicago. So: defend awful Chicago-style deep-dish pizza.

John Granato: There is really nothing in Chicago that I’m still attached to — I’m a Houstonian. I’ve lived here longer than I’ve lived anywhere in my life. I’ve raised my children here. I rooted for the Astros against the White Sox in the ’05 World Series, and I grew up loving the White Sox. My family thought of me as the enemy, and I was fine with that. But there is one thing that makes me nuts — it’s how you New Yorkers think your pizza is better than Chicago’s.

Yours sucks. Giant pieces that you fold — that’s supposed to be a selling point? Chicago pizza is not deep dish. It’s a flat bread with a lot of cheese, and real Italian sausage cut into small squares. Go to Palermo’s on 95th and Cicero in Oak Lawn. Best pizza in the world. Yours blows.

CM: Who were you listening to on the radio that made you think, "I want to do that?"

JG: I actually never intended to do radio. When I started, I wanted to be a play-by-play guy for a network or a team. I started doing evening newscasts as a sports anchor, and ended up in Houston at Channel 51.

That station was falling apart like one of your articles. When Russ Small asked me to do a show with him on 610, I said yes. But then he decided to stay at 740, and “John and Lance” was born.

CM: First album you bought; last CD you bought. First concert; last concert.

JG: Aqualung by Jethro Tull was my first album. Tull also was my first concert, when I was 16. I got to Chicago Stadium about 10 minutes before the show, and there was a guy there selling tickets for face value in the 17th row. My most recent concert was at the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion, and we saw Styx and REO Speedwagon. Great show. My wife loves Lionel Richie, and we saw him with Mariah Carey opening the show. That was embarrassing. I see shows all the time at Proof Rooftop Lounge. My buddy Justin owns it. We drink Coors Light together. It’s strictly platonic.

CM: You never seem to lose your enthusiasm for hosting a sports talk show. What's the coolest part of your job? Is there anything about it that you dread?

JG: The coolest part of my job is that I don’t have a job. Not in the same sense as you. You don’t do anything. You make people write out answers to 10 questions and you call it a column.

I talk about sports, which also isn’t work, but I actually do my part. There is nothing that I dread. I’ve never woken up thinking I didn’t want to go in. Never. I’m often told how many people would love to have my job. I can see that. To just sit around and talk sports for four hours, and get paid for it, that’s awesome. I know I have it good.

CM: When you were growing up, whose photos were on your bedroom wall?

JG: I did not have any posters on the wall as a kid. I did have sports heroes, but having any kind of picture or statue would have been like worshipping a false god. That's against my religion. Just kidding. We had wood paneling in my room and my mom wouldn't let me hang anything. I didn't care. Some of my friends had the Farah Fawcett poster, but I thought that was a little creepy. I knew what they were doing when they were looking at it at night. I've never really been a poster guy or a jersey guy or an autograph guy, either. I don't understand the whole collectible thing. That's just me.

CM: You were a Little League baseball coach. What was the highlight of your coaching career?

JG: Getting to the championship game in Bellaire Little League. My son, JT, started to throw really well at the end of his 12-year old season, but he ran out of pitches and we wound up losing. But, we did beat a couple of good teams to get there. Then, I coached the All-Stars in the Little League tournament. We got slapped around the first two games and went home. That was rather embarrassing, but I got over it about seven years later.

CM: Does getting up at 5 am for work ever get old?

JG: Only when I'm hungover, but again, I've never gotten up and said I didn't want to go in. One of the reasons is that I know I'll be able to go home and nap at 11 am, so I know there's a light at the end of the tunnel. It's a dark light, that I won't be able to see, because my eyes will be closed. And I'll be snoring loudly so I won't hear the light, either. You can't hear light anyway so that won't matter.

CM: What was your most embarrassing moment on the air?

JG: I’ll give you two of them, and they’re similar. Back in the early 2000s, we had UH head basketball coach Ray McCallum in studio with us. We came back from break, and I couldn't remember his name. Just went blank, stared at him, and finally Lance said his name and we all had a good laugh at my expense. That moment when you're straining to find a name is horrible. It happened again recently when Nate Griffin brought former Rocket Rodney McCray into the studio, sat him down, and left. I've known Rodney for years, but couldn't remember his name. I looked at Raheel, who had the same blank look. I texted Del and Nate but no answer, so I just talked basketball without introducing him for about 10 minutes. Nate finally saved me but that sucked.

CM: I asked this of Lance, but I didn’t understand a word he said. I don’t think he did, either. What is it about the John and Lance partnership that clicks with Houston listeners?

JG: What was Lance's answer? Just print that. I should pretend I know it because I read your article, but I didn't, so I can't. Whatever he said was probably dead on. He's very perceptive about that kind of stuff. How many words did you say I had to have for each answer? Have I hit that number on this answer yet? Not yet? I think we have a very, very, very, very, very ,very, very good show, and I hope people like it a lot. Please listen. It's from 7 am to 11 am, weekdays on 97.5 FM in the city of Houston, Texas. That's in the United States of America.

CM: You're known for going off script during commercials. How did that start?

JG: It started with legendary salesman Ronny Burgess. He said he had a client for me: Trailer Wheel and Frame. I knew next to nothing about anything they sold, so I just made fun of it. When I went there I saw they had a strip club next door, so I started saying their general manager spent most of his workday at the strip joint, and if you worked at Trailer Wheel and Frame, you had to be stinky drunk to get through the day. When I went back there, they pulled a beer for me from behind the counter. I knew they got it, and approved of it. Chance McClain wrote a song for them, and a star was born. I think the most effective advertising is the one that makes you laugh, because you'll remember it, and maybe even subconsciously feel good about it.

I am quite certain that some of my advertisers can't possibly be listening — because some of the things I say are so offensive, they would have called and canceled. So far, nobody’s done that. It’s very strange.


Catch John Granato and Lance Zierlein weekdays at 7 am, on ESPN 97.5. 

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Willson Contreras could give the Astros some extra pop in the lineup. Composite image by Brandon Strange.

“The Hot Stove League” is the nickname given to Major League Baseball's offseason. In particular, the free agent signing period in late November/early December. Trades are also made during this period. Now that Astros' owner Jim Crane has ousted all opposition to his idea of how things should be run, he's free to do things the way he sees fit.

He opened it by not hiring a general manager to replace James Click. Instead, he opted for a committee of assistant GMs. Those guys are assisted by some special advisors, like former Astros great Jeff Bagwell. Crane likes and wants to take a big swing at things. He'd probably hit about .250 with 30-plus home runs every season. Can't leave out his guaranteed 80-100 strikeouts. Typical power hitter. It's all or nothing, except Crane has been making great contact and knocking some things out of the park.

Signing Jose Abreu was an example. Yuli Gurriel looked as if he was losing the battle with “Father Time” during the regular season. This was an insurance policy at first, and designated hitter. Another prime example is their reported interest in C/DH/LF Willson Contreras. His bat would be a major upgrade over past Astro catchers. Although Martin Maldonado may not be going anywhere, having a quality bat to relieve him is key. Add the fact that he plays some outfield, and he's almost a “two birds with one stone” type of signing.

Abreu may be 35 years old, but he's coming off a year hitting .304 with 15 home runs. Contreras may be the younger of the two at 30, but his .243 average hurts the fact that he hit 22 home runs. Both sport an OPS above .800 for their careers. Bagwell said he wants Yordan Alvarez to play left field 45% of the time. The other 55% can be Contreras, Chas McCormick (assuming Jake Meyers is still in the mix for center field), and whoever else they sign or bring up from Sugar Land. When Contreras isn't in left, he needs to be behind the plate or hitting DH. I'd really love the idea of him sitting under Maldonado's learning tree for a year and taking over catcher long-term. Not many can be the catcher "Machete" is, but hitting 50 points better than him has its advantages.

Then there's the reported interest other teams have in Justin Verlander. Supposedly, the Mets have met with him via Zoom. The Dodgers are interested and are seemingly the leaders in the clubhouse to sign him. However, I wouldn't count Crane and crew out. He may come to JV last minute and offer him something comparable in order to keep him around. He strikes me as the type of guy who'll keep his plays close to the vest, then make a Godfather type of offer. He negotiated Verlander's last deal with the team himself. Coming off a World Series win, Cy Young win, and opting out of said deal, Verlander is most likely looking to get one final payday that'll also land him on a contender.

Having a winner is one thing. Having a winner committed to winning long-term is another. Crane wants to strike while the iron is hot. Sure, he wants his franchise to be sustainable. But he also wants to keep the World Series window open as long as possible. Kyle Tucker's next deal will be one to watch. Having an embarrassment of riches on the pitching staff means you have trade bait. Keep an eye on old Jimmy Crane. I think he might be the best thing to hit Houston sports in quite some time.

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