George Dunham doesn't call Gordon Keith, pictured here, "The Arsonist" for nothing. Ask Norm Hitzges about it. Just don't say anything to The Ticket's new owners. Nuhn-unh. No.

Damn The Man

So Gordo's giving it to Norm pretty good, and Frito's all riled up, and you can tell there's no script and, man, this is delicious and then...what the? What do you mean we'll never again hear the combustible crosstalk segment? Hello! Welcome to Cumulus Radio! You heard (or didn't hear) right. KTCK-AM (1310, The Ticket), the station that built its success and popularity by broaching topics others wouldn't dare, is suddenly, sadly self-censoring.

The Ticket's hosts can still talk about boobs and bowel movements. But apparently now off limits are lively debates about host Norm Hitzges' weekly gambling record. All together now, eyes slowly rolling.

In researching a column on Hitzges set to run in next week's Best of Dallas issue, I landed on last week's exchange between Norm, long-time producer Mark Friedman and morning-show newsman (see: yuk monkey) Gordon Keith. In light of Norm's "Picks of the Pole" selections going a hideous 8-23 over the weekend, Gordo lit a match by saying he probably could do better flipping a coin. Frito valiantly defended Norm, who emotionally dug in. Gordo, in his own sucker-punching way, raised legitimate points that Norm, in his numbers-numbing way, countered with illuminating stats. It was real. It was riveting.

And it's like it never happened.

The tense, terrific segment mysteriously didn't qualify as a "Dunham and Miller" morning-show "Emergency Brake of the Week" candidate, a fact not lost on afternoon show "BaD Radio," which aired the conversation. But halfway through replaying the segment, station management bolted in and yanked it off the air. Forever.

Calls to the station's power-brokers have yet to be returned. Stay tuned.

It was not The Ticket's finest hour. In fact, it was embarrassing. With its Dallas Cowboys partnership, we worried about the station muting its opinions on the football team. To its credit, that hasn't happened. But with its new ownership, we should obviously worry about the station muting itself. Privately, on-air personnel are disgusted at the censorship by new owners, who took control of the station in May. It is potentially a slippery slope when a self-proclaimed no-holds-barred station starts, um, barring holds.

For his part, Norm categorizes the exchange as provocative, yet harmless.

"It was an on-air spat, happens all the time," Hitzges says. "Ten minutes later Gordon tried to apologize to me, but he didn't need to. It was over. People have this assumption that I don't like Gordo, but I do. I really respect him. He's so quick and clever, and, for what he does, I really admire him."

That doesn't mean, however, that Norm approves everything about The Ticket.

"When I die that station's in real trouble," Norm says jokingly. "Because I 'm going to hire somebody to work through the night deleting all my sound drops."

Hitzges, by the way, has come a long way since debuting as America's first full-time sports-talk show host at KERA-FM (90.1) in 1975. At the time the number of people making a living talking sports in Dallas was two: Hitzges and KRLD-AM (1080)'s Brad Sham. In 30 years sports talk certainly has become bigger. But better?

"It's grown tremendously, but I don't think the level of quality has grown with it," Norm says. "Competition makes us all better. Forces us to be more creative, do more research, more shtick, whatever. But you look around today and realize there are a lot of people in this business that just shouldn't be."

Something tells me the people who decided to keep an entertaining exchange from listeners are among that group. --Richie Whitt

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