They say all good things must come to an end. And such is the case for the Gambo and Ash show. After 12 years of hosting the main afternoon drive sports show here in Phoenix, the show is no longer. Management at Sports 620 KTAR decided to go in a different direction and my radio partner for over a decade, Mark Asher, is no longer on air, relegated to working for ArizonaSports.com writing columns until his contract expires at the end of the year.
While Ash and I both thought we could have done the “Gambo and Ash” show forever, the reality is that this is a tough business. We had an incredible run. An amazing run. A run that most people in this industry can only dream of. You see, in this business you are hired to be fired. A five-year run is a good run in radio. But 12 years, that is an eternity.
I am saddened to see the show end and it is very, very strange to walk into the radio station these days knowing that Ash won’t be there. I am extremely excited to be working with Dave Burns, someone I have long admired, respected and enjoyed working with during the many times he filled in for Ash over the last five years. Dave and Mark have some similarities. Both were born and raised in Arizona. Both NAU products. Both extremely talented radio hosts.
I have not said much in the past week since the news came down and I want people to know that I was under no gag order from the radio station. No one told me not to comment on it. No one said that I couldn’t respond to people via email, text messages, Facebook and Twitter. I just needed a week to absorb what was going on. It happened so suddenly that it came as a shock to everyone, including me. But people want me to respond and I understand. So instead of answering everyone directly I have decided to put down my thoughts and feelings right here on ArizonaSports.com.
I want people to know that the management of Sports 620 KTAR approved and encouraged me to write this piece. I wanted to write this piece and I asked management to allow me to write it — unedited — and they thought that I should, so thank you to them. It is basically just my thoughts on what was a major part of my life with a lot of respect for the guy who was alongside me day after day, week after week, month after month and year after year for 12 years.
First, a little background. I started hosting afternoon drive radio in Phoenix 1997 on 1360 am with Tim Liotta. Ironically Mike Golic was hosting the morning show at that time and now he is hosting mornings with Mike and Mike on ESPN radio and that will be our morning show in a few weeks. I spent two years with Tim before he decided to switch to mornings. He was the program director so he could basically do what he wanted. At that time a search began to find me a new co-host. The station tried several people with me on air as fill ins but something was always missing.
When I first started working at the radio station I was hosting a Saturday show and Ash was my producer. He was young, brash and right out of college at Northern Arizona University. We clicked right away. He went on to be an update guy, a reporter and he hosted a weekend show as well. So back to the search for my new partner – after not finding anyone that clicked I suggested to management that they give this 25-year old Arizona native a shot. And they did. And in 1999 “Gambo & Ash” was born.
We didn’t go with any stupid silly name for the show. We just used our nicknames. The show was an instant success and we developed quite a following over the years from 1360 to 550 to 910 and then on to 620.
What made the show work so well was the dynamics. I was a kid from New York and he was the local from Arizona. I was a little bit older so I could talk about the Big Red Machine, the Steelers dynasty, Muhammad Ali vs Joe Frazier and games and teams from the 70’s and 80’s. He was local so he could talk about the Suns of Walter Davis, the Madhouse on McDowell and Arizona State with Frank Kush. I was married with kids, he was single. We liked different music, movies and sports teams.
We always felt we were different from most radio combos because we played sports where many of the other radio guys didn’t. Heck even at the radio station we had an ice hockey team, a softball team, we played in baseball games, street hockey games, an annual ASU vs UA flag football game that we started and played whiffle ball in the parking lot with our listeners.
In studio we would shoot baskets against some door gadget we made up with Stephon Marbury and George McCloud, play whiffle ball in the hallways with Danny Ainge and always find a way to invent some kind of game that we could play during commercial breaks or taped interviews.
We used that to our advantage to develop great relationships with players, coaches, general managers, etc. Our show was fun, it had a little bit of everything. We focused on the local teams hard. We focused on delivering great interviews — my favorite was Tommy Henrich who at the time was the oldest living Yankee, our sit down at the Negro League Baseball Museum with Buck O’Neill and the infamous golf interview with Ken Venturi who said to me that if I didn’t agree with him then I didn’t know sports. We swear to this day that Venturi was drunk. But there were so many others. I know that one of Asher’s favorite moments was when I asked Dallas Drake of the Phoenix Coyotes if he ever caught crabs. I was referring to the ones you catch in the ocean and eat but Dally and Ash both started laughing so hard because they were thinking of something else. Another favorite is when we had Alex Smith on and Ash introduced him as the talented quarterback from Utah who is soon to be the No. 1 overall pick in the draft – only to find out that on the other line was Alex Smith, the tight end from Stanford.
We played our show to those who were 20, those who were 70 and everyone in between. We mixed in some old school with some new school. And we had fun. We gave tickets to sporting events away by having people go find producer Joe Mac at the Circle K. One time he was in the ice machine! We once gave away Cardinals NFC Championship game tickets to a guy who tattooed in studio Gambo and Ash, Sports 620 KTAR on his rear end. And we gave free golf away to those who would answer the phone saying the radio station was going to send them golfing when we called on Tee Box Thursdays. That list had 3,000 people on it waiting for us to call for free golf and if you didn’t answer the phone the right way we pranked you and we pranked you good.
When I met Ash he was a scrawny kid driving a jeep. Through the years I watched him grow up into a man. I was there when he got married as my daughters were the flower girls in his wedding (yes it’s true I brought a TV to the wedding to watch the Coyotes season opener and Miami vs Florida State), there when his son was born and there when he got divorced.
I wouldn’t say Ash and I were the best of friends. We got along great but we didn’t really hang out. We spent all this time together every day so I guess we needed time away from each other on weekends. We talked every weekend, but we lived separate lives and he had his friends and I had mine.
We shared a passion for radio and for giving back to the community. As our success grew we had great opportunities to give back. We did annual charity drives for the Phoenix Children’s Hospital when we were on 910 and when we switched to 620 we began the Gambo and Ash Holiday Heroes to benefit the 100 Club of Arizona. We raised hundreds and hundreds of thousands of dollars for great charitable causes over the years.
And we won many awards as the best talk show and best sports radio talk show. We always easily won the battle against the sports radio competition that was on against us and one of our highlights was from just a few years ago when we registered as the No. 1 show in the market in our time slot, not just sports, but overall for our target category. No sports radio show had ever done that before and none has done it since.
I believe one of the things that made us feel so close to our listeners was our desire to bring them into our lives, to make them feel like they really knew us. Nothing was off limits. We talked about our ups and downs and brought our family life into the show. We talked sports first and foremost but we wanted our listeners to know us and by talking about our real lives we felt that we connected with them.
Working with someone for such a long period of time you are bound to have some conflicts and Ash and I had our share. But what made us work so well together was our ability to move past them quickly. We could have a major disagreement about something (in our case a near brawl) and forget about it five minutes later and concentrate on doing a great radio show. Although I will admit that I punched him one time, but it was just once and I felt bad. Alright I didn’t feel that bad. But we never held grudges.
In those 12 years we worked with some of the best people in the industry like Joe Nicita, Joe McIntyre, Johnny Villareal, Eric Sorenson, Mike Jurecki, Vicki Fiorelli, Ashley Schlecta, Bruce Jacobs, Vince Marotta and Craig Grialou to name just a few. There were so many people behind the scenes that made the show go and we were always so thankful to those people and every Christmas we made sure they knew they were appreciated. To all of those people and I mean all of them – THANK YOU. There are too many to name.