Vitale's phone rings off the hook because in the age of 57 channels and 500 more coming, the wilder, the nuttier you are, the more chance you have of being noticed. Like other cable creatures—Dr. Ruth, Pauley Shore, Morton Downey Jr., Beavis and Butt-head—Vitale is just whacked enough to stop remote clickers cold. Cable opened a crack in the pop landscape, and Dicky Vee stuck his bald head through.
So who cares whether Vitale knows basketball? Vitale is killing under-30 Hoop America not because he knows how the high-post screen works. He is killing under-30 Hoop America because these college basketball fans don't need to be told about the high-post screen. These college basketball fans are already knowing. With 298 major colleges playing ball, you must follow the sport devoutly to make any sense of it at all. And if you follow it devoutly you don't really need anybody telestrating you how to break a 2-2-1 press. What the under-30 fans want is somebody as hopelessly touched as they are, somebody who is doing exactly what they would be doing if they were down there with a mike: screeching, "Rock 'n' roll, baby! Hold me down!" What they want is Dicky Vee.
And Dicky Vee is infectious. Even adults cannot help themselves. When Valvano sat next to Vitale during Valvano's first year of studio work, he began sounding like Vitale on the air. "Jimmy would call me up and say, 'I'm doing Dick all the time.' " says Art Kaminsky, who was Valvano's agent. " 'How do I stop?' " Try it sometime. Spend one week around Vitale and you, too, will find yourself at the breakfast table going, "Dish the margarine, baby! I'm in Toast City here!"
None of which impresses Richie the Worrier. "Lemme tell you something," he says. "I'll probably end up a bum. I'll be trying to tell people, 'Hey! Twenty years ago they used to holler my name on the streets!' I've just been fortunate. Knock wood."
You think you know loud? You have not even met loud until you have heard Dicky Vee commit a speech, which he is just about to do at the Peabody Hotel here to about 500 innocent convenience-store operators.
"Is there any way we can turn that mike down?" Vitale asks the organizer. "I can be pretty loud."
"It's no problem," says the organizer.
"Well, O.K.," says Dicky Vee.
Wrong. Dicky Vee blows them back three feet in their chairs. Chandeliers rattle. Women at the front tables hold their ears. Dicky Vee has it one notch past a Noriega stakeout and just under cerebellum damage. It's not his fault. It's just that he feels everything he's saying. This is how he is anytime. He reads you a letter from a sick kid; he's crying. He talks about his daughters; he chokes up. He tells you about Jimmy Vee; he has to stop.