Joe professes to be unconcerned. He's here for the camaraderie, after all. "If my car won't start, all of these guys would be over there helping me work on it," he says. "They're authentic, nice people."
And generous. The pungent marijuana odor permeating the environs is our clue that some Jungle dwellers are sharing more than their opinions on who will win the National League West. And when Joe from San Diego decides to shatter his empty Jack Daniel's bottle, he is nice enough to lob it away from his fellow Clones.
Comforting thought: Industry mavens say that only 1% to 2% of a sports talk show's listeners call in. Funny, but as I rub elbows with the denizens of the Jungle, taking care not to step on broken glass, I do not feel like part of an elite group.
On the flight home from San Diego, I am seated near three Boise State assistant football coaches. Their BRONCOS FOOTBALL gym bags give them away. Knowing that Rome's show can be heard in Boise, I wonder if the coaches are hip to the Jungle. Before I can ask, I hear one of them say, "I can't believe my wife wants to take the kids to see this Clank-Fu movie."
What has gone wrong in the life of the caller? Plenty, judging by the ads that run on all-sports radio. He is not drinking enough of the right beer; his pickup lacks sufficient ground clearance and horse-power; he is being betrayed by his body. The average listener suffers, if the spots are to be believed, from a grim menu of afflictions: male pattern baldness, chronic halitosis, painful rectal itch.
Call it a niche with an itch. All-sports radio is the place to hear plugs for remedies for athlete's foot and its more embarrassing crotch-dwelling cousin. Fungus, in fact, provides us with a useful metaphor for the rapid spread of all-sports radio. When WFAN began broadcasting in New York City in July 1987, it was the only all-sports station in the U.S. Today there are 157—although, says Robert Unmacht, editor and publisher of the radio newsletter The M Street Journal, "in the last six months growth has slowed down considerably."
The upside of sports talk radio, according to format veteran Lee (Hacksaw) Hamilton of XTRA in San Diego: "It's dynamic; stories change every hour." The downside? "At times it becomes too tabloid," Hacksaw laments. "Too many cheap shots taken." Such as when Hacksaw's detractors refer to him as the Butter-knife. Or when Hacksaw, during his tenure with a Phoenix radio station in the mid-'80s, said of a local female sports anchor, "She oughtta be in my kitchen doing the dishes, not on my TV."
Continuing his noble crusade against verbal low blows, Hacksaw questions "the ethics of people hiding behind mikes. There's gotta be some accountability." For instance, Hacksaw apologized, albeit under duress, for having called a San Diego Union-Tribune sports-TV-radio columnist "a faggot" on the air.
"Fairness, maybe that's the word I'm looking for," says Hacksaw, soldiering on in his lonely campaign for decency in sports radio. "Because behind the ballplayer who's struggling, there's a wife and kids."
There may also be an ex-wife, but Hacksaw apparently is less solicitous of her. That would explain his reaction last winter to the news that Darryl Strawberry's former spouse was taking the New York Yankees outfielder to court for alimony. "Get a job, bitch," advised Hacksaw.