The Mayor's calls to XTRA and the Sports Fan Radio Network will end up as mere footnotes to his storied calling career. David Graham—he hails from Poway, Calif., but he is not actually its mayor; he got the nickname from Rome in one of his first calls to the show—has done his best work, slung his most memorable smack, in the unforgiving confines of the Jungle.
"I've had 170 calls to the Jungle, and 16 Huge Calls," he says. (At the end of each show Rome recognizes a Huge Call and a Huge Fax of the day.) "I've got 'em all written down on pieces of paper in a big box in my room in Poway," the Mayor says.
He is 47 and looks every week of it. "I was in and out of jail for 10 years," he says. "Drugs, alcohol, failure to appear." But the Mayor's life is no longer unmanageable. He lives with his two sisters and other family members, and he has channeled his compulsiveness into calling radio stations. Once, he started phoning Rome's show, which in those days began at noon, at 11:57 a.m. and—hearing nothing but busy signals—hit the redial button continually until 3:20 p.m., at which time he got a ring. The phone then rang for 25 minutes. Finally, after a station intern picked up, Joe Tutino, the Jungle's executive producer at the time, told her to tell the Mayor, "Call back tomorrow."
"That's my worst performance ever, in terms of being compulsive," says Graham.
His extreme behavior extends to other realms. Following a period of promiscuity in which he "chased everything in sight," the Mayor says, he took a vow of celibacy in 1985. He now earns his keep by working for his sister around the house and helping out at a friend's driving range. (The Mayor says he is a golf pro who washed out of PGA Tour qualifying school in 1978.)
The Mayor's decision to become a permanent bachelor has enabled him to improve at his real job, which is getting on the air with Rome and holding his own. It's not easy: Over the years Rome has dumped him six times. But calling Rome and holding his own is a job the Mayor can do better than all but a handful of people. "I'm proud that I've been able to make a name for myself," he says. "When I call with a real solid take, it's like, Hey, I might just have an insight that's pretty damn right on."
The Mayor seems to be an easy target. Once you've taken your shots at him, though, you're left with the fact that sports talk radio has given him a small measure of dignity. How do you make fun of that?
To meet the Mayor and Rome on successive days is to notice a rough parallel: Both are recovering nicely from self-inflicted wounds. Here is Rome justifying his ungentle manner with certain callers. "I don't ask them to do anything I don't do myself," he says. "If I'm having a bad day, they say, 'Romey, the show sucks.' And they're not saying they suck."
Few people have entered broadcasting as prepared as this smart-ass kid from the San Fernando Valley. In three years at UC Santa Barbara (from which he graduated in 1986 with a communications degree) he did seven radio internships. The question that kept the undergraduate Rome awake nights was, How am I going to get from Santa Barbara—market No. 174—to Los Angeles? His conclusion: "I've gotta have more balls. I've gotta ask the questions the other hosts won't ask. I need to have a take, and I can't suck."
After 3½ years at KTMS in Santa Barbara, Rome was hired at XTRA in December 1990. "Most young talk-show hosts are afraid to be too opinionated," says XTRA vice president of programming Howard Freedman. "Romey was never concerned about ticking people off." One afternoon Rome noticed that his callers were "really tearing into each other," he says. Approvingly, he remarked, "If you don't have it, you get eaten alive today—it's a jungle out there." The name stuck.