The Jungle quickly achieved cult status. Like CB-radio buffs, the Clones (so named because of their idolatrous imitation of Rome's style) got off on the show's insider argot. The Jungle glossary runs to 200 terms; they include Clank-Fu, smack, bugaha (Omaha), cheating 'Deques (the Colorado Avalanche, formerly the Quebec Nordiques), 'nad (gonad) and whack (dumb, taken from the first line of a song from O'Neal's film Kazaam). The list is maintained by a Clone on a Web site. But just knowing the "gloss"—Jungle jargon for, well, the terms of Jungle jargon—doesn't mean you're worth listening to, says Jeffrey DiTolla. "Some of the Clones substitute gloss for analysis," he says. (Jeffrey is a lawyer; his brother, Mike, is a dentist. It is possible the DiTollas have more education than the rest of the Clones combined.)
The gloss, combined with Rome's proficiency at flinging smack and his insistence that callers actually give some thought to what they say, lent the Jungle a hip, youthful edge. Athletes liked it and wanted to come on the air. (And plenty of athletes heard it. While the Federal Communications Commission limits U.S. stations to 50,000 watts, XTRA's 77,000-watt blowtorch signal, transmitted from a cliff outside Tijuana, Mexico, blankets Southern California.)
Guests who swing into the Jungle and sling interesting smack are rewarded: Their spicier remarks are "reset"—replayed on the next day's show, after which Rome invariably says, "If you missed that, you missed a great Jungle moment."
The quintessential moment of Rome's career occurred, ironically, outside the Jungle. In April 1994 Jim Everett, the quarterback who had just been traded from the Los Angeles Rams to the New Orleans Saints, agreed to go on Rome's ESPN2 show, Talk2. Everett had a reputation for softness, a rap the ambitious Rome was eager to discuss with him. Rome baited Everett, thrice calling him "Chris," after tennis player Chris Evert. Finally the quarterback flipped a table, knocking Rome off his chair and providing the young host with the national renown he had coveted.
Public opinion swung heavily in Everett's favor. Rome was cast, with some justification, as an irresponsible, do-anything-for-a-ratings-point villain. He taped a Los Angeles Times clipping headlined is THIS THE END OF ROME'S EMPIRE? to the mirror in his bathroom. A year later, when it was clear he had survived, he took the clipping down and "had a little burning ceremony." In June, Rome signed a new multiyear deal with Premiere Radio Networks, the Jungle's syndicator.
On the air he remains cruel. Last year the Mayor signed off on a call with the sports talk equivalent of a pat on the butt, growling, "I love ya, Romey." Rome's rejoinder—"You're not going to ask me for a date or anything, are you?"—hurt the Mayor. The next time he saw the host, at a Clone-fest in a Torrance, Calif., sports bar, he let Rome know how upset he was.
Rome approached the Mayor a few minutes later. What happened next captures perfectly the caller-host relationship. Beaming, the Mayor recalls the moment. "He says, 'You know I love you, Dave.' And I said, T love you too, Romey.' "
If you missed that, you missed a great Jungle moment.