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Leon also likes to talk about college football recruiting and the scandals that have become an abiding theme in Texas. "I talk to a lot of students," he says. "They come in here and I cut their hair. Everybody knows what's going on and then acts real surprised when the NCAA comes in and catches them doing it."
Leon says he likes the Hitzges show because it's honest and opinionated and because "I get a fair shake when I call." Leon has a large following among Hitzges's other listeners, including Gil Brandt, the Cowboys' former vice-president in charge of personnel development. Leon became so much a part of the show that Hitzges did one broadcast from the barbershop. "Great show," he says. "Place was jammed, and Leon was in great form." Now Leon cohosts his own call-in show, Sunday mornings on KLIF.
The regulars can give a show a feeling of community—a feeling that belies the disembodiment of both radio and the telephone. It doesn't matter if the callers and host have never seen each other.
"I used to talk about my mother a lot on the show," Hitzges says. "Every year, I'd do a show about her Super Bowl pick, and I'd talk a lot about how she handicapped the horses. When she died a couple of years ago, I got flowers and letters, and books about how to manage grief. It really touched me and helped me through a tough time."
"You wouldn't believe just how much some of these people know about sports," Rome says. "I spend 10 hours a day reading the papers and the magazines, making calls, just trying to keep up, and a lot of these people know as much as I do. The depth of information is phenomenal. You wonder how they do it and hold down a job and have any kind of life at the same time."
For some, Rome guesses, the phone line to his program is an umbilical cord to show business. "I'll have callers who tell me that they worked for their high school paper or took courses in radio and television when they were in college. You get the feeling that they think of it, in some way, as their show. They are the talent."
And, for some, it is just a way of connecting in a lonely, changing world. The radio, the voice in the night, is something fixed and steady. A regular caller might quit his job rather than accept a shift change that would leave him unable to listen—and phone in. Eskin knows of one listener who was fired for constantly sneaking off his job to call Eskin's show.
Some callers feel that they not only are part of a host's professional life but also have a right to intimacy with him.
"I get calls at home from some of the regulars. They just want to talk," Rome says. Sometimes those calls give a hint of how much the shows mean to those strangers out there.