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It's Friday night, Labor Day weekend, and the mood is flat even though the world seems to be moving toward war over Kuwait. The driver on the interstate outside Montgomery, Ala., has heard enough about Saddam Hussein and the 82nd Airborne Division, so he searches the radio dial for something to divert his attention. He finds a clear signal and a steady, pleasant voice. The talk is about sports. Something about recruiting and easy schedules.
Did you hear about Joe Garagiola?" the show's host suddenly says to all his listeners out there. "It says in the paper that he's taking a month off so he can have some elective surgery. The condition is not life-threatening, but he doesn't want to say specifically what it is. I'll tell you what. Let's take a poll on this. What is Joe Garagiola going under the knife for? Let me hear your calls."
It is a minute or two before anyone bites. Filling in, the show's cohost says: "You know, I think it has to be a hair transplant. Everybody is doing that today. I'll bet you anything, when he comes back he'll be wearing a hat. After a while, he'll take the hat off and there'll be hair where that dome used to be."
Naaah, a caller says. Hemorrhoids.
Prostate, no doubt about it, according to the next caller, who says he knows whereof he speaks.
It's a vasectomy, another caller says emphatically.
The discussion briefly moves on to other matters, and then a woman calls and says, "Listen, you boys. I hate to have to tell you, but a vasectomy is minor surgery. It's an office visit. You get a little novocaine. Snip here, snip there—it's over with, and you can go back to work. Being out a month, it's got to be the hair transplant or the hemorrhoids."
"Well," says the host, "thank you for calling."
And on to the next call. And the next. On sports talk shows, the callers will discuss just about anything, anything at all. Talk radio is the closest thing to the companionship of real people that the mass media can provide. The callers are sincere, uninhibited, rowdy, opinionated and, sometimes, menacing. There are nights when someone will call to tell the host that if he doesn't stop putting the knock on the program down at State, he can expect some company in the parking lot when he gets off work. It's probably an idle threat, but you can't be too careful. J. David Miller, who used to have a call-in show on WGOW in Chattanooga, claims that once, after he had accused the University of Tennessee of covering up numerous rules violations in its football program (a charge the NCAA eventually dismissed), he found a live rattlesnake in his mailbox.