Turn down the podcast/Pandora/XM radio just for a moment, and consider the much-mocked original, AM Sports Talk Radio. It’s the secret youthful shame of many an enlightened sports blogger, right up there with claiming one never was an AIM or Myspace-obsessed teen or had an emo phase.
There’s a bubbling desperation and pathos about AM sports talk radio that’s surprisingly addicting. You have the host, underpaid, with a face for radio, coming on after a boring game knowing that generating content will be a struggle. As you listen closely, you can hear the wheels turning and the smoke flowing, the host in a desperate 1-1 battle with dead air, trying to say something, anything to trigger a call. There’s that moment where it’s clear not even the host quite believes what they said. The host is battling against so many better-trained, more supported, HD faces to make a dent, and at times you can smell the sweat seeping through the ill-fitting freebie polo shirts.
Then you have the callers, flowing in an uneven rhythm of tropes and occasional flashes of genius. The old men, beaten and bitter, hoping for just one more sports high before they become too old to get to the park. The kids, nervous, stuttering, and with the charm of a defecating puppy indoors, trying to prove they can talk a man’s game. The underemployed, perpetually angry 20-something, blaming the local team for their own life failings. The 30, 40-something dad, bereft of hobbies and dreams, calling in to sports talk radio during the 30 minutes a day that dad is alone in the worst car the family owns, running yet another errand for the expectant, demanding brood at home. And yet...
Every so often, sparks of real humanity and insight emerge from this parade of (overwhelmingly male) angst projected onto a third party. A caller makes sense, then another. The beleaguered host finds his rhythm and strings an eloquent rant together. You can hear the smirk in his voice as he throws it to commercial and slurps the energy drink nearby before the commercial plays. The snarled intersection of host, callers, sponsored content, and the least-talented starter who had to make an appearance to satisfy the team’s agreement on the station attains rhythm. The emotional deflection and projection breaks down. A caller talks about his dead dad taking him to the park. Another caller talks about how going to spring training with his ex-wife was the best memory he has of her. Humanity somehow makes an appearance at midnight, and then everyone involved agrees to pretend it didn’t happen.
And so, admittedly, I like sports talk radio; the later, smaller, and more disorganized, the better.