As sports fans, we often rely on the eye test to tell us if someone is a hall of famer. Stats provide evidence of an individual’s greatness. So too does being excellent in a sport for a lengthy period of time. If you can include a few championships, that’s usually enough to end the conversation and earn permanent recognition among the game’s elite.
In the sports radio business, it’s much tougher to depend on evidence because ratings and revenue can fluctuate, employers can change, and a host’s ability to deliver an entertaining show is viewed differently by each listener. One might point to a host’s longevity and use that as a barometer of being worthy of hall of fame consideration, but being able to last is far different than making a consistent impact.
If you were to look at the list of sports broadcasters who have made the National Radio Hall of Fame you’d find that most have been play by play announcers. To date, there haven’t been any modern day sports talk show hosts recognized who have been part of the sports format’s explosion over the past thirty years. Not Mike Francesa. Not Mike and Mike. Not Dan Patrick. Nobody.
Now before you take aim at the Hall of Fame for that, pump the brakes. Being nominated is supposed to be special, and the selection committee takes their responsibility very seriously. Sports may allow stats compilers to get in, and other players to earn consideration after local media members have continued making a case for why they deserve an extra look, but earning a place among the best in any profession is supposed to be difficult.
To illustrate that point, the National Radio Hall of Fame takes the best of the best from all formats, and puts them up for nomination. You may immediately think “Mike Francesa is a Hall of Famer” and you might be right, but if for example he was on the ballot at the same time as Rush Limbaugh, Howard Stern, Don Imus and Scott Shannon, and you could only vote once or twice, that would make it a much harder decision.
One of the cool things the National Radio Hall of Fame does is they allow people to be involved in their voting process. Fans are given a chance to vote twice, and it benefits each nominee to make their audience aware of their being considered for the prestigious honor of joining broadcasting’s finest. This year fans can vote by logging on to RadioVote.com or texting 800 to 9600 to show their support for specific nominees.
As far as the sports format is concerned, one man is on this year’s ballot and it’s well deserved. Jim Rome has been one of the most successful and respected personalities to operate in this business, and during his three decades of excellence he’s created a legion of fans (The Clones) and fictional sports combat zone (The Jungle), introduced a different style of sports lingo, elevated national syndication for sports radio shows, and demonstrated what a multi-platform approach looks like before it became the trendy way to describe being involved in different areas of the industry.
I learned while taping a podcast with Jim in California last year that despite his success, he’s not someone to pat himself on the back. He’s still driven to do great work, appreciates where he is in today’s radio climate, and doesn’t lose sight of where it all started and what lies ahead.
Jim is not going to climb to the top of the mountain and shout to the masses that he deserves entry into the hall of fame. That’s not his style. But he’s also not the one writing this column, I am. Therefore I’m going to share my two cents and I know many will agree, Jim Rome deserves to be inducted into the National Radio Hall of Fame.
To make that happen, members of the sports radio community have to get involved. All you have to do is log on to the website or send in a text to cast your vote. Whether you’ve been a lifelong fan of Jim’s or considered his program not in line with your personal tastes, it’s impossible to deny his impact on the sports format. It’s time one of the best in our format becomes the first modern day sports talk show host to be recognized for his accomplishments and contributions to our business.
I reached out last week to Jim to get a sense of how he was feeling about the process and what it’s felt like being included in conversation for one of our industry’s highest honors, and below are the results of that conversation.
BSM: Having done this as long as you have, when did the idea of your life’s work being recognized first enter your mind?
Rome: It really hasn’t, Jason. I really don’t look at this Hall of Fame nomination as a recognition of my life’s work. It’s a tremendous honor and its humbling but I’m still in the fight. And I’m about the grind. Every single day. And I love it. I’m looking to stay as competitive and relevant as long as I possibly can. I’m not looking for any off-ramp. I’m looking to continue to improve, evolve, re-invent and continue crushing it for years to come. I want to win for the people I work for, the sponsors I work with and for the people who dial in every day to listen and/or watch our shows. I’ll probably take the time to recognize my life’s work when I put the mic down or they come and rip it out of my hands, but for now, I have way too much work to do to stop and think about it!
BSM: In sports, many look at numbers to decide if someone’s Hall of Fame worthy. In radio we can see how long you’ve hosted a show but we don’t always know your ratings and revenue numbers. When you think of an individual or team show in radio being hall of fame caliber, what do you feel they should’ve accomplished in order to earn that honor?
Rome: I think you’re right. I’m not really sure what the criteria should be or what makes someone a Radio Hall of Famer. But I think you have to start with your audience. Do you have a large and loyal, if not rabid, audience? Obviously, market share plays into this but so does longevity and cultural relevance. Have you left any mark on the genre? Have you opened any doors for others to enter the space and experience success on their own? Have you given back? And paid it forward. I’d like to think I’ve done all those things. And if it’s good enough to warrant an induction into something as prestigious an institution as the National Radio Hall of Fame, then that’s one of the best things ever. If not, I’m just going to keep banging away, loving and respecting the opportunity. It’s an amazing industry and I’ve never loved and appreciated it more than I do right now.
BSM: In terms of your legacy and impact on the sports radio format, what do you feel are your most memorable accomplishments and lasting marks on our business?
Rome: I appreciate the suggestion that I may have made a lasting mark on the business. If so, I think the thing that might make me different is that I was different. And honestly, that was by design. I always knew I wanted to do this. I just didn’t know how I was going to do this. Why would anyone ever consider giving me a radio show? Or a TV show? I wasn’t a professional athlete. No one knew who I was. I was just a guy. So I formulated a plan that I committed too. A contract with myself, if you will. I would try to get in and get on by being different. Instead of spewing stats and box scores, I was going crack open the mic and just let it rip. The show would be opinion based. It would have a distinct point of view. And it would be aggressive. And at that time, that was unusual. Athletes and non-athletes alike have told me in the years since they either loved it or hated it, but they had never really heard anything like it. In terms of accomplishments, I always been proud of the first time we busted out, took the show on the road, and created the Jungle World Tour. We hit places like Detroit, Houston, Tampa, Cleveland, Kansas City, Buffalo, Arizona, and packed arenas and to feel that kind of love nationwide blew my mind. And again, I take great pride in the people who have worked for me, called the program or appeared on the program who have gone on to kill it in the industry as well. That has been nothing short of awesome to watch.
BSM: Aside from yourself, who’s the one sports radio talent in America not currently in the Hall of Fame who you believe should be in it?
Rome: That’s easy. My man, Boomer Esiason. I’ve never seen athlete make the transition as seamlessly from the field to the broadcast booth. I’m not sure how Boomer would feel about what I’m about to say, but I think his career off the field compares favorably or better to it on the field. And he was a damn good player. A league MVP. But I’m talking about a guy who has been a morning KILLER in the most important radio market in the world for years. And a television personality to match. And the guy is an absolute animal in the way he attacks the grind. NO. DAYS. OFF. And he’s not just talking football. He’s everywhere. Not to mention everything he’s giving back with the work he does with his foundation. Boomer Esiason is a Hall of Famer in every sense of the word.
BSM: How do you think the evaluation of sports radio hosts will change over the next 10-20 years when the HOF considers whether or not a host or show is worthy of being inducted?
Rome: That’s a very interesting question because the industry is changing every single day. More and more people are entering the space in more and more different ways. The National Radio Hall of Fame will probably have to consider podcasters in the near future because there are so many people putting out quality content on a daily basis and drawing huge, tangible numbers from it. Crushing the iTunes charts is just as impressive as crushing the ratings book and the affiliate lists. And most young, hungry broadcasters who can bring something different to it aren’t going to wait to work their way up from a call screener to a host when they can open up the microphone app on their iPhone and start knocking out shows immediately. So I think the evaluation over the next decade or two will start to broaden. Difference makers always get noticed. No matter where they are.
BSM: On a personal level, what would earning a spot in the National Radio Hall of Fame mean to you?
Rome: You have to understand, my first paid radio gig was for 30 days. THIRTY. At the time, I was selling telephone systems, or trying to, in and around Los Angeles and just getting my head handed to me. And this was after I tried to sell dictation equipment and did even worse. Desperate, I called a guy I worked for while in college, John Palminteri back in Santa Barbara and said, “I’m getting my ass kicked down here. I can’t sell a thing. Is there ANYTHING you have for me to do?!” He said, “The guy who does our traffic reports is going home for Christmas break. I’ve got 30 hours a week, $5 bucks an hour, no benefits.” I said, “I’ll take it. See you Monday.” And left Los Angeles, moved back to Santa Barbara and put my head down. 30 years later, here we are and I’m talking to you about a nomination to the National Radio Hall of Fame?! The whole thing is unbelievably surreal to me. Truth is, getting in would mean a helluva lot to me. Especially because my category is decided by a vote of the listener. Nothing would be more fitting than if the Jungle Clones somehow pulled this off. Nothing would make me more proud if we all went in together.
BSM: How can fans and industry professionals help you spread the word to earn a place among radio’s elite?
Rome: Thanks so much for asking. The best way to spread the word is to go to my Twitter profile where I have pinned all the information on how to vote. I’m not totally comfortable stumping for the vote but I want to make it as easy as possible. It’s right there and I’d encourage anyone to retweet it if they’re so inclined. There are two ways to vote and you are allowed to vote twice. First, you can text 800 to 96000. And then you can go to RadioVote.com and vote there as well. I can’t tell you how much all the support I have already received and will continue to receive, means to me. Induction or no induction, it’s been an incredibly humbling experience. Something I’ll never forget. Thanks a million for the time, Jason.