By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
Surely, I tell them, you can't be surprised that women would find your show appealing. After all, you are the Gentle Musers. And women really go for that gentle male stuff.
It is barely 7 a.m., and already the show is on its way to the cosmos. Dunham and Miller have just gone a round with "Ray in Allen," a regular caller and Green Bay fan who reduces them to hysterical laughter with his hyperbolic ravings about the Pack. Soon after, the topic of the day starts taking shape. It is one week into Cowboys training camp, and Deion Sanders has made it clear he will not be attending. He's going to finish out the season with the Cincinnati Reds, even though the team is something like 10 games back.
"That's as sorry as it gets," Dunham grouses. "For what the Cowboys invested in him, he shouldn't be playing baseball if it conflicts with the football season. He has no regard for the team. Teamwork, that's a foreign concept to him."
Miller: "Look. He's Deion. He doesn't need to practice. He'll show up for the regular season and he'll show exactly why he gets paid what he does. He does what he wants. That's the shape of today's sports world."
Dunham: "Well, I don't like it."
They wrangle over the Deion issue for a good, long while, taking calls along the way, most of which side with Dunham. Then, just before sliding into a long commercial break, Dunham leans into his microphone, looks across the table at Miller and says "By the way, I'm not mad at you."
Miller flashes a grin. "I'm not mad at you either."
They are a matched set, and they think alike. On another morning, with the Barry Switzer heat-packing incident still fresh, and the morning papers revisiting the same old sources, Dunham and Miller decide to bolt from the pack. Their producer, Mike Fernandez, gets Becky Buwick on the line. The University of Oklahoma gymnastics coach is Switzer's longtime squeeze.
In the on-air interview, Miller asks, "What's your reaction to the $75,000 fine Jerry slapped on Barry?"
Says Buwick: "There goes Christmas!"
Nothing and no one is sacred on the show. The conversation may start with a summary of the previous day's results in the Tour de France bicycle race, but it quickly devolves into a discussion of the anatomical discomfort of bike seats. Later, the topic will shift to the worst movie ever made. Miller is sure it is The Godfather, Part III, where a "spare" Sofia Coppola--as in "spare part," as in useless--struggles pathetically in a leading role. For good measure, Dunham will throw in a rundown of his weekend in home-repair hell. Miller will toss out a few self-deprecating remarks about his newly grown goatee (he has since shaved) or breathe life into his daily reading of the list of celebrity birthdays. Example: "John Derek, that spare who married Bo Derek when she was like, 21, turns 71 today. Can he really be that old? Boy, he is circling the drain."
Between the musings, Gordon Keith, D&M's 26-year-old comic sidekick, will offer up an authentically greasy impersonation of Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, or thoughts on marriage from the thrice-divorced "fake Juan Gonzalez."
"It's just madness," Keith says after the show, in mock highbrow tone. "Simply madness."
What Dunham and Miller have perfected is the art of shtick (a word that is practically corporate jargon at The Ticket). So have their colleagues, Mike Rhyner and Greg Williams, the afternoon drive-time hosts better known as The Hard Line. (Rhyner and Williams hold the distinction of consistently pulling the highest ratings at the station, and they can be wickedly funny. But unlike Dunham and Miller, The Hard Line's humor is seldom subtle and predictably blue--"Stay hard!" is their motto, which I'm sure keeps the rednecks in radioland in stitches.)
But The Ticket didn't pioneer sports shtick. That honor, according to all the sports radio folklore I could gather, goes to Tom Bigby, program director of WIP-AM in Philadelphia, an all-sports station that started in 1987. The earliest format at WIP was straight sports talk. All X's and O's. Talk about team strategy and coaching change-ups.
But Bigby decided the format needed a bit of an overhaul a few years after its birth. Little by little, silliness began to creep in. Goofy promotions. Slightly off-color jokes. Talk show hosts were suddenly encouraged to veer off the topic of the Eagles' offensive line, and maybe chat up the worst dates they ever had.
"It works for us," Bigby says of his all-sports, much-shtick format. "It might not work for everyone. CBS owns one of the most successful sports stations in the country, WFAN in New York. It's hard-core sports all day and night. But New York also has nine professional sports franchises, so there's a lot to talk about."
Bigby is brash and completely clear about whom he wants listening. "Our format here is boy talk. It's all male-based and entertainment-oriented. When there aren't any big sports issues, it's kind of hard to force it. If there's nothing to talk about in sports, we find something else to discuss."