By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
Keith: "If you're injected into a high-culture environment, you'll fall apart."
Miller: "Wait a minute. I also read The Celestine Prophecy."
Keith: "That book was so lame."
Miller: "But it's a book! I kept thinking it would expand my horizons."
Dunham: "At least I admit I'm very simple-minded."
Miller: "The sophisticated women would love me."
Bill the Clown is sitting in The Ticket studio, looking entirely comfortable behind the microphone. He's wearing the clown's standard-issue big sloppy shoes, a massive red bowtie, a round red nose, a fright wig, and blue suspenders imprinted with a logo from Sears--the corporate sponsor of the Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus. The Greatest Show on Earth is in town, and Bill is doing pub. Dunham and Miller are first on the day's agenda.
"First of all," Miller tells Bill, "I was shocked to learn that clowns are now corporately sponsored. But tell me, because I've often wondered, why do clowns wear such ill-fitting clothes?"
Bill, who obviously likes where this bit is going, mentions something about the apparel being part of an international clown dress code.
Dunham asks a few questions about Bozo and other favorite clowns of his childhood. And Miller gets the big finish:
"Tell me honestly, Bill. Do clowns get chicks?"
Later that day, I am discussing the Dunham and Miller show, and sports talk in general, with KLIF's Norm Hitzges. The 53-year-old broadcaster is a Dallas legend, with 12 years on the KLIF morning drive slot. He loves to talk sports. And he really hates shtick.
"I personally would never put a clown on my show," Hitzges says without a hint of irony. He's calling from his car phone. "Now I've done plenty of entertainment-oriented things. I've interviewed a zamboni driver. And I once interviewed the guy who changes the hole at the golf course.
"But hey, if I'm a listener driving to work and I've only got 20 minutes to listen to sports, I don't want to spend 10 minutes listening to a clown."
Like any glamour profession, the sportscaster pool in Dallas is a tiny one. And Hitzges points out that he likes Dunham and Miller personally. But let him roll for a while, and he makes it abundantly clear--this shtick posing as sports talk is a sign of the coming apocalypse.
"Every profession evolves, I know that. But not always in a manner that people appreciate. Walter Cronkite must absolutely shiver when he watches the way people deliver the news nowadays.
"I've been concerned about our industry for years," Hitzges says. He stresses that his thoughts don't necessarily apply to Dunham and Miller, but that "too many hosts these days don't know a damn thing about sports. All the consultants want to know about a guy is, 'Can he talk well? Is he glib? Will he talk about the babe he dated the night before?' Come on. Nobody cares about who's dating who, unless its Dennis Rodman."
The rage against sports radio shtick has been building for years--especially among the old guard like Hitzges, Randy Galloway (the veteran Dallas Morning News sports columnist is on KRLD weeknights from 6 to 8; he refers to his show as "wimp-free sports talk"), and Fort Worth Star-Telegram sports columnist Jim Reeves. Besides writing for the S-T for 28 years, Reeves has hosted talk shows on WBAP, KLIF, and until March 1 of this year, a show on KRLD. "I was dumped," the 51-year-old Reeves says. And perhaps, he concedes, that fact colored a June 19 newspaper column he wrote blasting The Ticket management for firing Chuck Cooperstein a few days earlier.
"Now instead of sports talk, more often than not you're getting something some folks are calling 'guy talk,' programs in which you're more likely to hear sexual innuendo than the merits of going for it on fourth-and-one or whether Johnny Oates should have gone to the bullpen in the 7th inning," Reeves wrote in his column.
"I just felt like when Coop was fired, I had the opportunity to say it's too bad the people who really know sports and can talk sports have to lose their jobs," Reeves says.
The Cooperstein incident did engender plenty of anger--especially in the ex-talk show host himself, who says that his sudden termination was a complete surprise. The day that Thompson escorted him into General Manager Dan Bennett's office, Cooperstein says, he thought it was to discuss his contract renewal.
"Was I ever wrong," says the 38-year-old Cooperstein. He's talking on the phone from his home on a recent afternoon, with his 18-month-old son babbling in the background.
What Cooperstein and his supporters believe is that The Ticket bosses found his noon-to-3 p.m. show too erudite, too fact-centered, too "shtick-less." Just, well, stiff. And while Bennett declined to tell me specific reasons for his firing of Cooperstein, you can tell what the station wants by looking at Cooperstein's replacement. Rocco Pendola is a 22-year-old New York native who signed on a little over two months ago after spending a year at a Pittsburgh talk station. He is loud, fast-talking, and brash. He's quick. He's smart. He talks a lot of sports. But he also once asked a female sports fan on the air when she last had sex.