Monday, May 5, 2003

Jim Rome comes to Cincinnati

Pack up the clones: Rome's traveling show is on the way; Radio, TV host will build Jungle for a day at Xavier

By Rory Glynn
Enquirer contributor

Sport talk radio show host Jim Rome at his 2003 tour stop in Sacramento.
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In Cincinnati, where the Jungle has essentially gone the way of the Ickey Shuffle, striped Hudepohl cans, winning Bengals teams and Riverfront Stadium, there's a new Jungle coming to town.

It's the Jungle of smack and props, of getting racked or getting run, where blowing up is good and flaming is not.

And it's the Jungle of Clones. Lots of Clones.

The Jungle is the nationally syndicated Jim Rome Show, heard weekdays 12-3 p.m. on WCKY-AM (1360 Homer). The host periodically takes a version of his show on the road for "tour stops," and the next comes Saturday at Cintas Center.

For the uninitiated, Rome, 38, is a multi-media success story. His radio show, which is carried by more than 200 affiliates and reaches more than 2.5 million listeners, is syndicated by Premiere Radio Networks, a division of the Clear Channel empire. He's had TV shows on ESPN2, Fox Sports Net, and, starting Tuesday, a new entry, Rome is Burning, on ESPN.

But Rome's impact is best measured not by his reach but by his grasp. He is almost a cult figure among his listeners, or "clones" - so named for their habit of adopting their opinionated host's positions, or "takes," on issues in sports. And nowhere is this more apparent than at a tour stop, where fans routinely fill 10,000-20,000-seat venues just to hear Rome toss out a few takes, crack wise with local sports celebrities, interact with the clones and generally hold court as the King of the Jungle.

This tour stop, Rome's 30th, will include Reds Aaron Boone, Sean Casey, Adam Dunn and Austin Kearns; Bengals linebacker Brian Simmons and Bengals great Anthony Munoz; UC legend Oscar Robertson; Xavier star David West; and Reds broadcaster Marty Brennaman.

Tickets are free, but must be procured through ticket "drops," mostly at sponsoring AutoZone stores; demand is such that for this tour stop, as others, some "free" tickets are being auctioned on eBay.

All in all, it's a far cry from Rome's very first promotional appearance, held in relative solitude in a Southern California bar.

"There were maybe four or five people there, and they weren't there to see me," Rome says. "They just did their thing, and I did mine.

"Never in a million years did I think this would grow to be what it has."

A stop in Cleveland a few years back, where fans made a Cleveland State women's basketball game a sellout just so they could see Rome at CSU's Convocation Center hours before, marked the beginning of the modern tour stop-as-event. Talk of the appearance dominated Rome's show for weeks before and after.

Veteran clones, who already liked to road-trip to Rome's appearances, soon began organizing extracurricular events like golf tournaments and tailgate parties. (At Cintas' tailgate party, 1360's Two Angry Guys will broadcast live.)

"The best ones - Cleveland, Houston, Sacramento, Buffalo - that's what happens now," Rome says.

With so many affiliates and only three or four tour stops a year, demand far exceeds supply. So how did Cincinnati - or "The 'Nati," as it's known in the Jungle - draw No. 30? Well, Rome's stated policy is that tour stops go to the affiliates that show they want them, and Cincinnati, Rome says, earned it.

Steve Versnick, program director for 1360 Homer, started asking about a tour stop two years ago. As Rome's popularity in the market continued to grow - he averaged a 2 share in the last ratings book, four times his audience of just five years ago and "really good for a sports show," Versnick says - Versnick knew the station needed the flock to help lure the shepherd.

"If he doesn't feel the support from the fans, he's not going to go," Versnick says. "They're the ones that got it done."

Rome tries to give each show a local flavor.

"The Reds have a good team, good guys. Obviously, the Bengals haven't had much success, but Marvin Lewis has them up-and-coming. And of course there's Hugg. I love Hugg." ("Hugg" is UC coach Bob Huggins, an occasional guest on the radio show who can't make the tour stop because of a scheduling conflict.)

One guest who might be a little outside the box is Brennaman, who, at 60, probably doesn't fit the profile of the typical Rome listener. But Brennaman, who's perhaps matched only by partner Joe Nuxhall in popularity among current Cincinnati sports figures, catches the show when he can.

"I know he appeals to a very young demographic; I don't know how many in my age group, but I listen to him in the car before Lance (McAlister)," Brennaman says.

"I'll tell you one thing, he's got a hell of a lot of juice. Anybody he wants as a guest, he gets. He casts a very large shadow in this industry."

Rome is eager to meet the Hall of Fame broadcaster.

"It means a lot to me that he's willing to come to something like this."

The tour's format stays pretty much the same: After a few opening takes from the host, the guests come out one-by-one and join in the banter.

Some guests are more memorable than others. San Diego's Tony Gwynn got laughs with a spot-on impression of teammate Rickey Henderson in Tampa, Falcons defensive back Ray Buchanan broke out an impromptu rap; and Chiefs running back Priest Holmes, usually a reserved sort, whipped a Kansas City crowd into a frenzy.

"The guests have a lot to do with it, because people get fired up to see their guys," Rome says. "But at the end of the day, they really don't make or break (a tour stop). This sounds self-serving, but at the end of the day, people want to see me get off. It's just a celebration of the show and all it's about."

Rome's final take on the success of the tour stops:

"If it's free, there's a line," he says. "I think I deliver good value."

Tour stop Gloss guide

Some helpful terms to get the uninitiated through Saturday's Jim Rome tour stop at Xavier's Cintas Center. A complete list can be found in Rome's Smacktionary, at :

Blowing up: Becoming wildly successful or popular.

Clone: A listener.

Flaming: When a clone loses his train of thought and a call goes bad. When flaming, it's always best to eject and hang up the phone - before the host does it for you.

Gloss: Short for glossary, Rome's vocabulary or vernacular. When you run smack, use the gloss.

Grub: Food.

Pops: Libations.

Pie-hole: Where you put your grub and pops. Also, if you don't have good smack, you may be told to shut it.

Props: Recognition.

Smack: (Official definition from the Smacktionary at : Sports talk in a gloatful, uninhibited or unbridled manner.

Take: An opinion on an issue. Make it good - the law of the Jungle is, "Have a take, don't suck."

The 'Nati: Your hometown, in Jungle gloss.

Van Smack: The host's nickname. This name has a Cincinnati connection: It was originally given to former UC guard Nick Van Exel, who was good at running smack.

Coming of the Clones...

Here are the top attendance figures from previous Rome tour stops:

Houston 21,000
Buffalo 18,500
Sacramento 18,500
Cleveland 14,500
Kansas City 13,000
If you go

Where: Cintas Center

When: 12:30 p.m.- 2 p.m. Saturday

Tickets: Free passes are available at Autozone stores: 10 a.m. today, 4620 Roosevelt Blvd., Middletown, OH; 11:30 a.m. today, 1000 E. 2nd St., Franklin, OH; 2 p.m. Tuesday, 5117 Pleasant Ave., Fairfield, OH; 3 p.m. Tuesday, 2750 Dixie Hwy., Hamilton, OH.

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