It’s clear from Eisenstock’s (Inside the Meat Grinder, 1999, etc.) meetings with sports-talk radio personalities that the fans are the real nutcases, for these gents are uniformly ingenious and interesting, if a little excitable, perhaps a bit shrill and shameless, too.
Radio is a theater of the mind, so you have to work the magic with words, and the men Eisenstock interviews here—Hacksaw Hamilton, John Renshaw, Papa Joe Chevalier, Mike North, and others—have the kind of timing and instincts that comedians and poets die for. Smack, as sports trash talk is called, mostly comes from the caller side of the show; the hosts can be irreverent or convoluted, they can even pull the occasional rage-rant-scream, but the best host is, as one producer noted, “engaging, smart, has a good sense of himself, some knowledge, and can speak off-the-cuff. Frankly, sometimes it helps if they are a little nutty.” The author meets such old pros as Boston’s wonderfully decent Eddie Andelman; Chicago’s Mike North, with his street guy’s twang and perfect comic pitch; New York’s Mad Dog, of Mike and the Mad Dog: “thorough, detailed, and febrile.” When there are two men working together, Eisenstock tries to understand the chemistry; with solo artists, he looks for the defining bit: a Southern comfort voice, an edginess, a class identification (a good many come from hard-enough-knocks backgrounds). He talks with producers, operations managers, and other behind-the-scenes elements, and he provides enough biographical material for readers to be able to put a face to the voice. Spliced into the book are chapters devoted to Arnie Spanier—The Stinkin’ Genius—an up-and-coming showman who sounds “like a bookmaker gargling with glass.” And they are all sports fans, with the fan’s ability to talk sports nonstop, in minute, passionate detail, for a frightening amount of time.
What does it all mean? Eisenstock: “Do you think sports talk radio is a fad?” Sports fan and sports-talk junkie: “No, unfortunately, I think it's here forever.”