He resides in "the jungle." His followers are "clones." They come from the "SoCal" and "Crackmore" and "C-Town." They are ordered to "have a take and don't suck." If they do "flame," they are cut off with a harsh buzzer and a savage "beat-down." He deals in a world of "smack" and "epic" interviews and "huge calls" of the day. He's Jim Rome and let's just crown him now: He's the most popular sports-talk radio show host on the planet, and possibly the best. He's brash and cool and smart — and not just about sports. He has been in the business for more than 20 years. His show became syndicated in 1996 and is heard on more than 200 stations in the United States and Canada. Rome brought his show from Los Angeles to Tampa for the Super Bowl and spent a few minutes chatting with Two Cents.
Is he the hardest-working man in broadcasting?
He gets our vote. Up each day at 5:45 a.m., Rome writes the script for his daily half-hour TV show Jim Rome is Burning on ESPN. Then he's off to do his three-hour radio program from 9 a.m. to noon PDT. After that, he races to the television studio, goes through a quick prep and makeup and does the ESPN show live at 1:30 p.m. Then it's back home to start preparing for the next day's radio show by scouring the Internet, watching games and talking to sources. He does this five days a week.
"I made the decision early in my career that I needed an edge," Rome said. "I'm not an ex-athlete so I didn't have that 'in.' So I had to do something and that something is working as hard as I possibly can. I promised myself that I would not be outworked."
Does he regret his most famous moment?
Sort of. In 1994, Rome was hosting a show on ESPN2 and called Rams quarterback Jim Everett "Chris," a reference to the female tennis player. Everett dared him to use that name again, Rome did, and Everett physically attacked him. Rome became a household name in sports circles, and many thought the incident was staged.
"It was not staged," Rome said. "And it was a stupid thing to do. That taught me a huge lesson. It's something that could have damaged my career just as it was starting, and I feel fortunate to have survived it."
If anything, the criticism of Rome is that he's a bit too soft with those he interviews. That, however, does allow him to get practically any guest he chooses.
Is sports his entire life?
No. Rome and his wife, Janet, have two children, ages 7 and 3.
"I told my wife when the ESPN show was offered to me," Rome said, "that the moment you feel I'm shirking my responsibilities as a father and a husband, you tell me and I will stop.
"So far, I have been able to maintain that balance. And the show has been on more than five years now."
Was it love at first sight with his wife, Janet?
Hardly. She was the human resources director for a radio station that carried his show and she actually wanted him fired for some of the things he said on air. How did it end up?
"How did it end up?" Rome said. "She married me. That's how it ended up. Scoreboard! That's how it ended up."
Fact or fiction: Rome detests his clones?
Fiction. Rome loves his clones … until they mess up.
"Listen, they screw up and I'm going to check them!" Rome said. "If you're some guy who sits around waiting for a celebrity to die so you can e-mail some radio show, yeah, I'm going to call you out on it. Don't be stupid. Don't be a loser. Don't be that guy.
"But I would strongly disagree that I look down on my listeners or that I think I'm better than they are. I don't feel that way at all. I couldn't do three hours of radio and a half-hour television show if it were not for the fans."
What does he think of sports-talk radio?
"It trends locally," he said. "Most people want to talk about their local teams. But there's a place for the national show. People want to hear what people elsewhere say about their hometown team.
"Is sports-talk radio getting better or worse? I don't know. There's some good, some bad."
Is he flattered by all the imitators and Jim Rome-wannabes?
Yes. Rome likely invented the term "have a take," which means to give an opinion. Now, talk-show hacks from Miami to Manitoba use the term and would rather copy Rome's style, language and attitude than come up with original ideas.
"I guess I take it as a compliment," he said. "I'm not bothered by it. It doesn't offend me. I don't think much of those who don't have their own shtick and are just copying what I do, but I'm not upset by it. Really, I suppose I should be flattered by that. I know what I do and all I'm concerned with is what I do."
Will he do this forever?
He hopes so. "I'm only 44," Rome said. "I approach it like an athlete. I'll keep doing it as long as I can do it. I don't feel like I've lost any mph's off my fastball. I hope the day never comes that someone comes up to me and says, 'You know, it's time. You're past your prime. You're finished. Time to go away.' But if it does, I'll go away. But right now, I feel good, I like what I do and I think I'm good at it. So I'm going to keep doing it."