'93Ohhh, wait. You'92re The Roundtable guys!'94
Lance Taylor and Ian Fitzsimmons nod in affirmation, taking timeout from their cocktails at a local Homewood watering hole to acknowledge a loyal listener. They are indeed the guys responsible for the four-hour, week-daily, talk radio exhibition known as '93The JOX Roundtable.'94
The man who identified them '96 a slightly built, young ad exec with stylish black threads and carefully arranged hair '96 doesn'92t exactly fit the stereotypical mold of the sports talk radio devotee.
'93And hey, what happened? I miss the stripper.'94
But then again, it appears the Roundtable might not fit any particular mold, either.
From 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., Monday through Friday on WJOX 94.5 FM, L.T. and Fitzsimmons roll through a miscellany of topics, smashing together the worlds of sports and entertainment in the same way the Large Hadron Collider smashes protons and particles of light, except without black holes. And without dead air.
Lance considers four hours on the air an eternity, but Ian scoffs.
'93No, it'92s not! How many times do we do a show and wind up with stuff left over?'94
'93I know, but it'92s a big chunk of the day!'94 Lance shoots back.
'93Oh come on. It'92s a lay-up,'94 Ian replys.
Take last Thursday'92s show for example, the day yours truly decided to upset the natural order of things and watch a radio show from the studio. The guys planned on recapping National Signing Day, playing an interview with Vanderbilt basketball coach Kevin Stallings and indulging in some expert hoops analysis with ESPN'92s Jay Bilas.
But a little more than an hour into the proceedings, word that new Tennessee head football coach Lane Kiffin called out Alabama'92s Nick Saban and Florida'92s Urban Meyer hijacked the rest of the show and scrambled best laid plans.
The top ten signs your woman'92s a tramp? Packed away for a slower day. The five most likely ways the world will end? That can wait. The ability to know which topics to front and which to shutter away is a sort of intuition that can only be developed from copious hours behind the mic. And these two have logged in some serious hours.
They met as students at the University of Alabama 19 years ago, became quick friends, and soon developed a repartee tailor-made for radio. After school, they made hay in separate cities.
Ian landed at the World Wide Leader (ESPN, of course) in Bristol, Conn., producing ESPN GameNight. He eventually returned to Birmingham to host a show on WJOX called '93The Cheap Seats.'94
Lance wound up in Birmingham alternating between sales and radio, before settling on both. He was so desperate to get on the air that, for a period of time, he worked for free. By the time Ian came back and '93Cheap Seats'94 made the air, Lance was contemplating giving up the business and moving on to something else.
But a trip to the Florida panhandle in 2000 changed everything. John Ed Willoughby'92s WAPI morning show invited Lance to come on and discuss how Spring Break vacations had evolved from innocuous to scandalous over the past few years.
'93This was when Girls Gone Wild was getting started up,'94 L.T. reminds me. Ian, who knows the story well, can barely contain premature laughter.
Better than just offering a second-hand opinion, Lance suggested that he provide live beachside reports for WAPI during Spring Break. Ian'92s '93Cheap Seats'94 wanted in on the action as well.
'93Ian said, '91Hell, if you'92re going to do it for them, you'92re going to do it for us too.'92'94
So Lance convinced his wife that he had no choice but to leave for the Panhandle, telling her he was staying out of GGW ground zero (Panama City) in favor of more conservative Destin. Before too long, though, he was reporting live from ground zero.
'93On my last day, I was doing final reports and they had called my wife and had her on the line listening,'94 Lance says.
Ian interrupts. '93Hold on'85'94
'93That was your idea!'94 Lance interjects.
'93She called me first and asked me '91Was this your idea?'92'94 Ian explains. '93And I'92m like '91Whoa, what are you talking about?'92'94
'93Ian planned the whole thing.'94
Either way, Mrs. Taylor was listening live as her husband give the final results of the day'92s wet t-shirt contest when she decided to pour a little cold water of her own on L.T.
'93They said, '91Hey, there'92s someone here who wants to talk to you'92,'94 Lance recalls, not at all expecting to hear his wife'92s voice at the other end of the line. Initially, he didn'92t recognize her when she began talking.
Ian hijacks the story: '93She said, '91Lance?'92 And he said, '91Yeah, what'92s up? Who'92s this?'92
'93'91You know damn well who this is.'92
'93And his next words were, '91Uh oh.'92'94
'93Yeah,'94 Lance recalls, '93she called me a 29-year-old loser.'94
'93He was such a good sport, I knew when he got back that he'92d realize it was such a good radio bit. This city was talking about it for a month,'94 Ian remembers. '93That'92s when I knew we'92d make a great team.'94
It would take seven more years to convince WJOX management of that, but in July 2007, the two teamed up for '93The Roundtable.'94 Now the boys, both 36, could finally push their repartee wide open. The final piece of the puzzle was producer/musician Sean '93Rockstar'94 Heninger, 27, who punctuates the patter of a combined 30 years of broadcasting experience with impeccably-timed, matter-of-fact, self-deprecating humor.
The secret of the show'92s success is that it'92s not really a show at all. It'92s simply the four hours out of the day when these two lives are broadcast hundreds of miles in each direction from atop Red Mountain. Sit down with them at the bar, and you get '93The Roundtable.'94 Hang out with them at a game, and you get '93The Roundtable.'94 The show is not a production; it'92s a running conversation.
Back in the studio, Ian drives home that point.
'93It'92s almost as if these things aren'92t even here,'94 Fitzsimmons says as he points at the microphones during a break. '93The best shows are the ones where the hosts talk to each other and the people feel like they'92re a part of the conversation.
'93If they'92re yelling at their radio or laughing their ass off, then we know we are doing our jobs.'94
Every show is a house under construction, framed but unfinished. The first hour is the most important, as it sets the show'92s tone and primes the listeners. At 11:35 a.m., it'92s time for Trash on the Table, where the boys joyously read and react through a pile of strange-but-true news stories. A woman'92s new 38 KKK bust breaks a world record. A school kid poses as a woman on Facebook to lure his male classmates into sexual blackmail. A woman in South Korea fails her driving test 771 times.
At noon, it'92s the '93Six Pack at 12'94, the top six other stories in sports and entertainment. At 1:35 p.m., it'92s news and notes and, finally, the closing ceremonies. Though the show'92s direction can shift at any moment, as it did last Thursday, rarely do those time-stamped staples lose their place. '93Pavlov'92s dogs,'94 Ian remarks off-hand as he slides on his headphones and prepares to welcome back listeners after a bottom-of-the-hour break.
Despite the always-controversial '93Trash'94 or the occasionally deviant double entendre, The Roundtable crew is not as depraved as some conservative listeners might conclude. In fact, that'92s one of many misconceptions that Lance and Ian would like to clear up.
First, Ian is not fat (which, for some reason, comes as a shock to listeners he meets at station remotes). Second, both look younger than 36, though many listeners perceive them both to be much older (it'92s those radio voices). Lance, sans facial hair, barely looks 30, while only the hint of gray in Ian'92s goatee betrays his youthful appearance.
Third and foremost, both are doting husbands and fathers who are much more likely to be found at home reading a bedtime story aloud rather than out late at a club. Before the show started last Thursday, Ian'92s big news from the previous night was that his youngest was able to finally sleep soundly after days fighting a respiratory flare-up.
'93My family is everything to me,'94 Ian says. '93My brothers, my daughters, my wife. I'92m the most whipped man in America. Am I proud to say that? No. Is it embarrassing? Yes.'94
'93This guy,'94 pointing over at Lance, '93is the most loving dad you'92re going to find on the planet. But to the average listener, they probably think we don'92t care about our kids, we'92re out to 3 a.m. every night and we'92re horrible fathers.'94
Lance agrees. '93I think people do believe we'92re swimming around bars all the time.'94
'93That'92s only when we'92re out of town,'94 Ian adds, tongue-in-cheek.
Back to Thursday afternoon, after Lane Kiffin'92s mouth shot the pre-show planning to hell, Lance teases Paul Finebaum'92s 2 p.m. show and both sign off for the day.
'93Man, that was a C+ show,'94 Lance says.
Why such a poor grade for a show that featured a new twist to the Alabama/Tennessee football rivalry and news that a woman walks among us with more than a gallon of silicone in her chest?
'93Not enough back-and-forth between the two of us,'94 he explains, that intuition acting up again.
Breaking news threw off the '93sports-to-bullshit ratio'94 (which Ian prefers at 65-35, Lance at 50-50) that drives their conversation, which draws the listeners in and makes both men feel like they'92ve done their jobs. Today, they weren'92t talking with their listeners as much as they were talking to them. There'92s a sense that the job didn'92t get done.
Fulfilled or not, the boys must call it a day. Lance, Ian and Rockstar exit the booth, replaced by the legendary Finebaum, whose show is simulcast by a local TV station through in-studio Web cams.
The next day at the watering hole, neither prefers to discuss ratings (Ian holds up one finger to indicate where the show finishes in its time slot, but avoids the jinx by refusing to say it aloud). Neither wants to discuss the future. (No one plans on going anywhere; they pray Rockstar won'92t as well.) All they want to discuss is tomorrow'92s show, whereupon, hopefully, you'92ll find out if your girlfriend'92s a tramp.
And how the world will end.