Jim is bored to death. Darriel went crazy. Tammy took a second job.
That’s what happens when Paul Finebaum goes off the air.
Finebaum, a sports talk-radio host whose show was considered by many to be the be all and end all on college football in the South, has been on a 6-month hiatus after his contract with WJOX 94.5 FM in Birmingham, Ala. ended in January. But as of Monday, he’s back. This time on ESPN.
So what have his most famous callers — those on a first-named basis — been doing for half a year without their beloved Finebaum? Afternoons haven’t been the same.
“Paul has got the best persona out of anyone I’ve ever seen, including Rush Limbaugh, and you can quote me on that,” said Jim from Tuscaloosa, a longtime Finebaum caller who asked that his last name not be used because of past run-ins with other listeners. “He’s outstanding. Has gravitas.”
Tammy Hethcox, who claims to be the show’s loudest caller, said: “It was pretty hard at first. I’ve been working from 3-7 so I have something to do.”
All callers who spoke with USA TODAY Sports about the show said they haven’t enjoyed radio in the interim.
“The shows on the air now stink all across America,” Jim said. “They’re boring. Horrible hosts. They interview each other, not the callers. That’s what’s so great about Finebaum. He puts himself second most of the time. You couldn’t get me to listen to ESPN radio for five seconds if Finebaum wasn’t coming on.”
Finebaum’s philosophy is to have a caller-driven show. Originating from Birmingham since the early ’90s, most callers were Alabama and Auburn fans. Then several years ago when Finebaum went national on SiriusXM radio, it added a new dynamic. Fans from Ohio State, Georgia, Southern Cal, etc. could chime in.
Fans miss the show, and they aren’t alone.
“Being on the air isn’t that important to me, but I do miss the interaction,” Finebaum said. “I miss the fun of it. It’s a cliché to say that’s my extended family, but in many respects, that is true. These people are part of my life. And an important part of my life. I really don’t think without them I’d be where I am.”
Over the years, Finebaum invited callers to Christmas parties and luncheons. He gave the eulogy at one regular (Shane)’s funeral. Another (Smokey) called the show from the hospital while he was having a heart attack.
“In radio, I’m looking for a lot of things during a program,” Finebaum said. “Unpredictability is high on the list. I want people to be hanging on the edge of their seat.”