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Radio | AROUND THE DIAL

Good News for Romey Fans Who Can't Get Enough Jungle Talk

June 25, 1998|STEVE HOCHMAN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Romey was in the jungle, talking the usual smack with the jobless when a huge fax came through. Too huge, in fact. Some guys with a record company and a lot of bills wanted to know if Romey was interested in making a disc. Something to sell to the clones on the tour stops.

What was up with that? Sounded like these guys needed a drug test. But then, within a few days, two more record companies stepped up with similar offers. Jungle karma? Romey doesn't know. He doesn't want to know. All he can tell you is that it happened.

And if you don't have any idea what we're talking about, here's the lowdown:

Jim Rome, the staccato sports radio and TV host with the distinctive lexicon, has made an album. And it's not just some promotional or vanity project, but a real major-label effort.

But don't worry. He doesn't sing on it.

"Not going to be opening for U2 any time soon," says Rome, 33, during a break from his radio duties, which take him to 98 U.S. markets--including afternoons on his flagship, San Diego's XTRA-AM (690), and mornings on L.A.'s KXTA-AM (1150)--and his gig on Fox Sports TV's verbally pugnacious "The Last Word."

What he does on the album is try to capture the appeal of his distinctive craft. The album, due in stores in September, uses highlights from the radio show edited into thematic bits, plus a few songs that are regularly featured on his show (Guns N' Roses' "Welcome to the Jungle," the Boomtown Rats' "Up All Night"). It's an audio journey through the "jungle" (his radio realm), with Rome talking "smack" (expressing sharp sports opinions) for the "jobless" (his affectionate term for his listeners) and "clones" (the callers who try--and usually fail--to match his delivery).

"It's good jungle talk," he says of the album. "And it involves the listeners in some of the highlight bits. So I can tell them, 'Guess what, jobless? You're going to be on the CD.' "

But why make a record of something that's available on the radio five days a week? As Rome puts it: "I think the clones are pretty loyal; they'd like to have something when the pimp in the box isn't on the air. I can only put up with about four hours of me a day. But they can take more."

Translation, if needed: The fans can't get enough of him.

Two people who don't need a translation are Andy Gershon and Scott Litt. They're not clones, but they are loyal fans. And they also happen to be co-owners of Outpost Recordings, a joint venture with big-league Geffen Records. They were the first of the record executives to approach Rome about making an album. Rome, impressed with both their sports knowledge and their rock 'n' roll credentials (Gershon previously managed Smashing Pumpkins; Litt has produced Rome favorites R.E.M. and the Replacements), signed on--though all three parties admit that they didn't know exactly what they were signing up for.

"Scott and I are huge Romey fans," Gershon says. "We signed Jim simply for that reason and figured, 'Hell, we have our own label; we can do things like this,' without at the time having a very clear-cut idea of what we were going to do. It's just a project we did out of our love for the jungle."

But in the course of putting it together, Gershon saw some real potential.

"I remember going to [a personal appearance by Rome] in Anaheim and there were 1,500 people inside and 500 outside," he says. "I can't remember the last time I went to a rock act's in-store appearance, with the exception of a huge artist, where that many people showed up."

The relationship developed terrifically, as Litt and Gershon have hungered for Rome's anecdotes about sports stars, while Rome has pumped the record execs for their tales of rock 'n' roll.

"All the sports guys want to be rock guys and the other way around," says Rome, who is making arrangements to pass much of his own proceeds from the project on to charity. "I said to Scott, 'Man, you gotta tell me Paul Westerberg stories!' "

Cushy Gig?: A recent announcement from oldies-classic rock station KCBS-FM (Arrow 93.1) of the appointment of Clark Macy as the station's music director raised the question: What does a music director at an oldies station actually do?

After all, it's not as if he or she has to decide whether to play an untested act or track. On this station, which features favorites from the '60s, '70s and '80s, isn't it just a matter of deciding in what order to play all the old favorites? The job would seem to leave Macy a lot of time to play computer solitaire.

It's not that simple, says the man who hired Macy, Arrow program director Tommy Edwards.

"There's a great deal of responsibility that goes into that position," he says. "We do an enormous amount of music testing and research, and a lot of thought has to be put into that. We're always working on repackaging the product as much as we can."

Yes, he acknowledges, there is a core of acts that provide a good share of the station's playlist. But there is also, he says, an active library of between 500 and 600 songs that requires a "freshening four or five times a year."

"There are songs that are nice and crispy that people don't want to hear again, and songs that never were hits that people like to hear," Edwards says. "And we do want to make it sound like a 1998-99 radio station playing great music from the past."

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