By Marcus Vanderberg, 18, Los Angeles Center for Enriched Studies
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This publicity photo of sports radio personality Jim Rome is the closest Marcus has come to meeting him—but just wait. One day, Marcus says, he'll call in to his sport radio show and get on the air.

My parents didn’t let me watch TV when I was in elementary school, because they thought it would affect my grades. So I hung out in my bedroom a lot and listened to the radio. But switching from station to station got boring—until I discovered talk radio and the Jim Rome program. It was a haven for sports fanatics like me!

At first, I didn’t understand the show’s format. Night after night, I’d listen and try to decode it. He used words that were only unique to his show. Words that wouldn’t make sense anywhere else. His callers used them, too. It’s like Rome invented a language spoken only by him and his devoted fans.

"Have a take and don’t suck" means to have a good sports opinion, or don’t call the show at all. Those six words make up the show’s structure. At the end of each program, there’s a "huge call of the day," which is the best of all the great phone calls received that day. But first, Rome has to "rack you," that means you did really well!

At first, I listened and asked myself, "What did he say?" I think most people would give up, but I had nothing else to do during the week—except homework. Then the day came when everything on his show was clear to me. The inside jokes. His views on sports. And the meaning of "clone"—an excessive Rome show fan. That was me. I listened to him every single night. At age 9, I was hooked.

Rome spoke his mind and was not afraid to challenge athletes. I loved that! He can always find something funny to say about the latest athlete who got arrested. Former Carolina Panther receiver Rae Carruth, 26, is charged with first-degree murder for arranging the shooting death in Nov. 1999 of his pregnant girlfriend. If he’s found guilty, Carruth could get the death penalty. Rome refers to Carruth as "The Green Mile."

Mark Chmura, 31, of the Green Bay Packers is charged with the sexual assault of his 17-year-old babysitter. On Rome’s show, Chmura is known as "American Chewy." Oakland Raiders kicker Sebastian Janikowski is labeled "Date Rape-akowski," because in May he was charged with possession of GHB, the so-called date rape drug. The list of nicknames goes on and on. There’s no end to Rome’s antics.

Eventually Rome was promoted to the mid-day talk show host. His new hours created problems for me—I had to sneak my Walkman into school and listen to Rome during lunch. Other kids asked me, "What are you listening to?" I told them and they snickered. I didn’t care—I was addicted!

When I was 12 and a full-fledged clone, I gathered my courage to call the show. The screener asked me how old I was. "You’re too young, kid," was his response as he hung up in my face. I was crushed.

But that rejection I received only inspired me to listen more. So I made sure when the day came around where I could finally call in, that I would be on the top of my game.

Well, all of that was five years ago, and some things have changed. Now Rome’s on KXTA-AM 1150 in Los Angeles. His voice blasts across America by more than 150 radio affiliates. He calls his show "The Jungle," because only the strong survive.

For me, things have changed, too. I’ve gone beyond being a clone and into something there isn’t even a word for yet. I also decided to follow Rome’s footsteps and one day have my own sports radio show. It will loosely follow Rome’s format, but I’ll allow people of all ages to call in.

Recently, I got my foot in the door

During this past Thanksgiving break, I was listening to Rome’s show when Trapper from Dana Point called in. He’s an older listener who rambles on and on about unrelated sports topics. The clones can’t stand him. His calls usually are followed by a bombardment of e-mails from the clones asking Rome to get rid of him. But Rome never seems to yank the plug on this guy. Usually I can sit through Trapper’s phone calls, but on this day I had enough! He was driving me nuts! I dashed off an e-mail to Rome and went back to work.

Finally, he hung up. Rome began reading all the angry e-mails that people sent him about Trapper. The fourth or so e-mail went like this, "What? What are you talking about? Go freaking shoot your turkey." Right away I knew he had read my e-mail. I was so psyched! That’s when I realized something—I forgot to type my name at the end of the e-mail. I wanted to kick myself!

That’s the closest I’ve ever come to having my thoughts heard by Rome and the clones on the air. "It’s a start," I thought. "There’s more to come though."

I’m preparing for my first time to call the show. I have to be good, otherwise it’s instant death. There’s one caller the clones nicknamed "Flamian," because he was nervous that he hung up on himself. It happened months ago, but people still bring it up during the show. I would hate to have the clones call me a name like that.

Time is drawing near though. I’ll be 18 by the time this story publishes and then can legally call his show. Our conversation has already played out in my head. Here’s how it will go:

Rome: "Next up, Marcus in So Cal. You are on the Jim Rome show. Welcome."

Marcus: "Hey, Van Smack. First-time caller. I have listened to you for the past nine years. You’ve changed my life and my career path."

Rome: "I’m speechless."

Marcus: "One take about USC errrr SCCC (Southern California Community College). Thank God that abortion Paul Hackett got the ax but then they go out and hire Pete Carroll. What is that Mike Garrett? Real nice that Bob Stoops applied for the job at USC and you had never heard of the guy so you didn’t call him back. He only went on to lead Oklahoma to a national championship. You go out and get some washed-up reject NFL coach, I better get ready for another 6-5 season. Garrett, if I ever see you bumping around Heritage Hall, I am going to fight you. War CSUN Basketball and Orenthal resets. Rome, I’m out."

Rome: "Rack him."