Feature: Thursday, April 21, 2004
A New Spin on Sports Radio

From KillBilly to the Ticket, Richard Hunter’s Taken Lots of Left Turns.

By Dan McGraw

Gearing up for tonight’s show, Big Dick Hunter is being his usual obsessive-compulsive self, moving through the radio studio systematically, making sure the headphones are lined up on the left side of the microphones, 20 pages of carefully organized news clips on the right. His hair is streaked with magenta and blonde highlights; he wears low-cut black Converse All-Stars and a t-shirt that implores U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft to crack down on bombs, not bongs.

Hunter snakes his way through the studio, his head topped with one of those suddenly fashionable foam-front/mesh-backed trucker caps, tiny Lisa Loeb-style black glasses on his nose, longish sideburns framing his earnest face. You can tell he works on his look, maybe trying a little too hard for the right image, “over-thinking it” as his radio colleagues often tease him. He’s got a little bit of what Seinfeld’s Elaine character once described as “hipster doofus” in him.

Hunter was known as Richie to his family, then as just plain Richard through several careers: bassist for the band Killbilly, Fort Worth coffee shop manager, 1996 candidate for Fort Worth mayor, wrestling promoter. But now he’s a talk show host on 1310-AM The Ticket, a radio station for which a nickname like “Big Dick” is the height of hilarity. He started out as just an avid listener — what some of the rest of the on-air talent derisively call a “lurker” — but now he’s moved into a spot behind the mic. The radio game is a tough gig, and going from average spare guy to goldythroat is akin to leaping from sandlot scrub to big league MVP.

Well, maybe not the bigs. A nighttime show on a 5,000-watt station in the Metroplex is more like double-A ball. Hunter hosts “Big Dick’s P1 Wild Ass Circus,” heard weeknights from 7 to 10 p.m., a show that is almost as convoluted as its title. (P1 is an insider radio term for the most loyal of listeners.) Basically, Hunter brings a handful of the station’s listeners into the studio, and from there he moderates a round robin-style discussion of issues that may or may not involve sports. Whether the format succeeds or fails on a given night often depends on the mix of guest hosts selected by Hunter. It’s kind of like choosing different guests for a dinner party every night; only in this case, most of them are over-active sports fans with big mouths. To get on the show, all you need to do is e-mail Hunter and tell him why you should be invited.

On this night, the guest hosts are Curtis the Fort Worth Baptist Preacher, Zach the Pothead, Josh the Conservative, and Bruce the Jewish Pornographer (last names are rarely used). Hunter is unabashedly liberal in many of his political views, but he likes to create a mix that brings out a little tension. Not that these guys get into screaming matches. If Hunter is about anything, he is about civil political discourse. With a brilliant baritone tinged with just enough Southern twang to satisfy the locals but not enough to make him sound like a bumpkin, the highly articulate Hunter thrives on “discussion.”

The guest hosts file into the studio an hour before air time and begin reading the packet of issue-related clips that Hunter has collected over the past 24 hours, usually by reading dozens of newspapers and on-line news sources and Googling throughout the night (Hunter typically goes to sleep at 6 a.m. and awakes at 2 in the afternoon). The scheduled topics this evening include: Democratic Presidential candidate John Kerry getting shadowed by the FBI in his youth, the rape shield law as it relates to the Kobe Bryant case, and Major League Baseball cracking down on tattoos on pitchers. Everyone has to study up before the show, and Hunter presides over the little group like a hip college professor, cajoling opinions, then redefining, re-engaging, resetting.

But tonight, Hunter is going to start things off with a little grandstanding. He’s been an ardent voice against the Federal Communications Commission’s recent crackdown on obscene radio, most notably the fines against Howard Stern and firings of some of Stern’s shock jock imitators. This is an issue tailor-made for Hunter and his show. The aim of the “Wild Ass Circus” is to take issues that start in sports and then boomerang throughout society with intended and unintended consequences. In this case, the Super Bowl had a half-time show, Janet Jackson’s’ nipple was exposed, conservative media watchdogs went apeshit, the FCC threw down the gauntlet during an election year, radio stations got fearful, and media people got silenced and fired.

Hunter has read some news stories saying that FCC commissioners have received about 2,500 free trips in recent years, all paid for by lobbyists in the tv, radio, and telecom industries — industries the FCC regulates. A congressional investigation recently exposed the paid junkets; now such trips are banned, and Hunter is a little pissed. He claims he never knew he could have bribed the FCC with a simple trip to Las Vegas. “I just want them to grandfather me in, let me have one chance to buy them off,” Hunter tells his listeners and guest hosts, “because I may need this influence somewhere down the line.”

At that point he punches up a caller, who just happens to be one Dennis Hof, proprietor of the Moonlight Bunny Ranch in Nevada, a legal brothel in Carson City. Hof, once called the “Pimp Master General of America” by Hustler publisher Larry Flynt, is a frequent guest on Hunter’s show. In this little spoof, Hof and Hunter are offering the commissioners a chance to visit the Moonlight Bunny Ranch free of charge, Hunter paying for the airfare, Hof providing the hookers.

Of course, this is all tongue in cheek, with jokes about FCC Chairman Michael Powell’s hip problems and how the hookers will treat him with care, but the point is well-made. The FCC is on a witch hunt, the result being a chilling effect on free speech, Hunter says. It is an era, Bruce the Jewish Pornographer chimes in, in which a Hooters restaurant is seen as a “bed of depravity.” Josh the Conservative throws out his feeling that law and order and freedom have to achieve some realistic balance with the shared moral values of society. Zach the Pothead merely spaces out.

“We’ll use the girls to convince them of our ways,” Hof tells the Fort Worth-Dallas listening audience before he hangs up.

Then Hunter adds: “Who could pass up on a Big Dick offer?”

The phones in the studio start lighting up. Ticket listeners, probably sitting around with their Busch tallboys and Marlboro Lights, are calling in claiming to be FCC Chairman Powell. They all want their Big Dick offer.

Sports talk radio has changed mightily over the past decade or so. Once thought of as a marginal format for hardcore sports fans, sports radio is now often an all-inclusive “guy talk” gabfest, full of sophomoric fart jokes and contests for women with the biggest breasts. The Ticket has pioneered these changes — the word “progress” might be an overstatement — realizing early in its 10-year history that listeners could stomach only so much talk of batting averages and pass interference penalties.

Occasionally, a few sports talk show hosts try to go beyond flatulence and breasts and into the real world. The Kobe Bryant rape case, public money for a new Cowboys stadium, steroid abuse, gay marriage, and the war in Iraq all sometimes get pulled into the sports talk show agenda. The problem is that most radio hosts in this guy-talk format fail miserably when they move out of the locker room. They sometimes seem like a couple of high-school skateboarders discussing quantum physics or the dozens of apes beating one another over the head with bones in 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Another major change in sports talk radio is the role of the evening time slot. Before cable tv began broadcasting virtually every game in every major sport (and lots of minor ones), news talk stations put their sports shows on in the early evenings. WBAP with Randy Galloway, KRLD with their “Sports at Six,” and KLIF’s “Sports Brothers” were all examples of news stations programming sports to their primarily male audience in the evenings. But with that audience now abandoning radio for tv, all of these stations have dumped their sports shows for more conventional news talk, usually conservative syndicated shows like Sean Hannity’s on WBAP.

For The Ticket, what to do with the evening time slot has been a difficult question. Show after show has come up short there, even among the male 25-54-year-old demographic, the key group that sports stations program for. Most sports stations around the country have basically thrown in the towel, running syndicated sports programming from outlets like ESPN Radio or The Sporting News Radio Network. Going with these syndicated network shows is cheap and removes the worry of trying to program a show to the local market. It is also extremely boring.

About 18 months ago, The Ticket was trying to figure out what to do with its evening time slot. The show at that time, “The Hot Spot,” which Hunter produced, was very low in the overall ratings and among men 25 to 54 as well. Former Ticket program manager (and now ESPN Radio national program director) Bruce Gilbert wanted to mix it up, to make one last try at local programming before giving up and using syndicated network stuff.

“It was very apparent that The Ticket had built up an undying passion among its listeners, and we wanted to tap into that,” Gilbert said. “We had to ask ourselves, ‘What can you put on radio at night on a station with a sub-par frequency?’ We had tried the professional sports talk radio hosts, formats heavy on sports discussion, but we never moved the needles.”

Gilbert came up with the idea of a show that put listeners on the air. In some respects, this was a reaction to reality tv; in others, it was much like a daily newspaper printing the names of as many readers as possible. As an added benefit, it was cheap: Listeners donating their time to help host the show costs less than paying two professional hosts.

The reaction from The Ticket’s on-air talent was not completely positive. “There was a lot of rolling of the eyes,” said Greg Williams, host of The Ticket’s afternoon drive-time show “The Hardline.” “I heard a lot of people say, ‘We’re going to do what?’ A lot of people working at the station were very skeptical.”

Gilbert looked around the station to decide who might host such a show and decided on Hunter. In some ways it was a default choice. If the show flopped, it would be Big Dick Hunter, unproven radio guy. But the choice was also a bit daring. Hunter was a self-proclaimed agnostic, his agenda was decidedly liberal, and he loved to talk about sex. In short, Hunter was a pretty weird guy. How would the largely conservative male audience of The Ticket respond to a left-leaning, God-hating, sports-unknowing sex addict?

“I knew going into it that 75 percent of the audience might not agree with my beliefs,” Hunter said. “But I’ve always liked to discuss issues, and I’ve always loved discussions with people who don’t agree with me. What I knew early on was that the more I shouted, the less people would hear what I’m saying. So one of the hallmarks of the show from the beginning has been the ability to bring in people from different agendas and have a civil political discourse on various issues.”

When the show started out, it was terrible, often unlistenable. The guest hosts were asked to talk about sports almost exclusively, and having six inarticulate sports fans talking about the failure of the Dallas Stars power play did not make for compelling radio. Over time, Hunter pared down the number of guest hosts, inviting back only those with something to say. He also created characters for them: Deaf Fetish Dwayne (a man who has a fetish for deaf women), Bruce the Jewish Pornographer, Swede the SMU Conservative, and 12-Step Ruben (who fights his alcohol abuse).

With this roster, Hunter began moving the show into non-sports issues. Despite his liberal stance, the “Wild Ass Circus” has always allowed and even encouraged the conservative viewpoint. “A guy like Curtis the Baptist Preacher allows me to explore my left-leanings,” Hunter explained. “I can identify with true elements of the right. The central tenet of the conservative philosophy is less government. And I believe strongly in that when it comes to our airwaves or our bedrooms. We give the conservative element a fair shake, and I do find elements I agree with.”

The show now is compelling on some nights, mental masturbation on others. But what sets Hunter apart from the other sports talk show hosts — and radio hosts in general — is his breadth of knowledge. He studies hard and has developed into a strong interviewer. His guest list of celebrities has become legendary in its eclecticism. Televangelist Jerry Falwell has called in several times, often spending nearly an hour with Hunter to discuss issues like gay marriage. Playboy founder Hugh Hefner was so impressed by the tape Hunter sent him that he called in and spent 45 minutes discussing issues of censorship and sexual politics. When former Dallas Cowboy Mark Stepnoski wanted to reveal his marijuana use and his new job of heading the Texas National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, he chose the “Wild Ass Circus” as his forum. Dallas County Commissioner and black activist John Wiley Price, who normally shuns conventional media, came on the show to talk about his view that shoemaker Nike was running racist commercials. And local left-wing extremist Hansel von Quenzer makes regular appearances (fully dressed, of course, in his trademark colonial garb.)

It’s an odd mix. Hunter does often act as ringmaster, collecting characters and arranging them with some precision night after night. But don’t think that this is some wonky, righteous political show. The true sophomoric nature of sports talk radio is always there, with Hunter arranging dates between strippers and listeners who are virgins, the founder of the Girls Gone Wild video series bringing Hunter along on video shoots, and the occasional fake fart.

But this type of radio can be funny and compelling at the same time. On the night when the panel was discussing the rape shield law and whether Kobe Bryant’s accuser’s sexual history should be allowed into the trial, Hunter’s grandmother called in. Pan Hunter, who lives in Fort Worth and listens to her grandson’s show every night, didn’t like what she was hearing. Grandma Hunter pointed out that Hunter and his guest hosts were missing a major point, mainly that a married man with a newborn baby was having sex with a college-aged hotel desk clerk. “What about his sexual history?” Pan Hunter gently scolded. “It’s always about the woman’s sexual history.”

Hunter thanked grandma for calling in. Then he jokingly asked her if she wanted to win the Heidi Fleiss DVD prize package The Ticket was giving away. And he reminded her to turn her radio down next time she called in.

“There are four types of people in this world,” said Mike Rhyner, founder of The Ticket and co-host of “The Hardline” show. “There are people who know nothing about anything, people who know a lot about a few things, people who know a little about a lot of things, and people who know a lot about a lot of things. In radio, the last category is often hard it find. Big Dick is one of those people who knows a lot about a lot of things.

“He does collect characters,” Rhyner mused. “Most of them are over the top.”

Hunter’s life has been a series of left turns. He was born in Fort Worth in 1970, while his father served in the Air Force at Carswell and later worked in the defense industry. His parents divorced when he was 10, a difficult time for him but made easier by the closeness of his mother and his paternal grandparents. He spent most weekends with Pan and Bill Hunter, watching wrestling with his grandfather and going to Texas Rangers games.

He was also the neighborhood organizer, putting out a kid newspaper and organizing Muscular Dystrophy Circus fund-raisers. “He was always busy,” said Pan Hunter. She says his busyness was born out of the fact “that as an only child, he had to play all the parts.”

His family was politically active, usually on the side of the Democrats. When he was nine, he helped stuff envelopes for the 1980 Carter-Mondale presidential campaign. Later he became a Tarrant County election judge and Democratic precinct chairman. With this background, one might have expected little Richie Hunter to grow up to become a lawyer or academic — or maybe a Democratic Party strategist.

But Hunter always had a wild side. He has never used drugs or alcohol, but he was the long-haired high school student who looked like a rock star; Hunter actually played bass in a series of rock and blues bands. In 1989, when he was 18, he became a full-time member of the legendary alt-country outfit Killbilly, described once as “The Sex Pistols of Bluegrass.” Straight out of high school, young Richie Hunter was touring the world in a band that was considered a critical and artistic success.

“It was a weird way to grow up,” Hunter said of his time in Killbilly. During the next few years, he would travel to Europe, China, and all 50 states playing music. Though neither drugs nor alcohol were on his list of vices, sex was. He acknowledges having fun on the road. “I like making love to a woman every night,” Hunter said. “Nothing wrong with that.”

“I just always remember him surrounded by a lot of ladies,” said Chan Kinchla, guitarist in the band Blues Traveler and a longtime friend of Hunter’s. “I remember the first time I met him, when [Killbilly] opened for us in 1989 at [the Dallas club] Trees. The music they played was very aggressive, and Richard, on upright bass, was the most aggressive of all the guys in the band. But offstage, he was more of a soft-spoken, thoughtful guy.”

Killbilly broke up in 1995, and Hunter formed a new band, I, The Jury. But the new group never quite took hold, and Hunter, at age 25, was left wondering what he would do with the rest of his life. “I really had to relearn life,” he said. “I thought I was supposed to be a musician, but I learned with Killbilly, there is a huge commitment and investment to keep a band on top. It just wasn’t a fight I wanted to do.”

Hunter took some odd jobs. He worked at Victoria’s Secret at Hulen Mall and managed a west Fort Worth coffee bar, The Noble Bean. Going nowhere in his work and perhaps desiring the limelight he had once had as a rock musician, Hunter took his love of politics and decided to run for Fort Worth Mayor, a short campaign in 1996 after Kay Granger had resigned to run for Congress.

Wearing his hair in a ponytail almost down to his waist, the former high school debate team member impressed those covering the mayoral race. Fort Worth Star-Telegram columnist Cecil Johnson wrote that Hunter’s candidacy was no lark, declaring him one of the few “credible candidates” in the field. Hunter brought in Jello Biafra, political activist and former lead singer in the famed punk band The Dead Kennedys, to help. “I had always known Richard to be extremely thoughtful on issues, and he really communicated his ideas well,” Biafra said. “The reason he is gaining success on his radio show is from those very qualities. You could really see those developing in his mayoral campaign.”

Eventual winner Kenneth Barr was impressed enough with Hunter that he jokingly said he was “getting on the Richard Hunter bandwagon” after one debate. But Richard Hunter received only 868 votes, about 4 percent of the total.

From that failed political campaign, another left turn. By now he was a fitness freak and took a job at Phil’s Fitness Factory in Fort Worth as a personal trainer. He met some local pro wrestlers, who told him he might like to play a sleazy agent at the matches. Hunter accepted and was soon creating good versus evil wrestling story lines and doing some work as ring announcer and tv commentator. He was back in show business. “I learned a valuable lesson from wrestling,” Hunter said. “You have to accentuate the human emotion. Tension is what people are interested in. Drama, whether created or whether it happens naturally, drives people. And if you can create drama, might as well make it melodrama.

“I also learned that you have to have a gimmick,” he continued. “And always embrace the gimmick.”

The gimmick he now embraces is the “Big Dick” moniker, designed to make the third-grade inner child in sports fans giggle. The Ticket’s Mike Rhyner first gave him the nickname, just one of those goofy bits The Ticket loves. Hunter never ran from the nickname, in part because it came from Rhyner. Without him, Hunter might still be selling panties or presiding over a two-bit pro wrestling series. Rhyner signaled the left turn that took Hunter into radio.

After Killbilly broke up and he settled in Fort Worth, Hunter started listening to The Ticket and began showing up at remote location shows as a fan. Hunter met Rhyner, who had played in a number of bands around Dallas. The two men found they shared some mutual acquaintances and an interest in the Texas Rangers. (Hunter was a season ticket holder for many years.) He learned Rhyner was working out in a Dallas gym and offered to be his personal trainer three times a week.

Knowing how Richard Hunter calculates everything — often to the smallest detail — it is not unrealistic to wonder whether Hunter was driving from Fort Worth to Dallas three times a week to gain favor with Rhyner for a radio job. Both men said that wasn’t the case. “I just thought he was a good friend, and I enjoyed working out with him,” Hunter said. Said Rhyner: “If he was angling for a job, he was very subtle about it.”

Rhyner thought Hunter “might be of some use to us at the station. I’m always on the lookout for people who are smart, personable, and funny. He was a guy who had those qualities.”

But being smart, personable, and funny is no guarantee for getting a radio job. The bottom rung of the radio career ladder is full of interns, recent college communications graduates, and listener/lurker types who make little or no money. Hunter went to The Ticket happy to be working in radio but basically a volunteer. He wrote some comedy bits, and “The Hardline” had him do some on-air man-on-the-street interview comedy stuff. “Some of it was good,” Rhyner said, “some of it wasn’t so good.”

His work at The Ticket ebbed and flowed, but Hunter decided the radio business was for him. He did some local music shows on The Eagle with DJ and musician Chris Ryan, and he also got some air time on college station KTCU, even though the gig lasted only a few months because Hunter had the notion that talking about issues of the day might be more compelling radio than introducing a song, playing it, introducing another, and so on.

The competition for jobs at The Ticket is so intense that aspiring hosts will often buy a few hours of air time on other stations to create an audition tape. Hunter hooked up with two wannabes from the station to create a sports talk show called “The Rage.” They bought time on a Hispanic Christian station to broadcast their show.

Radio program managers are always looking for talent, and they listen to these audition tapes with the thought of either taking the show as a whole or stripping it for human parts. In this case, Ticket program manager Bruce Gilbert decided that Hunter — and not the other hosts of “The Rage” — had more to offer. Gilbert was in the process of creating a show with two African-American hosts — David Robinson and Kevin Blanford as “The Hot Spot” — to try to reach The Ticket’s long-neglected black audience. Gilbert thought Hunter might provide the show with some edge as producer.

But “The Hot Spot” never moved the needles either. While Gilbert was deciding what to do with the night-time slot, Hunter received an offer from a sports radio station in Atlanta. Former Ticket program manager Mike Thompson (now in the same job with ESPN’s New York affiliate) had been listening to The Ticket on the internet (“keeping up with my boys”) and was impressed by Hunter’s limited on-air work on “The Hot Spot.” Thompson wanted Hunter to produce his Atlanta sports station’s morning drive-time show.

“He was a little out there,” Thompson said. “But I was impressed with how he contributed on-air and how he produced the show. The only thing you need to know about Hunter is what he wanted to see in Atlanta when we brought him in for an interview. Most sports radio guys want to see Turner Field or the basketball arena. He wanted to see the Martin Luther King grave and memorial. He’s a very deep guy.”

Gilbert said the Atlanta offer had nothing to do with his hiring Hunter for his new listener reality radio show. But Hunter wasn’t completely sold on the idea. “I was really scared to take the show,” Hunter said. “No show at night had ever gotten ratings. What ended up selling it for me was the fact that they were designing the show for me and around me. I thought back to all the left turns in my life — bands, wrestling, the mayor’s race — and thought this might fit in.”

The show limped along initially. The epiphany for Hunter came with the idea of getting serial killers to pick football games from prison as a joke. He sent out dozens of requests to prisons but only one envelope came back. The return address was from Charles “Tex” Watson, the Manson family member who is serving a life sentence for the murder of actress Sharon Tate. But rather than just reading Watson’s pick for whether the Cowboys might cover the spread against the Raiders, he had the serial killer compete every week against a Dallas forensic pathologist, Doctor Darren.

“It was good versus evil, with football thrown in,” Hunter said with a laugh. “It was picking football games in the context of control of our souls. It was like Clarice picking games against Hannibal Lecter.”

Well, maybe. Hunter is prone to over-thinking things. But the “P1 Wild Ass Circus” was off and running. Doctor Darren became one of the show’s definable personalities. Hunter had found a gimmick — a format mixing sports and politics, silliness and seediness into a few hours every night. Within a few months, the show was moving the needles, not getting the high ratings of the drive-time Ticket shows but doubling and sometimes tripling the numbers of the previous evening programs.

Timm Matthews, who hosts The Ticket show after the “Wild Ass Circus,” is sitting in the control room off The Ticket’s main studio, waiting for Hunter to finish up his show. Matthews is bitching about the vile smell of the studio after one of Hunter’s programs. “You need a can of Lysol after those fat slobs sit in there for a few hours farting and burping,” Matthews said.

The “Wild Ass Circus” is about the great unwashed. On this night, Hunter has brought up Rick in Dallas, a man who appears to have issues with basic grooming and whom Hunter refers to as a “caller savant.” Rick in Dallas’ main job is to say things so confusing and nonsensical that they throw everyone off balance. “Do the players ever try to keep it white?” Rick in Dallas asks former Dallas Star Brent Sevryn, the show’s hockey expert. A bunch of question marks form over everyone’s head.

Also in the studio is Rich Sheridan (one of the few guest hosts who uses his last name), the self-described spiritual and political activist. Sheridan had spoken to Dallas City Council early in the day about his opposition to gay marriage and is now spouting off some pretty repulsive hate speech. “The gay seed means death,” Sheridan thunders.

“I never understood you guys,” Hunter tells Sheridan. “Religious conservatives are always railing against gays cruising in bars and having anonymous sex, and then when they want to get married and stay home like an old couple watching tv, you don’t like that either.”

“My opinion states that it is scandalous,” Rick in Dallas adds, “for anyone to get married in Dallas County.” Huh?

Matt the Dallas Cop is also there. (Off-air, he answers a question from Rick in Dallas about whether he has ever shot a gorilla.) And so is Swede the SMU Conservative, toeing the moral majority party line by going on about the evils of gay marriage. Callers are evenly split on the gay marriage issue, but the discussion is lively and fair. It is definitely not sports talk radio.

Afterward, Hunter still wants to talk about the perils of the FCC’s recent crackdown on radio programming. Though he is careful of his language — rarely using profanity even in private conversation — he is very wary of what he sees on the horizon. “The FCC has received 530,000 complaints about obscenity over the airwaves this year, and all but 58 were about the Super Bowl half-time show,” he says. “It is all being done in the name of politics. This being an election year, the Christian Right is being thrown a bone by the Bush Administration.”

Where Hunter’s career goes from here is mostly up to him. Some are predicting big-time radio success. “I don’t do interviews with small market radio stations normally, just Howard Stern and some others,” said Nevada brothel owner Dennis Hof. “Big Dick Hunter is magic. He’s very bright. He’s a great example of keeping it clean and having good content.”

The Ticket’s Rhyner says that Hunter has established himself as a viable on-air talent. “He might be more useful in working outside the sports realm,” Rhyner said. “We’d hate to lose him. He’s a source of great amusement for us.” ESPN’s Mike Thompson calls Hunter “a man with incredible passion, a radio guy who works very hard, a truly talented guy.”

Hunter likes the compliments, but for now he’s just happy to be gainfully employed in a job he loves. After a life of left turns, he has settled down some, dating the same woman for the past two years. He loves the freeform nature of his show, allowing him to move in and out of issues, in and out of sports, in and out of silliness. He also loves the irony that he can be a liberal in the middle of the Bible Belt.

“There is an old saying that a man is known by the company he keeps,” Hunter said. “I find it funny that a guy like Jerry Falwell enjoys coming on a show called ‘Big Dick’s Wild Ass Circus.’ I like the fact that Hugh Hefner would be as impressed with what we do to spend almost an hour with us. I also like to try to figure out what Rick in Dallas is talking about. I like diversity around me.”

At a time when liberal radio is trying to gain some legs with Al Franken’s Air America network, perhaps the liberal voices can learn a bit from a guy named Big Dick and his little radio show in Texas. For many years, most political discussions on radio or tv have degenerated into shouting matches or snoozefests. Liberal radio hosts have failed in part because they have generally tried to copy conservative hosts like Rush Limbaugh, becoming one-dimensional cartoon characters in the process. The problem with that philosophy is that few radio listeners — regardless of political persuasion — are completely monolithic in their beliefs.

And maybe that’s what Hunter has stumbled upon here. Entertaining radio need not be shrill nor overwrought. Maybe having a Jewish pornographer and a Baptist preacher discussing the issues of the day isn’t such a bad idea. Maybe giving Jerry Falwell and Hugh Hefner equal chance to air their views isn’t being wishy-washy. And maybe radio programmers underestimate their audience when they create shows for the lowest common denominator.

And it sure doesn’t hurt when your grandmother can call in and comment on the sociological and sexual ramifications of a rape case. That, as they say in the business, is radio gold.

Dan McGraw is a Fort Worth author and freelance writer.

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