Few in Richmond know his identity. He's known only as "Jeff from Richmond" to listeners of The Jim Rome Show, a national three-hour sports talk radio program that is broadcast daily. Locally, the show is heard on WRNL 910-AM.
When Williams first tuned in two-and-a-half years ago, he was instantly hooked by the show's mix of intelligent commentary, interviews with high-profile sports figures and lively dialogue from listeners. Each year, Rome holds a contest called the Smackoff, in which callers compete to deliver the best four-minute tirade on any topic of their choosing. The winner is crowned the King of Smack.
Soon after he began listening, Williams started calling from pay phones (using a staticky cell phone is "disrespectful," he explains). Gradually, he mastered the fine art of smack. After one failed attempt at the title two years ago, he tried again April 19 and won.
"Jim, thanks for the vine, and thanks for the time," the winning call begins. Williams' voice, normally a laid-back Chester drawl, takes on a forceful, rolling cadence. "And clones, this is the Smackoff. This event, clones, is the alpha, the omega, the beginning and the end when it comes to sports talk radio."
It makes little sense to a novice listener until you consult the Smacktionary, a glossary of arcane terms on Rome's Web site. Fans are clones, so named for their desire to sound like Rome. The show and its fierce debates are the Jungle. The most notorious callers are Jungle Legends. Williams is one of 14 All-Star Legends, an honor that brings with it the privilege of speaking on the air almost anytime. Novice callers sometimes spend two hours on hold.
In the Jungle, however, success doesn't equal popularity. "I'm like one of the more hated callers," Williams explains with a grin. Other callers lambaste his arrogance, Republican sympathies and boasting about his Armani suits and "luxury sled." Nevertheless, Williams says, he always tries to "have a take" that is, deliver an opinion of substance. "I believe in what I say."
Not everyone does. Just after Rome bestowed the coveted title on Williams, the program's e-mail server crashed from the volume of enraged messages received.
Williams won for "the total package," Rome told his listeners creativity, confidence, delivery, outrageousness and humor. "He was the one that everybody wanted a piece of, and he did it while everybody told him to shut up."
In his four-minute call, Williams targeted rival callers, hippies, Al-Qaeda and all 2.5 million clones. He lauded Rome, Tiger Woods (and the golfer's model girlfriend), the commonwealth of Virginia, WRNL and, of course, himself: "If you clones think I'm going to be humble, you're sadly mistaken," he concluded after winning the title.
His advice to would-be Legends? Simple, Williams says. "Have a take. Don't suck." S
Hear Williams' winning tirade on www.jimrome.com.