Ladies and gentlemen, it's show time. Coming to you live from KMPH-TV in Fresno, Californa, the most outrageous sportscaster in America...Vic Jacobs!
Yikes. Look at this guy. His hair, lubricated with high-contrast gel, stands up in spikes. ("A merger of sports and rock 'n' roll on top of my head," he says.) He wears one of his 30 1950s-style nightclub jackets ("These jackets are me; I pick them up from the Salvation Army"), a dude-ranch bolo tie, a tuxedo shirt and high-top Reeboks. The overall effect is a ghastly mix of East Village, Texas Prairie and Vegas Strip.
The news anchors have just finished with the Iran-contra hearings as Jacobs squints at us through his Coke-bottle glasses. "Good eeeeeevening, sports fans!" he says, as if delightfully surprised to see us. So begins his nightly 4½-minute sportscast, which is certainly the most bizarre, frequently the most uneven and occasionally the most hilarious 4½ minutes in all of sports TV. Is Jacobs bad? Of course. He's so bad he's good.
At first blush, it's hard to believe he's for real. The first punk sportscaster in the ultraconservative San Joaquin Valley? Indeed, the mail has been running 10 to 1 against Jacobs since September, when he replaced Mike (Quick Draw) Bryant, who was canned for aiming a semiautomatic rifle at the camera in a warning to thieves who had robbed a video store he owned.
"Tell me," one Jacobs-hater wrote KMPH, "would you invite this man into your home to meet the folks?" Probably not. Jacobs is loud, breathless and occasionally tasteless. But he does provide scores, highlights and interviews, and the people are watching. The ratings for KMPH's independent news at 10 p.m. have gone up, albeit slightly, since Vic began his shtick.
Jacobs is shock radio brought to sports TV, minus the bathroom humor. His trademark, along with the incomparable costumes, is "Vic's Brick," a Styrofoam stage prop he periodically hurls at the camera to protest some perceived sporting injustice. "I'm not sure if I'm the Oprah Winfrey of sports or the Patti LaBelle of sports," he says. "I'm visceral yet vulnerable. Sports is one of the last fantasies in America. I'm trying to keep it a fantasy. My message is that sports is fun, so have a good time, loosen up. The message is, Don't take me too seriously."
Jacobs, 34, is the son of Hungarian immigrants, which may account for the Transylvanian tone of his "Good eeeeeevening!" He grew up in Queens, got a communications degree from Cornell and then went backpacking through Micronesia. He began his broadcasting career on Guam in 1979 by, among other things, covering cockfights for 15 months on local cable TV. After returning to the States, he polished his act in Roswell, N. Mex., and Austin, Texas.
When he was fired from KTVV in Austin in 1985, Jacobs cult followers from the University of Texas picketed the station. An unabashed homer, Jacobs had endeared himself to students by taking a cleaver to a hog carcass in a meat locker the night before the 1982 football game between the Longhorns and the Arkansas Razorbacks. They also appreciated his in-studio Q and A with Bevo, the 2,000-pound Longhorn mascot. In Fresno, he has continued his antic ways, throwing chairs in the studio after Bobby Knight refused to give him an interview.
If Jacobs is the future of sportscasting, traditionalists will have no one to blame but their local stations. Perhaps unconsciously, Jacobs has created a persona that is a brilliant, cutting protest against the hundreds of sportscasters named Scott and Kevin who wear their ties straight, blow-dry their hair according to regulation and read the scores cheerfully before chitchatting brainlessly with the weather nerd.
"America's kids have gotten so sophisticated you can't just give 'em the score anymore or they'll tune you out," says Jacobs. "The networks are going crazy. They're asking, 'Why aren't they watching? Why are they all watching cable?' It's because the networks are staid and cable is alive and vibrant. Most sportscasters are still in the '50s and '60s, uptight with the polyester, give 'em the score, don't get emotionally involved. Me, I can't even explain what I'm doin.' "