By Alex Norman

Consistent readers of this column have noticed how much joy I get from local sports talk radio shows.  I don’t have official confirmation, but at last count I believe that there are approximately 493 local sports talk radio shows that folks can listen to in the Knoxville market.

Former Vols, including Erik Ainge, Jayson Swain and Steven Pearl have their own shows on Tennessee Sports Radio (WVLZ AM).  Was Jenis Grindstaff not available?  Does Constantin Ritzmann not want to do the morning drive shift?

Established writers like Dave Hooker, Chris Low and John Brice have local sports talk shows as well.   Former TV guys like Steve Phillips host shows too, as do local veterans to the sports radio game like Tony Basilio, who has had a show on every radio station in Knoxville over the past two decades.  Ok. This is an exaggeration.  Only 98% of them.

The local leader is on afternoon drive.  John Wilkerson and Jimmy Hyams, aka “John and Jimmy” on Sports Animal 99 (WNML), could just say the word “Fulmer” over and over again for four hours and still get listeners.

There is a wide variety of choices, with just about all of these programs ready, willing and able to talk Tennessee athletics.

There is one other constant… the insanity of the callers.

There’s Small Mike… or Cattleman. Or whatever he calls himself these days while getting banned from show after show.  There’s Titans Bill. There’s Coalfield Herman.  There’s Ricardo.  And Josh from Clinton.  They have followings as big as some of the hosts themselves.

I’ve always thought that sports talk radio is the everyman’s therapy.  They can’t complain about their jobs to their boss.  They can’t get their families to show them respect.  But gosh darn it, they can make a phone call and yell for five minutes complaining about how Vols coach Cuonzo Martin likes to call time-out immediately following a key made basket, killing momentum.

I don’t know when the switch was flipped.  Maybe it has always been there… but more and more, local sports talk radio has become the outlet for the angry.

There are a large percentage of local sports talk radio listeners that never call.  There are a large percentage of callers that would like to have a sensible discussion about a topic.

But callers are becoming more and more irrational, and that is dumbing down the Tennessee fan base.

Look no further than calls during a coaching change.  The amount of local sports talk radio calls with people believing that Jon Gruden was going to be the next Vols football coach was staggering.

Remember the anger from local sports talk radio callers during Phillip Fulmer’s final season?   Those were NSFW… and not safe for anyone.

What about the constant screaming during those 12 months following Derek Dooley’s historic loss at Kentucky?

Some local sports talk show hosts did nothing but fan the flames in that situation, either to boost ratings or because of their allegiance to the University.  Personally, I prefer my hosts to at least pretend to be objective.  Yelling at callers because they disagree with you isn’t the right way to do radio.

If you were to drop someone into the city that had never been to Knoxville before, and forced them to listen to nothing but local sports talk radio for a day, they’d think it was a city made up entirely of the insane.

So, I am making a plea to the local sports talk radio caller.  Before the host welcomes you, take a deep breath… think pleasant thoughts… and calm the heck down.

I’d prefer to hear someone give coherent reasons why they don’t believe Cuonzo Martin is the right coach for the Vols, instead of screaming “We need Bruce!” over and over again.

If the Vols basketball team fails to make the NCAA tournament for the third straight year, the calls for Martin’s firing will increase, and the angry tone in those calls will as well.

We can do better Knoxville…