Last fall, after the Oilers were downed 7–1 by Chicago—their sixth consecutive loss—Mike called in to 630 CHED’s Overtime Openline show. “I am an Oilers season ticket holder. I’ve spent many years driving from Red Deer, sacrificed so much. But I do it because of my absolute, sheer love for the Oilers. And I have lived vicariously through the Oilers because I was never good enough to make the team, but I always had the heart to believe in a team,” he said, the words tumbling out like he couldn’t stop himself. “I now have a three-month-old son. I will not even allow him to go anywhere near an Oilers shirt. He will be put in nothing that has to do with the Oilers, and that’s because the heart and soul of this team is gone. It’s lost. The only thing I can do right now is beg Oiler fans to stop buying jerseys. Stop buying tickets. Until we stop pumping money into this stupidity, we’re gonna watch the same thing over and over and over. It’s just so sad.”
When Mike finally ran out of words, all the hosts could do was gently thank him for the call and acknowledge that there were probably a lot of fans out there feeling exactly like he was.
Welcome to sports call-in radio, the world’s cheapest therapy. You don’t have to wait too long for an appointment, and like a 12-step meeting, it’s first names only—and you can even lie about that if you want. There’s no real psychological expertise on offer, but that’s not why anyone tunes in. Call-in radio is, quite literally, about making your voice heard. These shows are their own intense little communities—complete with local celebrities, crackpot street-corner prophets and unwritten etiquette—built on the foundation of obsessive sports fandom. It’s a weird thing to have a team in your life that you care so much about, but which acknowledges you only fleetingly, like a wink from the prom queen striding past you in the cafeteria. On call-in radio, everyone gets it: strangers sitting in their cars or garages or rec rooms, connected only by a radio signal and the fact that the same team lights their emotions on fire. “They know they’re saying something to other people who care, to the other callers and listeners. They don’t have access to the players or the coaches or [the general managers], so who are they gonna vent to?” says Reid Wilkins, the host who fielded Mike’s call back in November. “The call-in show is that front line.”