Radio and television host Jim Rome spoke at Campbell Hall on Saturday, giving an unadulterated account of his time tapping kegs in the dormitories to his career as a prominent figure in the sports broadcasting industry.
Rome — host of the radio program “The Jim Rome Show” and “Jim Rome is Burning” on ESPN — returned to his alma mater and received the 2011 Distinguished Alumni Award as part of this weekend’s All Gaucho Reunion. Rome graduated from UCSB in 1986 with a degree in communication and began his career on the air as a DJ and sports broadcaster at KCSB.
Rome said he realized he wanted to be a radio host almost immediately after enrolling at UCSB.
“No sooner than I got to [Francisco Torres], I dropped my stuff and went to that station,” Rome said. “After we started, we did sports updates and had a sports show in the afternoon. I even had a rock show from 2 to 6 a.m.”
Rome said he developed his candid, frank radio style by talking about sports with his friends and roommates.
“I decided when I walked onto this campus that the only way for me to get in was to be different,” Rome said. “I was going to come hard every day with opinions and they were going to be strong opinions. Essentially, I was doing what I did with my guys from Sabado. We would sit around and talk junk.”
According to Rome, his job at the radio station provided networking opportunities that proved vital to his future career.
“It might have been a small media market, but it wasn’t like I had to hump it back to some little hick town somewhere and just grind away with a poor quality of life,” Rome said. “When I graduated, I was in that market and I had already made my contacts, so I was able to get work and then to try and hit a big market.”
After graduating, Rome briefly worked at the Santa Barbara radio station KTMS reading traffic updates. According to Rome, he would make up car accidents to fill air time and satisfy his boss. Rome said his career jumpstarted after he landed a job at the San Diego radio station XETRA-AM 690, known then as “XTRA Sports.”
“I was in Santa Barbara and I used to listen to 690, and I thought that would be the dream,” Rome said. “If I could ever just get a gig there that would be awesome. When I got down there, it was just a dream come true. I had a talk show on the weekends. It was awesome — it was the major leagues.”
Rome said he considers his return to UCSB to receive an award one of the highest forms of praise.
“You come to UCSB and then you come back 25 years later and they honor you,” Rome said. “This is the greatest achievement of my career. I’m telling you, this is one of the greatest nights of my life and I cannot believe I am here.”