By Jacob Lambert
By Jacob Lambert
What is the fate of a deposed king?
In 1298, Germany's Adolph of Nassau was hacked to bits in the Battle of Göllheim. In 1327, England's Edward II was smothered with a mattress. In 1793, Louis XVI was beheaded before a cheering Parisian crowd.
Alas, not all kings are granted hasty ends. China's cancer-ridden Last Emperor withered away under house arrest. Richard II of England starved to death in a castle hold. King Howard Eskin of WIP, meanwhile, may yet wither or starve, shackled to a co-host, his ratings falling, his enemies vindicated.
For over a decade, King Howard the Cruel ruled Philadelphia's sportstalk realm with vicious impunity. Once he made his pronouncements, woe betide those who did not kneel and agree. They were Dopes, Nitwits, Cock-A-Roaches. Quarrel with one of his edicts--that Ed Wade must be banished; that Donovan McNabb had a champion's heart--and you risked the AM radio equivalent of torture and execution: a verbal thrashing and a cut of the line:
"Since you're apparently too stupid to understand, I'm gonna break it down for you real simple, okay, genius? Okay: Allen Iverson will NEVER win a--HEY! HEY! Are you talking or am I talking? Are you--you know what? BEAT IT, you DOPE!
As he ate from a silver tray of Acme colossal shrimp, the next serf would be presented, ragged field cap in hand. This man, too, would be harshly dispatched. Then another, and another. Every commoner in the land seemed to desire an audience with His Majesty--yet not one of them was worth his ear.
It appeared that Howard the Cruel would always rule the drivetime kingdom. But in early 2008, an exiled noble emerged in a neighboring territory and promptly declared war. And King Howard suddenly looked vulnerable, his throne ripe for the taking.
The challenger was Mike Missanelli, Earl of ESPN. In a gentler time, he had been King Howard's most trusted ally. Yet in 2006, Missanelli had been cast from WIP. Hungry for revenge, he spent months in the hinterlands, planning his own afternoon show. Howard, predictably, dismissed the threat with a yawn. After all, he held a firm grip upon the land's coveted 18-to-34-year-old demographic. His people loved him, feared him, took his word as gospel. They would never desert him.
Yet once Missanelli's show began, desert him they did. Weary of the king's hard and odious judgments, listeners quietly, eagerly switched allegiances. By June of 2009, the unthinkable had happened: Missanelli had snatched Howard's youthful throng of supporters, leaving the king with the meek, the aging, and the feeble-minded. Peddlers of erectile-dysfunction tonics were well pleased. Howard was not.
A retired gladiator?
For one whose power had come from an aura of superiority, the king responded imprudently. In a panic, he split the throne in two. His son, Prince Spike, was brought forth, as was Rob Ellis the Quick-Tongued. Neither could stanch the defections. Finally, Ike Reese, a battered former gladiator, was selected as Howard's second.
King Howard, who had ruled with such wild wrath, was diminished by the partnership. He was now forced to allow another man's full opinion: "Actually, Howard," Reese would say, agreeing with a caller, "I wouldn't mind seein' Eyre in there in the ninth." And Howard would sigh and stroke his beard with a shaky hand.
The royal still tore his minions to shreds when they displeased him, but it sounded hollow. His tempestuousness had always been meant to entertain, but it had always rung true. Now, Howard's rage appeared desperate. His only joy, it seemed, came at the mention of Lasik eye surgery, Bernie Robbins jewelers, and the Borgata.
By late 2009, King Howard's very existence had become a tragic riddle: What is a despot without despotism? Howard could not answer the question. Meanwhile, the earl reveled in his conquest. His followers congratulated him, snickering at the usurped king. Missanelli would laugh, then move to the talk of the day. There was no need to dwell upon his victory. Such a thing would be uncouth. Imprudent. Eskinesque.
So what will become of King Howard? Will he lose his throne completely, end up roaming the moors in a matted sable coat, muttering of Lindros and Rolen and Thrash? Or will he continue to totter about his dark and empty castle, a hirsute and beaten Lear, raging at his fate while awaiting his final reckoning?
In a way, it doesn't matter whether he goes quickly or slowly, like Adolph of Nassau or Richard II. To those who have been cowed and tongue-lashed and tortured by him, it is a source of great joy to know this: King Howard has been dethroned.
Jacob Lambert lives, writes, and listens to AM radio in