Adapted from Andrew Bernstein’s Heart of a Pagan: The Story of Swoop.

We received a hero’s welcome when the school’s bus returned to Hoppo Valley. The small Hoppo Valley radio station had always broadcast the school’s games, but now virtually the entire population, not just a sizable segment, was listening. Close to one hundred met us on our arrival. Within a week, after two more convincing wins, Swoop and Coach had been interviewed on local radio, and the town’s newspaper, The Daily Independent, had run a feature story on the team. In Iowa, where every basketball success is news, the former sad-sack team in Hoppo Valley was becoming closely watched. The high water mark of media attention was Swoop’s interview on KBUZ, “The Buzz,” the area’s most powerful station, located an hour-and-a-half away in Des Moines.

Ron Zatechka had an aggressive, in-your-face talk show on week day mornings. His style was simple and non-sectarian: he insulted everybody. “Get up, farm boys, and milk the damn cows!” he boomed before dawn. He condemned Hollywood, Washington, Moscow and the Vatican. He hated politicians, journalists and Presbyterians. He brought ministers on only to abuse religion. He scorned all causes but one–Zatechka–and knew only one god: more volume. He was short and hard and spent hours pumping iron. He chain-smoked cigarettes, talked through the smoke and blew it in environmentalists’ faces. He hated bankers and clergymen. He lived alone, had no friends and called his fans “imbeciles.” He denounced liberals, Christianity and Wall Street with equal zeal. He refused the governor an interview and berated the mayor daily. He hated movie stars and professors. He called local militias “fascists.” He swore, told sexually offensive stories and insulted homosexuals. He was damned at cocktail parties, charity functions, Sunday services and Republican fund raisers.

He had the most popular radio show in the state.

“What you going to do, kid!” he roared. “Turn the town on its ear?”

“Or stand it upright.”

“Take these pig-farming clods to the top and be a hero?”

“When they get to the top they won’t be clods.”

“Yeah, touch

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Andrew Bernstein

Andrew Bernstein is a philosopher and novelist whose latest novel A Dearth of Eagles will be released in May. Visit his web site at www.andrewbernstein.net.

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