For two hours last night, the telephone calls -- as usual -- came flooding into WMAL-radio. There was Mark from Vienna, Gil from Lanham, Tony from Alexandria and Shirley from where she didn't say.
What most of them did say, however, was welcome back, Ken Beatrice. We missed you, they gushed. Where ya been, they wondered. Don't ever leave us again, they pleaded.
After five weeks of what he repeatedly described as "my vacation," Beatrice was back on the air doing his popular call-in talk show, Sportscall, rattling on about great upper body strenghth, obscure football prospects from the University of Florida and of course, screeching his tradmark telephone greeting to his callers:
Beatrice had been off the air ever since he needed the time to ponder his future and be with his family. The vacation began a few days before The Washington Post ran a lengthy profile on him, including some material that indicated he occasionally made errors in fact and that he exaggerated his own achievements.
Last night, as the show wore on, it became increasingly obvious that Ken Beatrice was not exactly spending the last five weeks basking on the beach or slip-sliding down any slopes.
"For 11 years I've been working six days a week, and for the last six years I've worked seven days a week," he said at one point. "And you do get swallowed up."
Beatrice was back on the air first at 4:40 p.m., his regular sports commendary slot on the station's Two for the Road show with Bill Trumble and Chris Core. "We're so happy to say Welcome back Ken," Core said.
"Where were we when I was so rudely interrupted?" Beatrice countered.
He offered no explanation of where he'd been, but did thank his listeners for their concern and added, "I'll never be able to repay them." From there, he moved into a discussion of last night's Capital Classic, and that was that until 7:05 p.m. and Sportscall.
"Gooooood Evening," he began his usual introduction before embarking on a 90-second monologue that did little to clarify his absence. He insisted he bore no grudges.
"If I'm bitter toward anyone, it's me . . . for not living by the priorities I established for myself," he said. Then later, he added, "I'm going to try to spend my life in a little better balance . . . Never again will this job or any other job jeopardize my family's life."
Beatrice said that "some of what was written was absolutely correct . . . other things were fallacious, untrue. But it goes with the territory, and unfortunately, that territory includes my family . . . I don't resent any institution or organization."
Beatrice's first 29 calls came from David of Silver Spring, who told him, "I want to be the first one to welcome you back. It's been a dull sports radio."
By the time Beatrice had finished, he and Joe Theisman, the guest from 8 to 9, were into the meat and potatoes -- analysis of the final four, Wes Unseld's retirement, the possible return of John Riggins. The maudlin messages were kept to a minimum.
In an interview after the show, Beatrice said he was somewhat nervous before going on, "only to the extent that I didn't want the show degenerating into a discussion of Ken Beatrice. I wanted to talk sports."
Asked where he had been and what he had done over the last five weeks, Beatrice said, "I'd really rather not talk about it. Just day that I screwed up my priorities. It was a period of time I needed to get balance in my life, resolve some personal problems . . . Some people think it was the hours, that I was unhappy with WMAL. It was everything taken together over a six-year period, especially the last three years."
Beatrice said he arrived in the office yesterday at 12:50 p.m. He wrote the script for the 3:10 and 4:10 sportscasts, did his commentary at 4:40 and two hours of Sportscall. Then he left the station at 9 p.m. to go to the Capital Classic.
"I know, I know, it's a long day," he said. "But tomorrow I'll put my feet up and watch the NCAA's with my son. On Sunday, I'll go to church. I'll spend a little time at a telethon at Channel 7, and my daughter will be there. And then I'll go home. Like I said.I got swallowed up by it. I think I've learned from it, too."