We turn now, gravely, to the question of whether Ken Beatrice has been exiled. The answer turns out to be simple:

It's a matter of opinion.

Beatrice, the fascinating, infuriating computer-brain host of WMAL-630's "SportsCall" phone-in show, says he doesn't think WMAL's June decision to move his show from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. represents a kick in the pants, as some of us might characterize it.

His opinion is based in fact, of course. He points out, for one, that "SportsCall" is now a three-hour show, while the old early-evening version was only two hours. He has wanted an extra hour, he says, almost since he began shouting "Yahnext!" in March 1977.

There are also fewer preemptions for Maryland basketball and news or political specials, Beatrice says, plus he gets to see the first half of Bullets and Capitals games (rather than the last half) and gets to speak at more community dinner events during the break between his afternoon sports reports and the start of his call-in show.

He also says the listener reaction is split almost evenly between those who used to listen earlier and are upset because now they can't, and those who are happy because now, in this later time slot, they can. He adds, however: "If there is an edge, in all honesty, the edge would seem to be against (the new hours). But, of course, that's by no means definitive."

On the other hand, says Beatrice, 39, his days usually wind up being longer. He hardly ever sees his 12-year-old daughter when she's awake, for instance, and he thinks he's lost a lot of the younger kids who used to call in earlier. And he gets a lot more calls in the office, off the air, during Study Time.

Was Beatrice's show moved because its ratings had been on a steady decline since last year? "Hell no," says Andy Ockershausen, WMAL executive vice president.

Ockershausen says Beatrice was moved to give the station's programming a better "flow" -- "SportsCall" had formerly separated the music-and-talk afternoons of Trumbull and Core from the mostly music nights of Felix Grant -- and to allow late-night callers to discuss games that had already ended, rather than were about to begin.

The move, Ockershausen says, was not made to give any "message" to Beatrice, whom his boss says is not in exile.

Though on the air he seems a little more fervent now than before the time switch, Beatrice off the air seems more relaxed: "I don't know how many times I've thought about not doing it, not being in this (radio) business," he says, sitting in the office he shares with sportscaster Johnny Holliday. "But it would be unfair of you to say it's because of WMAL."

It is more likely because of the attention Beatrice generates. About 1 1/2 years ago, he took a five-week leave when some trying family matters coincided with a Washington Post profile that detailed specific instances where Beatrice exaggerated his experience and erred on the air.

He has not "reformed" since, other than trying to avoid publicity. Beatrice still exaggerates and boasts unnecessarily. But we listen to him. It's because his opinion is undisguised, and his facts are many.

"His whole life style is an exaggeration," Ockershausen said of Beatrice back in March 1981. "If he's the only exaggerator doing sports in Washington, then I'm the king of Saudi Arabia."

Ockershausen has a point. Since the beginning, since long before ABC owned either the Olympic Games or WMAL, sports has been something a few of us engage in and the rest of argue about.

And the success of sportswriters and broadcasters has frequently been due to how gracefully we fuss, or loudly we argue, and not always how well we know the facts. The best of the breed seem to be able to combine a solid knowledge with some sort of charming -- or charmingly misfit -- presentation.

Well, Ken Beatrice's presentation is thin on charm. But he knows this.

"I don't sing well, I don't dance well, I'm not an entertainer," he says. "I'm an analyst."

Beatrice tries to make up for his voice -- which is a loosely reined cross between Tip O'Neill and Ethel Merman -- with his photographic memory, with the hours he spends a day poring over TV, The Sporting News, newspaper sports-agate pages, countless phone conversations and interviews.

"Sports -- now that's the entertainment," Beatrice says, waving his arm. "The basic function of the show is to extend the enjoyment of the sports."

Of course, some say Ken Beatrice's Wealth of Knowledge wouldn't be half as hard to bank if he just wasn't so generous with it.

One of Beatrice's frequent listeners says, "Every once in a while I'll hear him say something like, 'Oh, I saw so-and-so when he played for Phoenix in the minors,' and I know he just couldn't possibly have seen him. No way. Maybe because he spends so much time reading and watching TV and talking to his people that he thinks he actually did see it.

"It's not that it's not factual or anything. It's just unnecessary."

Beatrice is aware of this, too.

"If I have a weakness, I've got this compulsion, if you will . . . " he says. "I have always been sensitive to giving people partial information -- because I think it misleads people. So, yes, I sometimes give too much."