5 Things You Didn't Know About Pat Sajak

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He'll sell you a vowel or sympathize when you go bankrupt, but how well do you know Wheel of Fortune host Pat Sajak? Here are a few things you might not have known about the veteran game show man.

1. He Got to Say "Good Morning, Vietnam"

Sajak joined the U.S. Army in 1968 with the hope that he could avoid being sent to Vietnam. Of course, since it was 1968, that plan didn't work out so well; Sajak ended up working as a finance clerk in Long Binh, Vietnam. Desperate to switch jobs, he kept applying for radio duty, but nothing happened.

Eventually, Sajak hit on an idea. He wrote a letter to one of his old radio employers who had been elected to Congress. A few calls to the right people later, and Sajak became an Army disc jockey, a job he held for 18 months. Sajak didn't love a lot of the military's radio rules, so he circumvented them. He later told the New York Times, "If you said your name, you were supposed to say your rank - specialist fifth class, which kind of ruins your patter. So on the radio I would just not say my name at all. I went for a year on radio without ever identifying myself.''

2. His Career Had a Rough Start

Sajak's first steady radio gig was in Chicago on a tiny 250-watt Spanish language station.

He worked a midnight-to-6-a.m. shift reading the news every hour as it came in off the wire. Although the station was Spanish, Sajak read the news in English, which probably limited his audience. On top of that, he didn't speak Spanish, and the disc jockey he worked with didn't speak English, which made the transition to the news a bit tricky. Sajak later told USA Today, "I'd hear him say my name, and I figured that was my cue. I made whatever was minimum wage at the time. I think $1.80 an hour."

3. He "Looks Like Everyone's Uncle"

Sajak may be synonymous with Wheel of Fortune now, but he hasn't always been the show's host. Chuck Woolery of Love Connection fame was the original host for the first six years of the show's run, but in 1981 he parted ways with the show.

Wheel of Fortune was a hit, but now it needed a new host. Game show mogul Merv Griffin was watching the news in Los Angeles when he saw a promising young weatherman named Pat Sajak on KNBC-TV. Griffin hand-picked Sajak to take over Wheel, later explaining that he liked Sajak because he "looked live everyone's uncle."

4. Late Night Didn't Go So Well

In early 1989, Sajak was looking for a new challenge, so he decided to try a jump to late night. CBS started airing Sajak's nightly 90-minute talk show with an interesting philosophy: instead of trying to revolutionize late-night programming, Sajak and his producers thought the medium was already great and tried to build a broad appeal by maintaining the status quo. Check out this odd lineup of guests from the first episode of The Pat Sajak Show: Chevy Chase, Joan Van Ark, baseball commissioner Peter Ueberroth, and music from the Judds.

The show may have been broad, but its appeal wasn't. Sajak didn't thrive in the late-night game, and the show got the ax after just over a year despite Sajak being signed to a two-year guaranteed contract.

Towards the end of the show's run, CBS started using the show as an audition platform for replacement hosts, including a radio up-and-comer named Rush Limbaugh. This experiment didn't go so well; Limbaugh immediately brought up abortion and locked horns with a female audience member. Have a look for yourself:

5. He Loves Baseball

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Maybe it was only natural that Sajak would have Ueberroth on his first late-night show; the man is a baseball nut. (You may have spotted him sitting behind home plate during an Angels-Yankees ALCS game in Anaheim.) In fact, he loves baseball so much that in 2004 he pounced on the opportunity to become an investor in the upstart Golden Baseball League. The independent league, which now has 10 teams spread across the U.S., Canada, and Mexico, has actually had some luck at getting players Major League Baseball jobs, including Seattle Mariners reliever Chris Jakubauskas.

Although many fledgling leagues quickly flop, the GBL is still going strong after five years. Sajak was even rewarded with his own bobblehead, which you can pick up for a measly five bucks.

'5 Things You Didn't Know About...' appears every Friday. Read the previous installments here.

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November 6, 2009 - 9:33am
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