WAHOO, Neb. -- Every night people here huddle at their television sets to watch "The Late Show with David Letterman" as if a neighbor were making an appearance.
They listen carefully when Letterman shuffles his stack of blue cards, gives his whimsical, gap-toothed grin and begins to introduce his Top Ten List.They wait to hear him say a two-syllable word that most other people would liken to a cowboy's yell: Wahoo!
"We watch to just make sure Dave keeps us in mind," said Jane Daufeldt, director of the Wahoo Chamber of Commerce. "We love to hear our town mentioned on national television every night."
Wahoo is the site of the Letterman's fictional home office. It has held that distinction for two years, nine months -- longer than any of the 10 other home offices to which Letterman has referred in his 17 years on television.
The farm town of 3,700 people about 25 miles from both Omaha and Lincoln (both former Letterman home offices) landed the home office by buying off Letterman in May 1996.
"It all started when one night Dave exclaimed 'Wahoo!' and asked if more people say yahoo or wahoo," Mayor Phyllis Nozicka recalled. "We responded by letting him know there was really a place by that name."
The town ousted then-home office Grand Rapids, Mich., by flooding Letterman with bribes such as a Ford Pinto with a couch taped on its hood, homemade enchiladas, a cow-pie clock and a wedding gown large enough to fit two people.
The governor even made Letterman an admiral in the landlocked state's fictional navy.
"We just like saying Wahoo," said Late Show executive producer Rob Burnett. "We love Wahoo.
"The reason we landed there is that we got some great tax credits from the community and the overhead costs were lower," Burnett joked. "It was really a sheer business decision from our end."
Letterman fans from as far away as Germany have flocked to Wahoo to see the home office. Many are disappointed to discover it's just a phone booth on a downtown street corner.
No Late Show staff. No Dave. Not even his mother.
"Whenever someone calls asking for Dave, I say he just stepped out," said Helen Sloup, who has sold more than 3,000 Letterman T-shirts and bumper stickers at her son's Warehouse Surplus general store across the street.
During Letterman's 17 years as a talkshow host, 12 towns and cities have served as his show's fictional home office. Three are in Nebraska, distinguishing it as the state with the most home offices.
When the show was "Late Night with David Letterman" on NBC, the home office was variously in Milwaukee, Wis., Lebanon, Pa., Lincoln, Neb., Oklahoma City, Okla., Omaha, Neb., Scottsdale, Ariz., Tahlequah, Okla., New York City and Oneonta, N.Y.
During Letterman's CBS years, Sioux City, Iowa, had the honor, then Grand Rapids, Mich., and, since May 3, 1996, Wahoo.
Letterman has not visited Wahoo, but not for a lack of an invitation.
The city has asked him to come dozens of times. The former mayor offered to pick him up at the airport in a limousine or a John Deere combine. The Super 8 Motel offered him a complimentary suite. The Warehouse Surplus has tried to tantalize the cigar-loving Letterman with free stogies.
"If he came I'd offer him one of our $6.99 cigars, not a 75-cent one," Mrs. Sloup said. "I'd spend some bucks."
While Letterman has no immediate plans to visit, his famous stage director, Biff Henderson, may come soon as part of a show feature visiting small towns across the country, Burnett said.
Wahoo residents said they just don't want to be forgotten. Letterman hasn't mentioned his home office much on the air lately.
"If they want to hear Dave say Wahoo more, I think the free stuff needs to continue trickling in," Burnett said.
Letterman no longer gets many bribes from Wahoo other than a free subscription to The Wahoo Newspaper (Letterman's Web site is called The Wahoo Gazette) and an occasional shipment of Wahoo Weiners (made at the OK Meat Market).
Despite the dwindling gifts, Burnett said Letterman has no plans to move his home office.
"Dave at any moment can move the home office, but he feels comfortable that the people of Wahoo are doing a good job," Burnett said.