It shouldn’t have worked
Nobody thought it would.
If we’re all telling the truth, most of us on the inside spent who knows how many days thinking this would be the one when it all comes crashing down, and it would be left to somebody else to try and do what we couldn’t: deliver all-sports radio to Dallas-Ft. Worth.
But it did. So well that nobody even bothers to look at the reasons why any longer.
I can’t forget the reason why, though. It’s the one thing we had from day one that came shining through. And it’s still there today, carrying us right along, just as it always has and always will.
It comes down to one simple word:
I could say I was not a big believer in it, but that’s not entirely so. It would be more accurate to say that for many years I never gave it much thought at all. Its force and the way it shapes interactions between people was lost on me.
The backdrop: it was 1993. I had gotten swept up in the tech bubble (though I didn’t realize that was where I was at the time; hey, I was not the most aware cat out there). But all of a sudden, communications outfits were awash in money and they had to do something with it. Some, like GTE, thought they should deliver information via telephone. This would require people—people to do the work (providing content, to coin the present-day buzzterm), and executives with MBAs to ride herd over them. These people would cost money. They didn’t care. They had it and they needed to do something with it.
So it was that I became the sports arm of GTE On Call. My big idea was to cover the local sports scene just as I did in my radio days (I desperately wanted those to not be over but was fearful that they might be.) But this seemed a reasonable facsimile, even if no one would ever hear it. So off we go. To Rangers games, Cowboys games, Mavericks games, Stars games upon their arrival. It was 1990, or maybe ’91. I had an idea what to do but I didn’t know anybody anymore. I’d been out of the loop since WBAP let me go the day after my young daughter was born in 1988 (it’s a bitch out there-then and now).
Arlington Stadium at that time had no space and even less use for radio reporters inside the main press box. That what I’d done; that’s what they knew of me; that’s what I was going to do. The only thing was I had no radio outlet. I was hard to figure out, but because John Blake (then, as now, the all-powerful Rangers handler of media) knew me, he let me come to the games and put me and all the rest of the radio reporters in the auxiliary press box, way down the first base line. That got us out of the press box and out of his hair. Everybody was fine with that arrangement. I was just happy to be doing it again.
Over time, there were a couple of guys I found myself gravitating toward at these games. One was Greg Williams of WBAP; the other was Craig Miller of KRLD. Greggo kinda knew of me from my days at the Zoo in the early ’80s, though he’d have been pretty young at the time. Junior (so nicknamed because I decided we needed a Junior up there, and why not name him after the former Nebraska tight end? After all, he already had the surname) had no idea who I was. During those days he was growing up in Galveston. I had no idea about them, either.
Nevertheless, we sat together, watched the games, and talked amongst ourselves, sometimes about the game and often times not. Night after night.
It didn’t take long before these conversations became quite amusing and entertaining—to us. It reached a point where when the game ended and we’d gotten what we needed and were driving off into the night, that I’d think to myself, ‘Man, that was fun’.
This was a slow burn, like over a period of 2-3 years. The same thing would happen at Cowboys games and Mavericks games and wherever else we might wind up. We became an identifiable sports clique, in that you rarely saw one of us without at least one of the other two close at hand.
A couple others of note started showing up at these scenes who would later be sweet-talked by me into joining us at the Ticket. One was Mark Followill, he of Mavericks television play-by play; the other was Jeff Catlin, who would be our early day producer on the Hardline and is now the Program Director of the Ticket.
I started to notice the way others around us would react to us. Chances were they didn’t know us. But they reacted, all right—in one of two ways. They either would get really pissed at us because we were laughing, we were loud, we were bawdy, we were profane, and we were distracting them from watching the game. Or they would think it looked like fun and move closer to us to where they could hear it all a little better and maybe even join in (not always welcome).
The point was they were reacting in some way.
The longer this went on, the more convinced I became: there is something useful in play here. And that something useful was a developing chemistry, though I was nowhere near smart nor aware enough to identify it as such at the time. That would come later.
I started to kick over another, larger question: Let’s say there in fact is something there. What are you going to do with it? After all, this was pre-internet. If you were going to mount something like this, you were going to have to do it on the air. And nobody in radio was buying anything like this at the time, especially not from a bunch of no-names. I had no idea where to take this, what the next step was, or even if there would be one.
Until that day in early 1993 when my phone rang. It was Geoffrey Dunbar.
Geoffrey had some nebulous background in radio, though I never fully understood what or where—it was before my early and mid-80s time at the Zoo. He and I had engaged in quite a few conversations about all-sports radio and why there was none in Dallas. (At this time it had started to pop up in virtually every market of size in the country, with varying degrees of success. But not here.)
On this day he said he’d found a guy who had a little money and wanted to give this a go. He wanted me to round up talent.
So round up talent I did. And I knew right where I was going.
I pitched Greggo and Junior, though not at the same time. They both had a million questions; I had no answers. I’m almost ashamed of the river of bullshit I had to float past them and the lies I had to tell them to get them to go along (though in the conversations with both, there reached a point where I ran out of answers to a point of frustration-not with them, but with the fact that I had so little to offer. To regain the upper hand in these conversations, I fired back, ‘Look, man, are you in or not?’. It took both about a nineteenth of a second to say, ‘Oh yeah, I’m definitely in.’)
If you want to get down to the real bedrock of the start-up of the radio station, that’s probably where it would be. A lot happened between then and Day 1, January 24, 1994: keeping the whole thing a secret (at which we were incredibly successful for months), the chase for Skip Bayless, Chuck Cooperstein coming on board but having to take a ‘for sale’ sign out of the yard of his house in Philadelphia so that his dinner guest, Brad Sham, wouldn’t see it, put 2 and 2 together and figure out that that something was afoot, and Curt Menefee not getting the OK from his TV bosses to do the 9-11am slot until mere days before launch and me having no idea where I was going if they didn’t sign off on it. That doesn’t even take into account having little support staff, unqualified engineers, and all manner of infighting.
Not to mention being told by everyone in the business that there was no way this would work. We would hear it over and over: you’ve got no talent that anybody knows, you don’t carry the games of any of the teams, you don’t have a big signal… you’ve got no chance (indeed, one of the biggest names in the radio business at the time paid an in-person visit to try and save us from ourselves. He told us those very things. We went on. Ironically, he would end up running the radio station for about a year the first time we were sold. He’s one of the best guys I’ve ever known in the business and I consider him a good friend to this day.)
They were right. We didn’t have those things.
Turns out, we did just fine without them, because of the one thing we did have—then as now. That undefinable something:
MIKE RHYNER hosts The Hardline Mon-Fri from 3-7pm with Corby Davidson. He is a member of the Texas Radio Hall of Fame.