[PRELIMINARY NOTE: The whole idea of this site is to be civilized and balanced, which includes calling attention to the really fine things about The Ticket. I drafted the articles in this series a couple of months ago, after I’d written some articles making a couple of the same points I make below and during a time when I thought The Hardline had noticeably declined.
[In fairness, in recent weeks The Hardline showgram seems to be making a comeback. So let me concede that some of what follows may be somewhat outdated. So why offer it at all?
[As I noted Friday, the only reason I’m posting this series of blowhard essays at this time is because I was so startled by how good the show sounded last Wednesday when John Rhadigan sat in and Mike was really on his game. So I’m thinking that, even if certain things have gotten better on the showgram, a little additional encouragement can’t hurt. The following observations, while perhaps overstated in light of the recent improvement, continue to reflect a lot what I’m hearing. The UnTicket guy is even switching to KSEY AM 1230 to listen to Greggo once in awhile: http://www.theunticket.com/woops-im-guilty-of-something/ . I haven't taken that radical step yet, but only because I can’t seem to pull in AM 1230 or find it streaming online.]
[See Monday, February 22, for Parts 1 and 2.]
Over the past year, the show has changed. The changes are in several areas, and they're related to one another. God, I love the freakin' Hardline, and it pains me to post these observations, it really does. But I’m worried about it. We're hearing more unsponsored segments. Of all the shows on The Ticket, The Hardline seems to me the most fragile. Still a great show, but somehow wandering a bit, uncertain of its direction. I think this is manifested in several ways:
(1) Balance. Corby, aided and abetted by Danny, has become the dominant personality on the show. As I have said, I like and admire the job Corby has done, and I like to listen to him, but the charm of The Hardline is the drama of the interplay between the frisky youngsters and the stern pappy. That tension has all but vanished. One day a couple of months ago, the gang even showed some self-awareness on this point. I wrote about it at the time:
“The Hardline boys made one of their rare forays into commenting on the nature of their partnership today. I forget the context, but Corby had said something naughty, and Mike was complaining that if he had said it, the music would have come down and it would have been dumped. Danny then referred to Mike as the ‘patriarch’ of the show by way of suggesting that Mike’s role was to ‘keep the monkeys in line’ (and, the implication was, to lend some dignity to the proceedings by virtue of his age and show seniority). That is, Danny and Corby were arguing that they were allowed to get away with impish misbehavior that Mike should not be associated with and should be discouraged from pursuing. Mike objected that he wanted to be every bit as disruptive (I forget the actual word he used) as monkeys Corby and Danny.
“Corby and Danny were right, and this supports something I have written several times in the past: The one thing missing from The Hardline since the departure of Greg Williams (which I favored) is balance. Mike has become infantilized because he can’t compete with the barrage of juvenilia issuing from the Danny-Corby axis in the way he used to, when he had some support, however sporadic, from the Hammer. He can’t beat ‘em, so he’s been trying to join ‘em, and it's uncomfortable to hear.”
Now Corby seems to do most of the talking, and even when Mike introduces a segment, Corby frequently interrupts to pitch the bit the way he thinks it should be pitched, and Mike encourages him to take over the segment. [Note: I don’t hear as much of this as I used to.] The upshot of all of this is that Mike seems denatured, tamed, overwhelmed by Corby's energy and Danny's cynicism. With HeeHoo, he had a tough-guy ally against the kids. He sometimes sounds like a guest on his own show.
Let me repeat that I do not "blame" Corby, or Corby + Danny, for this. It is a natural result of two against one, and the two aging lads just have more natural energy. It's fun sometimes; but it's also uncomfortable to hear this lion of Dallas broadcasting, and the father of The Ticket, overwhelmed on a show he still introduces and headlines.
Look, it’s Mike Rhyner that makes The Hardline hard.
(2) Vulgarity. I wrote about this here. I won't go into detail, but The Hardline has gotten pretty raw. Can't have it on in the car with my wife any more. She used to enjoy it when we were out together, but the frequency of the genitalia/regular sex/irregular sex/bodily effluvia references is starting to come close to pegging the Sternometer. The profanity is too frequent and casual; it cheapens the showgram. I'm not a prude and I don't mind vulgar humor at all; I savor the perfectly-placed Grubian fart-drop. But the current intensity of blue on The Hardline, and especially the demeaning references to women, have become repetitive, dull, and just not entertaining. These talented performers are much funnier and smarter than that.
(3) They Actually Do Show Prep? Part of the greatness of The Hardline is that it’s something of a mess – or sounds that way. But there’s a real art to making the show sound like it’s just a bunch of buddies who show up and shoot the bull for three-and-a-half hours, and the fact that The Hardline (and, in fact, almost all of The Ticket showgrams) pull it off so often is a tribute to the broadcasting talent of the hosts and other on-air guys. The genius is in making it sound that way while still putting on a show that, after all is said and done, has held our interest.
The Hardline phones it in more often than the other shows. I don’t mean to draw invidious comparisons, but The Musers always give the strong impression of someone having given some thought to how to fill that airtime with intriguing, creative bits. The Hardline sounds that way less and less often. A segment or two for the headline sports items of the day. E-News (hope Corby has read the website printouts before he tries to read them on the air). Community Quick Hits (hope Corby has read the website printouts before he tries to read them on the air). Fun with Real Audio (non-Hardline content burning some airtime, featuring Corby). Mike inquires hopefully whether the segment might possibly have attracted a sponsor?
With The Hardline, the references to guys missing show meetings ring true.
(4) Mike Checks Out. On November 8, in connection with a Corby interview with Mark Followill in which Mike did not participate, I wrote:
“[Mike] seems not to be terribly interested in the proceedings. He sometimes gives the impression of not knowing what segments are coming up. The guys kid about the lack of preparation for the show, and that's fine, we love them for their informality in conducting something as precisely timed as a broadcast usually is, but when the lack of preparation – and interest -- begin affecting the show, the hand begins to reach for the dial."
And do we recall Mike's contribution when he was on the Cowboys post-game shows when KTCK had the Cowboys? Right, neither do I, because his presence was all but unnoticeable, and he's apparently no longer invited to join pre- or post-game stuff on The Ticket. I don't really look to Mike for a lot of nuanced sports analysis. But I do expect him to be at least a co-equal personality on his own show.
There was a weird moment on Monday (February 22, 2010): At the outset of the show, Mike seemed utterly baffled as to who was doing traffic. Earlier in the day, the Musers had rather extensively interviewed a woman who they introduced as The Ticket’s new traffic reporter, Alexis. Mike seemed to have no idea that this hiring had taken place. This perplexity did eventually morph into a funny encounter with Doyle King (again – Hardline genius to take an awkward moment and make good radio out of it), but it was still a little embarrassing that Mike had zero idea that he’d be working with a new permanent traffic colleague, and one who was already a fairly notable presence on the Dallas radio scene to boot. One gets the impression that Mike doesn’t talk (or maybe listen) to Ticket management, or perhaps it’s vice-versa.
Possibilities: (i) He's given up trying to compete with Corby and Danny. (ii) He's bored with the gig. (iii) Something's going on with Cumulus or station management – his frequent begging for "someone to come in and buy this thing" sounds sincere to me. (iv) He's preoccupied with other outside interests (Petty Theft, now apparently sponsored by Southern Comfort). (v) As his roles of founder, part-owner, and guiding spirit of The Ticket recede into the past, he's not (literally) "invested" in the station in the same way – well-paid, but with his former heartfelt stake in the place beginning to fade.
The reason doesn't really matter. Mike Rhyner is an extraordinary broadcaster, an incredibly appealing voice and personality, the real star and public face of The Ticket, not to mention its chief inventor. When you hear that voice in full throat, you cannot change the channel. In his own immortal words, we need "more me."
Or do we?
Maybe we just need more of someone else, someone to support Mike, someone to take some of the burden of the show off Corby and Danny and let them do what they do best. Try to bring back some of the good old days of Greggo-era creative balance.
Tomorrow: PART 4: I Finally Get to the Point