One of the reasons I started this site was because I was worried about the Hardline. That was back in mid-2009.
Most Confessors know the recent history of the Hardline -- years of toil, growing success, spectacular success, Greg Williams's departure, flirtation with some plus-ones, settling into simply doing without Greggo -- and continued spectacular success.
Recently, The Hardline and BaD have faced a new competitive threat in the form of a revived 105.3 The Fan. Both competitors feature former Ticket guys, including Greggo against The Hardline, the show starting an hour earlier than Mike and Corby hit the air. There are Confessors out there who follow the ratings more closely than I do, and I'm hopeful we can have a report later in 2011 My own feeling is that any ratings comparison is going to be meaningless until at least 6-9 months out, since some listeners will switch out of curiosity for awhile but eventually wander back. It will take awhile before any meaningful trend may be discerned. And, as various Confessors have noted, the holiday/drydock ratings are probably not very meaningful.
More than most of the showgrams, it seems to me, a "wave theory" may be applied to The Hardline. It goes through cycles where it's sharp, followed by a period of time when it seems to descend into a kind of funk.
|Galvanic skin responses of a group of 20 Confessors listening to|
The Hardline over a four-year period.
The period following Greg's departure was good. In those months the show was still finding its way but it was solid, dramatic radio as we all tuned in to see if and how they would sustain the high-wire act. As it turned out, they sustained it pretty well. The increased role of Danny Balis was a very positive development, and the show was funny and sharp.
To my highly-subjective ears, the graph headed south around mid-to-late 2009. I started this site in June. The issue, for me, was one of balance.
I wrote about my concerns in a five-part series one year ago this month. I identified a number of issues, but chief among them was balance. The Corby/Danny axis was overwhelming Mike, and good as those guys are, it was too much juvenalia. (By the way: That series concluded not-very-presciently with the radical suggestion that Mike Bacsik should join the showgram -- it's hard for Mrs. Plainsman to keep my crystal ball clean in a sod house.)
Ironically, by the time those articles appeared, I thought that The Hardline was actually on an upswing and through, oh, summer 2010 I thought The Hardline had returned to form. I had my usual issues with vulgarity but those are largely personal; most of the Confessor Nation does not find even the raunchiest Hardline material very troublesome. That aside, however, I thought things were going pretty well.
Come fall, however, I thought the showgram once again seemed to run out of gas. Whenever I get that feeling, I ask myself whether it's just me needing a change, or if there really is a difference in the show. One of the interesting things about doing this site is that as it has gained readers and I hear from them, is that I can compare my own impression to theirs. Since this site discourages what I call the Corby Sux School of Ticket Journalism, Confessors weigh in with thoughtful views on the showgram and have proven to be an excellent reality check for my own listening. As it turns out, I got the same feeling from the Nation -- lots of Corby, Mike checked out.
I found this odd because with the Rangers in the World Series, one would think that Mike would be energized and engaged. He was -- about the Rangers, and during playoff/World Series time. But that temporary enthusiasm did not seem to pay off for the show as a whole. The New York City trip, for example, never really got off the ground for some reason.
So in the latter part of 2010. I found myself punching out more, exasperated at the OverCorby, wondering what was on Mike's mind after 4 PM since he himself so rarely reported on it, awkward real-time show prep, the usual Hardline struggles. Of course, by that time the Richie and Greggo Extravaganza had hit the air, so I sampled that from time to time (and, in general, found it wanting but with the occasional bright spot).
Then came drydock. I was pretty sure people were tired of reading about the same old Hardline issues so didn't quite know what, if anything, I was going say about it.
As it turns out, it was unnecessary. To my ear The Hardline has been very good since the New Year. A couple of Confessors have also noted that recent showgrams have been better.
The reason is not hard to discern. As Mike Rhyner goes, so goes The Hardline.
Other than the occasional amusing cutting reference, The Hardline appears to have made no formal or structural response to RaGE at all. That is, the showgram itself hasn't changed its personnel, segment organization, bits. Wait, they restored the Trifecta, but that's about it. (Confessor Anonymous B has perceptively asked whether this is a response to RaGE's "Dead and Gone" segment. Quite possible, I would think.) Good. There's no reason to show concern over RaGE at this point by any kind of obvious tinkering with the showgram, and more important, it'd be dangerous to mess with a successful formula absent evidence that it had lost its punch.
But more to the point -- over the long haul, the success of The Ticket showgrams isn't driven by bits anyway. It's driven by the desire of listeners to spend time with the personalities that the hosts project on the air. When Confessors complain about The Ticket, it has rarely to do with content -- it has to do with liking or not liking the performance, personality, dedication, attitude of a particular host.
Mike Rhyner, in addition to being the driving on-air force behind The Ticket's founding, is its most distinctive voice, its guiding spirit, and, not coincidentally, a hypnotic radio presence, a font of aural charisma the likes of which is not to be found elsewhere in Dallas radio. When he is serious about what he is doing, he absolutely commands the listener to keep his fracking mitts off the presets.
Lately, I've been hearing some of the Mike Rhyner that guided me to The Ticket in 2004. I don't know if it's the new competition. Wouldn't stun me if Hammer's presence up the dial had something to do with it, but dunno. I can tell you that the first time I really sat up and took notice was a segment right after drydock when Mike was positively shouting into the mic, his voice a good register higher than normal, about his newly-found and freely-confessed man-love for the most unique-looking Blake Griffin. We heard it again when he was recounting his personal encounter with Griffin at a booster luncheon. (I've named Mike's revived passion "Racially Ambiguous Griffin Ecstasy" -- RAGE.)
Whatever it is, we've heard more Mike lately. You could see it on the Webcam. Previous Webcam presentations have showed Mike looking about as uninterested as he sounded. There on Radio Row, however, he was animated, sitting up, head always in motion, gesturing with arms and hands, always keen on what was being talked about. And would the Nation agree with me that those shows this past week were pretty good? Would you agree that they've been better since drydock than in the couple-three months before?
Notice that I've said nothing about Corby or Danny. Got no problem with them at all. (Or Ty, or That Nice Young Michael Gruber, for that matter.) But the past few weeks have confirmed, for Your Plainsman, at least, that The Hardline rises and falls with the attitude and interest of Mike Rhyner. Lately the showgram has once again attracted his attention, and life in DFW is the better for it.