I accept and incorporate in this post almost every comment that has been made on this site since Michael Gruber announced his retirement from The Ticket. That includes those who deem him irreplaceable, and those who note that The Ticket will survive. Those who praise his intelligence, those who will miss the jolliest sound in American media: Grubes's merry chortle bleeding through into Danny's mic deep in the background of whatever hilarity is being committed at that particular moment.
I've been considering whether I have any distinctive observations to add to this outpouring of praise, good wishes, and regret. I am frequently criticized, probably with justification, for overthinking The Little Ticket. But as I've thought back over my eight years of listening, I've had some thoughts about Michael's contribution, a couple of which will resonate with what you've already offered.
(1) The Ticket gives the impression of being a pretty rough and tumble place. Everyone's in competition with everyone else. True enough that often it is friendly competition, and frequently it's a bit -- things like remarking on BaD Radio's lust for Top Ten honors, Mike's jabs at the Musers, and Craig's jabs back. But the men we hear on the air are all highly-motivated, the hosts are highly compensated, and the JV are elbowing for airtime and plum assignments, and hoping to avoid the wrath of some of the touchier talent. Over the absolutely amazing run of programming stability on The Ticket, almost every name we would recognize -- weekday hosts, Tickermen, board ops, traffic chicks, producers, CTO -- each of them has had some kind of run-in somewhere along the line, having rubbed someone or other the wrong way.
In the middle of it all -- no, above it all -- stands Grubes.
The Nicest Man on The Ticket.
His drops can be savage, lacerating, hilarious, teasing, but I never, ever felt that they were hostile. I never felt like Michael was a part of the Ticket demimonde that was struggling to get ahead. Maybe it was because, as we all know, he is an offspring of prosperity, and, for that reason (and because he's so damned smart), I never thought he'd hang around The Ticket or radio production too far into his twenties, although he (sincerely, I think) has said many times that he loved that greatest job in the world. So he never felt the need to put anyone else down. His on-air remarks were usually brief, never unwelcome, and almost always self-effacing. Quite aside from his technical brilliance, his personality added a note of grace to any show he was a part of.
(2) Almost alone among DFW radio stations -- hell, radio stations anywhere -- The Ticket has had an astonishingly stable history, stretching now to almost two decades. It's a rich history, but for those millions of us who were not Day One listeners, we would not know that history if it weren't for Grubes. Not only with drops, but with his sampling from the vault at the close of each episode of The Hardline, those of us who have come lately to the station, and who can't listen to every show every day, he ties the present to the past.
He is a major reason that the P1 feels like a community of friends who not only share the pleasures of that day's broadcasting, but who are a part of something much richer and more personal, a family of sorts. A dysfunctional family at times, but one where all the actors are bound together with that firmest of cements, humor.
(3) This is the one that's been most on my mind.
We all know that Grubes is the Ticket's Professor Emeritus of Dropology. We all know about his encyclopedic memory, his astoundingly associative intelligence, his jaw-dropping speed, and his comedic timing.
But he's done a lot more for The Ticket, and for the P1, than make us laugh. Hell, listening to some of Grubes's Greatest Hits on The Hardline, I sat in the Conestoga in a parking lot with tears running down my face at some of his brilliantly timed bulls'-eye inserts. And yet, I think his influence is much more profound than just a series of yuks, gratifying though they may be.
Consider one of his most unusual series of drops.
We've all heard the Corby brag-drops. "I went to TCU . . . ," "I have HD," and the rest.
But sometime in the past couple of years, we started hearing some Corby drops that, if you heard them in normal conversation, wouldn't sound like Corbyesque bragging at all. I don't know that I can quote any of them, but they can be something as simple as (and I'm making these up) "I bought some new jeans yesterday," or "I had dinner last night." They're momentarily baffling, but they always bring a laugh to the show and to listeners (at least this listener).
Why is this?
I think these drops, and our reaction to them, reveal the true importance of Michael Gruber's contribution to The Ticket:
Michael's use of drops has had a significant role in defining the on-air character of the hosts themselves. By constantly repeating memorable moments, and by highlighting remarks that may not have seemed notable at the time, he shapes our perceptions of all these talented talkers, permanently fixing in our minds the unique personality and quirks of each. Not only is he constantly sketching them for the listeners, forming our perception of these guys, I'm going to go out on a limb and say that some of the hosts have been influenced by Grubes's portrayal of them through his artistry.
That's why we laugh at the non-brag brags. Even though if you listen to the body of Corby's work he does not seem to be unduly afflicted with CJWilsonesque conceit, Michael's drops have defined Corby to the extent that these most innocuous of remarks seem freighted with self-regard. To this extent, Grubes has enriched Corby's broadcast personality. And he does the same with all of his willing victims, to the very great advantage of The Ticket. To use a current trope, he has created brands for the men he works with, and when you're a station that depends for its popularity on the distinctive personality of its hosts and other on-air guys, that's immensely valuable. And for us, immensely entertaining.
Too grandiose? Your Plainsman overthinking The Ticket again? Yeah, maybe. It's fun to overthink The Ticket. And it's an unalloyed pleasure to say nice things about Michael Gruber.
Ah, Grubes, we hardly knew ye. But thanks to you, we know a lot of people we all care about a whole lot better.
My thanks, and best wishes from My Ticket Confession as you make your way in the world.