DALLAS — For the last two weeks, there has been a void at The Ticket.
Mike Rhyner, the 26-year host of The Hardline and creator of the most successful sports talk radio station the state of Texas has ever known, has retired after a Hall of Fame career.
"Really sad to see him go," said Craig 'Junior' Miller, co-host of the station's morning show, The Musers.
"The Ticket's not the same without him. He's the patriarch of the station. We're all here because of him."
"There's definitely an emptiness, too," said George Dunham, another of The Musers. "Just didn't feel right, not to have Mike up here with us."
It's been two weeks since Rhyner retired, with a simple YouTube video posted at 3 p.m. on Jan. 6. And ever since, the tributes, memories, and laurels have continuously rolled in.
"He'll go down as one of the two or three biggest radio titans that this city has ever had," said his long-time co-host on The Hardline, Corby Davidson.
And part of his path to becoming a radio titan was being a radio junkie, even as a child.
"When my friends were watching TV at night, I was in my room, and I was listening to the mighty 1190, KLIF," Rhyner said. "I always suspected that someway, somehow, I was gonna have to pursue this at some time."
His first radio gig was at 98 FM, the Zoo. KZEW, which broadcasts from studios inside the Young Street building of WFAA.
"One of the guys down there was about to go to law school," Rhyner explained of his big break. "And he needed somebody to come in and do his grunt work every day. I found out about this, I showed up and said, 'Hey, I'll do it! I'll do it for free!' And he says, 'Oh, OK... come on in! Come on in! Walk with me, I'll show you what to do.' And that was about the last I ever saw of the guy."
From then on, Rhyner was a radio guy.
"There was no plan B," he said.
Quickly, Rhyner became an integral part of The Zoo, doing sports updates, and becoming part of the fabric of the show.
"I was in high school, and Mike came out to judge a battle of the bands at my high school, RL Turner," Dunham said, reflecting upon the '80s. "My band did not win. I still hold that against him. But yeah, it was a big deal when Mike Rhyner from The Morning Zoo came out to our school."
Sports talk, though, was always where Rhyner was destined to land. It just had to exist, first.
"I went to vacation up in Chicago, went to a game at Wrigley once, and I listened to it up there," Rhyner said, of the burgeoning medium. "Went to Seattle once on vacation, listened to it there. And I started to think, OK, why don't we have this in Dallas?"
And with that question came a revolution. Especially because the Ticket did it differently.
"All sports radio before The Ticket started, you had the FAN in New York and a couple of others. And they were really hardcore, nothing but sports. All X's and O's," Miller said.
"And when we started, Mike said, 'Hey, let's talk about everything. And I think that allowed all of us to become personalities if you will, and allowed the listener to bond with us a little bit more. Because they knew us, they felt like they knew us, and they did know us. And I think that was all Mike's vision."
Since then, it's been 26 years worth of ratings domination and high-quality radio that has earned three National Marconi's for Sports Station of the Year.
Rhyner's vision has become an unquestioned success.
But it's the relationships he values most.
"Those guys are my friends," Rhyner said. "We have weathered a lot of storms together through the years. We've been there for each other. And those guys mean everything to me."
But his favorite memory of the Ticket is all about the listener. The P1. He remembers fondly how they came out in droves -- 10,000 strong, estimates say -- for Ticketstock on the 25th anniversary of the station last year.
That showed quite a bit, about how much Rhyner and the gang meant to them.
"From that day back in 1994, from those nights, in the back of the bus when we were planning this thing out -- the groundwork was being laid before you even really knew it. This is where you're at," Rhyner said. "And that was really neat."
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