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Arts & Entertainment

Mike Rhyner discusses the origins of his ‘Freak’ move and taking on The Ticket

In this in-depth interview, the sports radio icon says this feels right.

Mike Rhyner, known as ‘the Godfather of The Ticket’, shocked the D-FW radio world when he announced that he was coming out of retirement to form a new sports and talk radio station, 97.1 ‘The Freak.’

‘The Freak’, short for The Frequency, went live Monday and will compete head-to-head against The Ticket (KTCK-FM 96.7/KTCK-AM 1310), the station Rhyner founded in 1994.

I sat down with the Old Grey Wolf to discuss why he decided to come out of retirement, how it all came about and how he feels about the perception by some that this move may be traitorous to The Ticket.

“There’s nothing about this that I need but there’s everything about it that I want,” said Rhyner. “Now, why do I want it? I don’t know. But I couldn’t get it off of my mind, it was keeping me awake at night. If I didn’t do this, I was going to die wondering, ‘What if?’ ”

The idea of coming back to the airwaves started in an innocuous way. Ben Rogers and Jeff “Skin” Wade — hosts of the Ben and Skin Show on 97.1, then The Eagle — were guys he’d known for years.

“Skin had a bout with cancer,” said Rhyner. “He missed a good bit of work fighting that. He’s okay now, he’s back at work. But while he was dealing with that, it left Ben there to figure something else out. One day Ben rang me up and said, ‘Hey, is this something you’d be willing to do?’

“My first instinct was to tell him no,” he said. “But he needed some help, so the ‘help-a-brother out’ thing happened, and I agreed to do it.”

Ben said, “When Rhynes filled in for Skin I remember thinking, ‘Good lord, he sounds amazing!’ He sounded just like the guy I’ve always loved as a listener and idolized as a talkshow host. I had no idea why he walked away, but it was suddenly clear to me that he was entertaining the idea of quite possibly getting back in the game — and THAT made me levitate.”

They talked after the show was over:

“That’s where we left it,” Rhyner said. “I was told later on that my appearance on that show didn’t go over well with the mothership but, c’est la vie.

“Now, all this time after doing that, I’d been thinking:

But Rhyner didn’t act on that thought.

A few weeks later, Ben called Mike and said, “Hey, let’s you, me and Skin get together and talk.”

They met at Lockwood Distilling Co. in Richardson. They asked Mike if there was any way they could talk him into coming on board at 97.1.

“I just bit down, swallowed hard and told them what I was thinking,” said Rhyner.

“There’d been plenty of brainstorming sessions with iHeart management about what The Freak could possibly be,” Skin told me. “But nothing felt like it was truly legitimate until we sat down with Mike at Lockwood in Richardson. We knew we needed him, and Ben was still buzzing off of his fill-in show for me.”

“That’s when I knew I was interested,” said Rhyner. “One thing led to another and the next thing I knew I was having lunch with the program director, Patrick Davis. By then, he’d been prepped on all of this and he was game.”

Skin said, “Ben and I kept looking at one another like:

The ball started rolling. The Freak reached out to some of the talent from The Ticket.

Mike Sirois, a longtime Ticket producer, left the station last June. He cited a lack of opportunity for advancement and said he’s at “an age now where I feel like I want to challenge myself and do some new things.”

He was quick to jump on board:

Juile Dobbs, a former member of The Ticket’s popular midday show BaD Radio, had been cut back from full-time to part-time. She sometimes made fun of it by referring to herself as ‘part-time Julie.’

When asked about Mike Rhyner’s new venture, Ticket program director Jeff Catlin told The News’ Sharon Grigsby that he was as shocked as anyone when he first heard the rumors several weeks ago.

“I didn’t believe it. And now I am really sad about it,” he said. “Mike has a home on The Ticket for life, but he never contacted me about having the itch to get back on air.”

Catlin also doesn’t understand why Mike never reached out to anyone at The Ticket about his future with 97.1.

On his reaction from those who may look at this move as him being a traitor to the Ticket, Rhyner replied:

“For me, there’s always that one thing that’s out there,” he said. “That one thing that can come up — it has come up before and now has again — that I just can’t say no to. That’s what happened here.”

Ben and Skin have been a part of five D-FW radio stations.

“This is something we’ve always dreamed about being a part of,” said Ben. “By working at The Ticket, Live 1053, 1033 ESPN, 1053 The Fan and 97.1 The Eagle, we’ve been able to closely examine the way different radio organizations operate.

“We’ve repeatedly seen stations suffocated by a misguided East Coast arrogance from the suits who run these massive radio companies… this idea that whatever works in New York or Philly will automatically work in D-FW, too. D-FW is nothing like Philadelphia or NYC. What we’re doing is an absolute revolution from that cycle.”

At the end of my conversation with Mike Rhyner, he left me with this thought:

Danny Balis, former producer of The Ticket’s Hardline show, was contacted for this story but respectfully declined to comment.

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