Mike Rhyner has retired.
The Texas Radio Hall of Famer, who began on Dallas radio in 1979 and in 1994 co-founded Sportsradio 1310 The Ticket, made the stunning announcement Monday that he will no longer appear on “The Hardline.” That’s the afternoon show he has co-hosted since the station went on the air on Jan. 24, 1994.
The 69-year-old made the announcement via social media just after 3 p.m. Monday. That video, he said, was made in mid-December — the first day after he began Christmas vacation.
But Rhyner said in an interview Monday he has known “the time was right to step away” since early fall. And nothing happened between then and now to change his mind.
“It just reached a point to where it really felt like the right thing to do,” Rhyner told The Dallas Morning News. “I started to think about it early in the fall and kept waiting for something to jar me out of that idea. And it never came. Before long I reached — it almost sounds crazy — an almost Zen-like state with it. I guess I hit such a point of acceptance nothing could shake me. And nothing has.”
Rhyner said he did not tell his co-host, Corby Davidson; nor the station’s program director, Jeff Catlin. Only Dan Bennett, Cumulus Media’s regional vice president, was in the loop. Rhyner said Bennett tried to talk him out of it, to no avail.
“He saw he wasn’t going to get very far,” Rhyner said. “I think he saw I was pretty dug in on it.”
Around 3:40 p.m. Monday, “The Hardline” played the audio of his farewell. Afterward, morning-show co-host Gordon Keith said on the air, “It’s amazing and shocking.”
“Hardline” producer Danny Balis and Davidson — who called Rhyner “the voice of the radio station” — did not find out until last week. George Dunham, co-host of the morning show, said on air that the other hosts didn’t find out until Monday morning.
“The story is: He just got to a great place and decided this was the time and pulled the ripcord,” The Ticket morning-show co-host Craig Miller said. “I’m happy for him.’”
This was Rhyner’s plan — to keep his farewell a secret until the last second. He said it had nothing to do with health, nothing to do with his co-workers, nothing to do with management. It was just … well, time, he said.
“I just started getting the vibe it was out there somewhere” — retirement, he meant. He said it was the first time he’d ever felt that way. He had a few friends who had recently retired — “very serious executives” — and saw how happy they were. So he asked them how they knew it was time to step away.
“They both said in so many words the same thing,” Rhyner said, “that when the time came, they knew.”
So he made prepared his farewell — and dropped the video Monday, a few minutes before his co-workers were prepared for it. Rhyner said he didn’t want a prolonged farewell and “didn’t want a big deal made out of this.”
Except it is a big deal, to his colleagues and to the listeners.
Moments after the news broke, former Dallas Cowboys quarterback-turned-Fox broadcaster Troy Aikman wrote on Twitter that “like many, my afternoons of listening to The Hardline won’t be the same. You’ve given us so many years of radio gold. A heartfelt “thank you” to @theoldgreywolf,” referring to Rhyner’s Twitter handle.
Even a former mayor said he was stunned at the news.
“Oh, my God, a person like him is supposed to be here forever,” said Mike Rawlings, a frequent Ticket guest. “He’s a legend in the radio world. I knew him at KZEW, when I worked at 570 across the hall, and he lived across the street from me. We raised kids together. He’s a cornerstone of The Ticket. He speaks the truth, he’s hard-working, and he’s a nice man. Who could want anything more out of a professional?”
Rhyner said he just wanted to be that guy at the party who sneaked out the back door unnoticed, as though such a thing were possible. The Irish Exit, he called it.
“If I did this while I was at the station, they’d want to have a big event,” he said, “and I didn’t want to do that.”
So he left quietly — the opposite of how he has lived since 1979, when the Oak Cliff native, a graduate of Justin Kimball High School, began at the late KZEW as a production assistant and quickly wound up as the sports guy on the morning show hosted by John Labella and John Rody.
As Rhyner told The Dallas Morning News in July 2014, when he was inducted into the Texas Radio Hall of Fame, he dreamed of being on the radio when he was a little kid. He loved how the KLIF disc jockeys, especially “The Weird Beard” Russ Knight, connected with the audience — how they did more than just play records. Rhyner always considered it “magic.” And he wanted to be part of that.
Even now he remembers the call letters of every Dallas radio station of his youth, the names of the jocks, the titles of the songs they made regional hits. He played in bands, then and now, but always wanted to be on the radio, whispering into somebody’s ear.
He remained at “The Zoo” until 1986, then jumped to WBAP-AM, then resurfaced for a time on KZPS-FM’s morning show (“but that didn’t last long”). Before The Ticket, he even did sports for GTE On Call, a dial-in sports hotline. When told his voice has been a constant for those raised on Dallas radio, Rhyner said, “This too shall pass.”
The station has not yet announced a plan to replace Rhyner, as if such a thing were possible. Davidson pleaded for patience after the announcement was made.
Rhyner said Monday he once thought he’d be on the radio for as long as his bosses would let him. He thought he’d be like Ticket colleague Norm Hitzges, who’s 75 and on the air (almost) every day. But when he hit 69, Rhyner said, the idea of working into his 70s became “a little daunting,” and so he began considering the once-unfathomable — working without a microphone in front of his face for four hours a day every day.
He has no idea what comes next, which he said is as terrifying as it is exhilarating. In October 2016, he told this newspaper, “The end is not in sight for me.” Three years later, it was right in front of him, not going anywhere.
“I am doing this without even the slightest hint of angst or ill-will or anything like that toward anybody down there,” he said of his Ticket colleagues. “I love those guys. Those guys are my brothers, and I want nothing but the best for them. And if they ever want anything from me I am there for them. I hope they know that, and if they want me on the air I am sure I will go on.”
Just not today. Or tomorrow. Or for the foreseeable future.