By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
Well, I lost a thumb on the Fourth of July / I ran into my mother and she started to cry / She looked at the label on that M-80 and she wiped the tears from her eyes / She said the Chinese we are not to trust / They send us Asian brides and opium dust / They're communists, son, oh can't you see the truth? / They're 5-foot-2 with hair like Bruce Lee / They got squinty little eyes and they can barely see / And without your thumb, son, you might not be able to pee...
--lyrics from Corby Davidson's song "Independence Day Hates the Chinese Man," as heard on the KTCK 1310-AM "The Ticket"
Producers, on-air talent, and faceless others shuffle back and forth on the 13th floor of the sleek Maple Avenue office building. You would expect the employees of this successful radio station, KTCK 1310-AM "The Ticket," to bustle, but things are particularly busy this afternoon. At least that's the meager excuse offered by Bruce Gilbert, director of programming for The Ticket and its AM sister station, Big 570, as he mumbles "be right back" and ducks out of his office. In an instant, his white shirt and neatly ironed slacks disappear down a hallway littered with homogeneous cubicles.
While you entertain yourself with his stapler (who knew collating could be so much fun and pass the time?), you wonder whether Gilbert will ever come back. Sure, his job is hectic--in case you forget this, he reminds you with incessant cell phone calls and breathless speech. But since you're there to grill him--and he knows it--you're pretty sure he's in no hurry.
Gilbert has the unenviable task of discussing one show in particular: The Hardline, co-hosted by Mike Rhyner and Greg Williams, with comic stylings by Corby Davidson. Monday through Friday, the trio amuses drive-time listeners with a unique, brazen style. The jokes are brash, the attitude leaves no one beyond reproach, the shtick is unmerciful, and the retorts are glib.
None of which are bad things, because they execute all this with inimitable humor--most of the time. But you're not here to discuss most of the time. What you're here to talk about is the fact that The Hardline is frequently, for lack of a better term, racy. The group's chatter is often racially charged, using incensing language and subject matter, funny as it might be. "Hoops in tha hood," "street cred," "gansta hoopstas," and "the black man" are casually used terms on The Hardline. During segments such as "Black Chicks P1 Roundtable," The Hardline doesn't shy from discussing racial topics that more cautious stations would consider taboo.
"I'm concerned about some of the things we do, because it's not in our best interest to be running people off in droves," Gilbert says after returning from points unknown. "What I think makes [what The Hardline does] better is that it's all a joke. Humor is subjective, but if we do nothing, our ratings will be nothing."
No danger in that happening--the most up-to-date ratings (aka "trends") show that, in the 3 p.m-to-7 p.m. time slot, The Hardline is No. 1 in the Dallas-Fort Worth area with all people age 25 to 54.
Before we go any further, let's get one thing straight: These guys are funny. Frankly, it would be dishonest and hypocritical to chastise the show from some pious high ground. First, because who among us who's tuned in hasn't doubled over in hysterics at one time or another? Second, because who among us, period, hasn't told a joke with racial undertones before, whether in jest or all seriousness?
But just because it's funny, simply because they don't discriminate in whom they, well, discriminate against, does that make it right? If it's "all in good fun," does that make it OK? That's the big issue here.
"I'm really immature for my age; we all are," declares Davidson, 30, who contends the group has no delusions about being social satirists from, say, Mark Twain's mold. No, they insist, this is what it is. "It's fun and immature. We like to make jokes--about everyone. We make fun of ourselves more than anybody."
--lyrics from Corby Davidson's song "Najera" (about Dallas Mavs draft pick Eduardo Najera), as heard on The Ticket
Davidson is right, of course, but that doesn't mean The Hardline isn't in extremely sensitive territory. Sure, race-related comedy is not new to the airwaves--Howard Stern indoctrinated us all into inflammatory shock radio long before The Ticket. But it is unique in sports-talk radio, even in the country's largest, most diverse markets.
On WFAN in New York or on WIP in Philly, you wouldn't hear a "help me, man" drop in a stereotypically Hispanic voice--a gimmick heard throughout the day on The Ticket. If you did, it would likely be accompanied by walking papers for the host.