This year’s two-day event will take place inside the Plano Event Center, complete with celebrity athletes, local beer, retro arcade games and even a Ticket Hall of Fame-style museum. Although the event looks different from that inaugural year inside the Dallas Convention Center, when it was more of a sports memorabilia and autograph show than anything else, some key elements haven’t changed in a quarter-century— including the passion of the Ticket’s most loyal listeners, the so-called P1s.
“On that very first Friday 25 years ago, we opened the doors around noon,” says Michael Moroney, the station’s first promotions director, who believes he was the last station employee hired before the Ticket’s first broadcast on the morning of Jan. 24, 1994. “We had somewhere between 200 and 300 people waiting for us to open up, and when I saw that I thought, ‘OK, this is good. I feel good.’”
The good vibes and fervent audience support have endured in the years since. While popular on-air personalities, such as the man who first dreamed up the idea for the station, Texas Radio Hall of Famer Mike Rhyner and respected longtime teammates including George Dunham, Craig Miller, Bob Sturm and Corby Davidson have been integral to the signal’s continued success, the offering of “all sports, all the time” was the biggest early star. Debuting during the Super Bowl runs of the '90s Dallas Cowboys, it had local listeners thirsty for more coverage of America’s Team tuning in.
Continuing Dallas Radio History
For Ticket-heads, Ticketstock is the yearly kickoff to an array of hotly anticipated annual station events. Promotions such as the beer-splashed, lake-adjacent Summer Bash and Fight Night, an amateur boxing exhibition, are undoubtedly popular among the P1s, but Ticketstock is a multi-day celebration of the station’s tenure on the dial, as well as an annual appreciation for where it has come from.
Moroney is credited by Rhyner for being the driving force behind Ticketstock. As the station’s first promotions director, Moroney relied on his past as a promotions assistant for legendary Dallas rock station KZEW The Zoo. Not only was the primarily male audience one he was familiar with from his KZEW days, but the passion flowing from the sports fans reminded him of his rock radio glory days when he helped stage the annual Zoo World concert.
“Early on it was clear we were insanely popular with a small but passionate sports crowd.” – Michael Moroney
In the ‘70s and through much of the ‘80s, Zoo World was a unique attraction for rock fans in the area — both a concert and a chance for station sponsors to get their names in front of thousands of listeners over an entire weekend. Major rock acts of the day, including Eddie Money and Night Ranger, headlined the event along with tons of other manly attractions, including auto exhibitions, and of course, tons of beer. Moroney saw plenty of parallels from his old role he could apply to his new one.
“Early on it was clear we were insanely popular with a small but passionate sports crowd,” Moroney says of the Ticket. “In the fall of 1994, we had the chutzpah to celebrate our half birthday, so I know we would do something for the station’s actual birthday, but it was going to need to be something big, like a Zoo World but for sports.”
One of Moroney’s chief responsibilities was to book remote broadcasts for the station’s shows. Early into the Ticket’s existence, Moroney could tell some serious momentum was building simply by the palpable enthusiasm evident in crowds of 100 or more packed into a barbecue joint for a remote broadcast.
“Oddly enough, people were clamoring for our stickers, of all things,” he says. “Whenever we would have a remote broadcast, the stickers would fly off the table. There were people who would show up just to get a sticker for their car or to buy one of our T-shirts, which also had become more popular than I ever thought they would. If I was wearing one of our shirts, I would have so many people walk past me and say stuff like, “Hey, I love those guys!' or ‘The Ticket rocks!’”
A Hit from the Beginning, Just Like the Station
Although it was a first-time event and Moroney admits to a lot of “flying by the seats of our pants,” the 1995 Ticketstock didn’t lack for ambition. Along with a sports card and autograph show, featuring an array of Cowboys players, including a backup quarterback named Jason Garrett, there were basketball hoops set up for some friendly one-on-one and an indoor golf driving range helping fill up the 100,000-square-foot space. With larger-than-expected crowds, the first couple of Ticketstocks provided many of the top station personnel with the proof they needed to know the event would be a big deal for many years.
“The very first one was such a shock to our system,” remembers current Ticket morning host George Dunham of the Dunham and Miller show, which debuted in the afternoon drive-time slot when the station began. “Tons of people came out and wanted to talk to us and just hang out. We had no idea that many people were listening or that many people really cared; it was overwhelming. It still gets me, how genuinely nice people are.”
The second Ticketstock, held in Mesquite’s Big Town Exhibition Hall, featured an even bigger autograph lineup, consisting of Cowboys running back Emmitt Smith and NASCAR Hall of Famer Rusty Wallace. Jeff Catlin, the Ticket’s program director, who began with the station as producer for the Hardline afternoon show in ’94, remembers that year’s party as the one when he realized they had something big on their hands.
“It was packed, and we were all like ‘Whoa!’” Catlin says. “We weren’t ready for that. The staff was running around like chickens with our heads lopped off dealing with the crowd.”
The Snow Monkey Express Steals the Show
While key elements have changed, including the location and the switch from a three-day format to a Friday-Saturday deal, Ticketstock’s two main features remain solidly intact. A major athlete “headliner” and a full rotation of “roundtables,” where hosts sit together in random groups and shoot the bull, are as popular as ever. A-list, Hall of Fame names including Bo Jackson, Randy Johnson and Barry Sanders have been among the notable names to headline Ticketstock, but a locally beloved titan taking part in a roundtable discussion is responsible for providing perhaps the all-time favorite moment.
Over the course of his 27-year career, Nolan Ryan became the major league record-holder for numerous pitching categories, and is arguably the Texas Rangers' greatest icon.
“The year Nolan Ryan came out to Ticketstock and talked for a good five minutes on snow monkeys may have been a top-five moment in Ticket history, let alone Ticketstock history,” says Dunham, referring to the moment when Ryan described how he became a “snow monkey ambassador” to the enraptured crowd in 2008.
For many years before that moment, Dunham’s co-host Gordon Keith regularly performed a “Fake Nolan” character on the show that was more interested in discussing his battles with the intelligent Old World species than his days throwing no-hitters. Similar to Dana Carvey’s take on President George H. W. Bush on Saturday Night Live in the ‘90s, Keith’s “Fake Nolan” bit became basically interchangeable with the real deal for tens of thousands of listeners, which made for a riotous, laugh-filled interview with the real-life Ryan.
“He [Ryan] had no idea how the Fake Nolan had turned the battle with snow monkeys into an on-air bit,” Catlin says. “And the real tale was better than anything the Ticket could’ve dreamed up. Nolan was laughing, all the Ticket hosts were literally crying and the audience was right there with all of them cracking up.”
Flourishing in the Chaos
Averaging around 10,000 attendees per year, Ticketstock is a grand event befitting a station with an impressive run of No. 1 quarterly rankings as well as three prestigious NAB Marconi Radio Awards for National Sports Station of the Year. For its 25th edition, plenty of people from the station’s past will be in attendance to catch up with old friends and take a fresh look at what the station has become. Moroney plans on being one of those in attendance.
Moroney was only around long enough to oversee those first two Ticketstocks. After the Ticket was sold for the second time in three years, Moroney decided to leave the station and the radio business altogether in 1996 before returning six years ago as a volunteer for KTCU, TCU’s college radio station. With The Ticket being an undeniable smash hit, he knew the free-wheeling, try-anything nature of his role was likely over.
“I tend to flourish in chaos,” he says. “After that second sale, I knew I was either not going to like working for a conglomerate or they were going to fire me eventually.”
It’s been 25 years, but Moroney vividly remembers the excitement he and everyone else at the station felt in those pioneering days. Simply getting the station on the air and lasting long enough to host the first Ticketstock was a large measure of success for them, regardless of how long it was going to last.
“All of us who were there look back at the beginning so fondly,” he says. “People in the radio industry would die for the opportunity to take on a new station with a new format in a major city. Really, it was just so much fun.”
Ticketstock runs from Friday, Jan. 25 to Saturday, Jan. 26 at the Plano Event Center. Visit www.theticket.com for details.