America's Ticket

Appearing now on the Dallas Cowboys' new flagship radio station:

A lunchtime host who fought the former head coach and constantly fillets the current one. A drive-time star who champions himself as leader of the "anti-Cowboys faction" and refers to Bill Parcells as "The New Jersey Con Man." And a fake Jerry Jones who makes sweet love to Parcells' man boobs and claims his son, Jerry Jr., doubles as the team's obnoxious mascot, Rowdy.

But the most uncomfortable aspect of the Dallas icons' new partnership? The concern isn't the Cowboys on The Ticket, but rather The Ticket on the Cowboys.

Sounds simple enough. On Sundays the sports talk monster will air games sandwiched between six hours of custom programming. And Monday through Friday the innovative and impervious cast of characters that built their credibility and popularity by attacking will keep on attacking.

Or will they?

"When The Ticket stands up and says carrying Cowboys games will have no impact on the integrity of our talk shows, we're fooling ourselves," says Dale Hansen, The Ticket host and WFAA-Channel 8 anchor who once provoked on-air violence from Barry Switzer and who just plain hates Parcells. "I've been through this, but I don't know that you're ever prepared for it. I mean, if we keep up the harsh criticism, trust me, we'll hear from our management or Jerry or both. And if we back off even a little, we'll have listeners accusing us of having sold our integrity."

The Cowboys are merely changing their radio station. Will The Ticket change its stance?

"I may end up way wrong about this, but it looks like a win-win," says Mike Rhyner, co-host of the wildly popular Hardline and mouthpiece for Cowboys negativity. "We may have more Cowboys shows than we do now, but will it change the day-to-day of what we do? I doubt it."

Fingers crossed, but the early returns are ominous.

One press conference.

That's how long it took the Cowboys to begin filtering, if not dictating, Ticket content. On the day of the partnership announcement, Ticket General Manager Dan Bennett and multiple station voices feigned ignorance regarding game announcers. Behind the scenes, however, The Ticket had already offered its approval for the return of legendary play-by-play voice Brad Sham, color commentator Babe Laufenberg and sideline reporter Kristi Scales and agreed--per Jones' request (demand?)--to keep quiet on any details until negotiations were finalized.

Bottom line: Thanks to its new corporate relationship, the station that every 20 minutes boasts "breaking sports news first" whiffed on its own headline.

Here's hoping it was more aberration than omen.

Assures Jerry Jr., who brokered the deal with Bennett, "We have no control over their content. Zero." Control? No. Influence? You betcha.

The five-year agreement calls for the Cowboys to jump from KLUV 98.7 FM's oldies to a group of boldies led by The Ticket's 1310 AM and 104.1 FM and its stronger-signaled sister station, The Bone 93.3 FM. As of yet, there isn't a Spanish outlet, but there is--surprise!--a place for Sham, Laufenberg and Scales.

Says Jerry Jr., "We're talking. Hopefully they'll be back."

According to Bennett, The Ticket's "signature voices" will dominate the three-hour pre- and post-game shows also simulcast on The Bone. That means a heavy dose of talented and tempestuous talkers like Rhyner, Greg Williams, Craig Miller, George Dunham and Bob Sturm; the disappearance of longtime staples like entertaining and informative host Wally Lynn and former players Charlie Waters and Drew Pearson; and the continued absence of Hansen.

"I haven't talked to anyone and honestly, yeah, I'm a little bothered that I'm hearing the details second-hand," says Hansen, who teamed with Sham for arguably the NFL's best announcing team from 1984 to 1996 before an ugly parting with Jones. "I always joke that I'd love to be invited back so I could turn it down. But I don't think now is the right time."

Even without Hansen's humor or Lynn's seamless set-ups or Waters' insights, The Ticket's product is guaranteed to make a mockery of KLUV's Jody Dean throwing it to Jonathan Hayes throwing it to Mitch Carr throwing it to...

"We're going to give exposure to our big hitters, our prime-time voices," Bennett says. "They're the reason our station is where it is."

More important, The Ticket's pre- and post-game talent won't become temporary Cowboys employees. They'll be paid by the station, free to air edgy opinions without the risk of offending their boss or a reason to cower to the power.

"They will not be on the Cowboys' payroll," Bennett says.

Good for listeners. Bad for the Cowboys?

The agreement calls for The Ticket to be afforded exclusive content such as sole live broadcast rights to Parcells' daily press conferences and the airing of draft-day phone calls from Dallas' Valley Ranch war room to draft choices. It also allows the station to continue yukking it up as much about toilet bowls as Super Bowls, prompting Tom Landry and Tex Schramm to roll over in their graves and Jones to continue getting sprayed with verbal buckshot.

"They take more frequent and harder shots than the rest of the teams around here, and I really wonder how well the real Jerry takes some of fake Jerry, especially when it starts getting into the realm of Jerry Jr. as Rowdy," Rhyner says. "But if we hit nerves, they're savvy enough to not let us know it."

Where the Mavs, Stars, Rangers and even Byron Nelson's Classic called The Ticket to complain, the Cowboys were calm, cool and, eventually, chuckling cohorts.

"We take it all with a grain of salt," says Jerry Jr. "It's not personal. It's all good-natured."

So the Cowboys promise not to be miffed, and The Ticket promises not to be muzzled. Stay tuned. It's a delicate dance, this building of a loyal following by sticking it to the man, only later to jump in bed with him. The Ticket has pulled Cowboys 180s before, backpedaling from bashing Michael Irvin and Barry Switzer into warm-and-cuddly weekly shows that ultimately made the station better.

But if it wimps out now and offers us anything resembling watered-down criticisms, it'll be the saddest character suicide since Johnny Knoxville sold his Jackass soul for a big payday forcing guffaws at Willie Nelson's cheesy jokes in Dukes of Hazzard.

Synergy doesn't necessarily come laced with censorship. But if The Ticket suddenly yaps about gays and Cowboys only in the context of Brokeback Mountain, you'll know tongues are being bitten and pillars of once-piercing content are crumbling.

"Wearing two hats is not as easy as it sounds," Hansen says. "When I was on the radio broadcasts, I was told to stop criticizing the team on my TV sportscasts. Like it or not, everything I said went through a filter."

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Richie Whitt
Contact: Richie Whitt