After months of flirting with 105.3 The Fan and coming this close to leaving the phenomenally successful station he almost single-handedly launched 15 years ago, Mike Rhyner tonight reached an 11th-hour contract agreement with Cumulus Media that will keep him at 1310 AM The Ticket for the foreseeable future.
Multiple times over the last 30 days The Ticket's founding father had his bags packed, seemingly destined to accept CBS Radio's overtures and take sidekick Corby Davidson and the wildly popular Hardline to be The Fan's 3-7 p.m. afternoon drive show.
"It was close," Rhyner told me moments ago. "Very close."
Rhyner, whose existing Cumulus contract was to expire Feb. 20, wouldn't elaborate on the specifics of his new deal. He did, however, admit to long nights wrestling with the decision he at one point called "one of the toughest things I've faced in my life."
"The Fan made a really strong run at us," Rhyner says. "I mean, really strong."
Stalled negotiations with Cumulus and the lure of The Fan's deep pockets and 100,000-watt FM signal pushed Rhyner to the brink. Loyalty - and a sweetened, buzzer-beating offer - brought him back.
"They have a whole lot going for them which we just don't have," he says of The Fan. "But this thing was causing me massive angst and as it played out I saw the reason why. In the end game, I just couldn't do it. I couldn't turn away from The Ticket. From what we've built here. From the fun we have here. From the guys who I've been with for so long. From the great radio that goes on all throughout each and every day. From this crazy thing we've developed with The Ticket audience, which is unlike anything anywhere in the radio business. You can't buy those things. It would have just crushed me had it come to that and tonight I'm one thankful S.O.B. that it didn't."
With the dramatic departure of original host Greg Williams, the recent divorce from the Dallas Cowboys, long-time assistant program director Mark Friedman's exit and Rhyner's looming contract Armageddon, The Ticket has been unsettled recently. Some at the station, sensing what they felt was Rhyner's inevitable adios and Davidson's late reluctance to leave with him, even labeled the recent 15th Birthday Party a "last supper" and last weekend's Ticketstock a "farewell tour".
This move to secure the station's signature voice, however, seems to pave the road for The Hardline ratings monster into the unchartered PPM future.
"The exciting thing is," Rhyner says, "our work at The Ticket isn't done. We live to fight another day."