The Hard Lie

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Upon graduation at 29, he landed an entry-level job at WBAP-820 AM, which led him to become Randy Galloway's Sports at Six right-hand man. More important, it directed him to the auxiliary press box at old Arlington Stadium. It was there—in cramped, steamy quarters down the first-base line dubbed "the back of the bus"—that he blossomed as both hard-working Williams and fun-loving Hammer, a nickname bestowed upon him by Galloway for the way he relentlessly pounded away at assignments.

And it was there, in 1990, that he met Rhyner. Peanut butter, jelly. Jelly, peanut butter.

"He was playing the small-town country guy card, but before long I learned there was a lot more to him," Rhyner says. "We both had a love for baseball, and we weren't afraid to speak our minds. Before you knew it we were friends. Some of my best memories are of spending nights at the ballpark with Greggo. That was the height of fun."

Says Williams, "I don't think either of us ever figured out why we clicked. We just had a special chemistry you can't teach."

Soon Williams, nabbing interviews for Galloway's show, and Rhyner, recording Rangers reports for a GTE sports phone service, lassoed KRLD-1080 AM minion Craig Miller into their nightly baseball banter.

"All of the sudden we started noticing the reactions to us," Rhyner says. "People pulled up a chair. They listened. They either wanted in on it or they hated us. It was obvious we were having a tangible effect...We began to wonder if we truly had something useful and, if so, what the heck do we do with it?"

Rhyner used that momentum and recruited financial investors and a slew of old radio cronies who helped him launch The Ticket in January 1994. The innovative 24-hour sports station was an instant hit, with phone lines jammed, remote broadcasts crowded and ratings soaring within six months. The station's backbone was the Rhyner-Williams pairing, christened The Hardline because of its tell-it-like-it-is tenor.

Desperate to fit in and intimidated by Rhyner's résumé—which included a prominent role on The Zoo KZEW-98 FM's LaBella & Rody morning show—Williams immediately raised a red flag, one that would become a catalyst for the breakup of one of Dallas radio's most successful couples. He began telling whoppers.

He claimed he played Major League Baseball for the Montreal Expos and hit a home run off Hall of Fame pitcher Steve Carlton in his first at-bat. Stats nerd that he is, Rhyner checked his Baseball Encyclopedia. Nada.

"I didn't call him out on it," Rhyner says. "There was so much else I liked about the guy. He was good-hearted, and he'd do anything for anyone. I just glossed over it."

Admits Williams, "Yep, I said that. And it's a total lie."

Same with the one about legendary University of Texas football and baseball coaches Darrell Royal and Cliff Gustafson fighting to acquire his talents. And the one about him dating country singer Tanya Tucker.

"I don't deny saying that, either," Williams says. "I just wanted to be cool."

Just as The Ticket and The Hardline were gaining traction, Rhyner was again alarmed by his co-host. When Williams summoned Rhyner to a Fort Worth hospital room, it seemed as though he were meeting Williams for the first time. And, apparently, vice-versa.

"Greggo didn't recognize me," Rhyner recalls. "He looked at me and said, 'Who are you?' I should've taken it more seriously, but by this time the guy had brought something really valuable to the table. However much he needed me, I needed him more. His radio voice was well-defined already. Mine wasn't."

Says Williams about the incident, "I had a mental breakdown over a girl. She was my first real love, and I was crushed. I mean, crushed."

On the air, Rhyner and Williams were quickly gaining popularity and ratings last seen in these parts by Stevens & Pruitt, Hal Jay and Dick Segal or perhaps Ron Chapman and Suzie Humphreys in the "K-V-I-L-o-van."

Rhyner gruffly derided the Cowboys and talked up his die-hard fondness for American Idol. The Old Gray Wolf was the pompous patriarch who delighted in forcing listeners to carry a thesaurus; Williams wore ostrich boots and looped Smokey and the Bandit. The Hammer was the chubby commoner, jumping off bridges at Super Bowls, boasting about eating 10 Whataburgers and obsessing about women's boobs.

Long before The Ticket and The Hardline earned No. 1 in their coveted (men 25-54) demographic for two consecutive years, Williams sported more alter egos than Herschel Walker—Greggo, Uncle Greggo, The Hambonita, Robot Greggo, Li'l Girl Greggo, Motorcycle Greggo, et al. He soaked in his celebrity, attracting TV cameos, a short feature in Sports Illustrated and a salary that topped out at $500,000 last year.

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Richie Whitt
Contact: Richie Whitt