Longform

The Hard Lie

Page 7 of 8

"That just reminded me that even after 14 years of loyalty and success and everything else," Williams says, "in the end it's just a business."

On January 10, The Ticket issued a press release that read, in part:

"Greg Williams, co-host of afternoon drive show The Hardline, has resigned."

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It's confounding that a company would agree to pay severance to an employee it claimed had quit. But then, surely Williams' illegal drug use violated his contract. Even more convoluted, The Ticket, by law, couldn't fire an employee who voluntarily entered and successfully completed drug rehab. And that doesn't even factor in Williams' clinical depression.

Asked to comment on Williams' tenure at The Ticket, Catlin and Bennett offered only this statement:

"Greg Williams was a key and critical part of building The Ticket and The Hardline into what it is today. To have him not be a part of that anymore is a shame. But just like a team who loses a star to injury or trade, we have to keep on winning with our current roster. I have full confidence in the guys that we will do just that, provided we keep entertaining our hardcore P1's in the way that they've come to expect and enjoy over the past 14 years."

Williams and The Ticket reached a settlement of their differences in May. As part of their agreement, The Ticket avoided a lawsuit and retained his drops, able to use its intellectual property as it chooses; Williams received a chunk of cash and the freedom to work wherever he chooses.

Losing a job Williams could stomach. But losing his friends—at least who he thought were friends—is devastating.

"I'm not a bad guy. It's not like I was some strung-out junkie screwing everybody over," Williams says. "The person I was hurting was myself. I don't understand why they have to treat me like this. They won. I lost. I'm trying to move on. But they're still talking about me on the air, just running up the score."

With his classic malapropos and innate ability to make you laugh both at him and with him, Williams' unique voice will be as difficult to replace as Don Meredith on Monday Night Football. But his friendships, apparently, were overrated.

Since October 12, Williams has received calls only from Hitzges, McDowell and Keith, and an e-mail from Miller. From the guy who got his Hardline blessing and who has since slid into Williams' No. 2 role on the show? Not a word.

"I thought me and Corby were beyond friends," Williams says. "Even on my best day I think about him turning on me. Nothing hurts worse than him not at least taking one minute to call. We'll never be friends."

Davidson declined to be interviewed for this story.

There's also no ignoring the brutality of the Williams-Rhyner break-up. The former partners last talked shortly after the November 21 summit, when Williams called via olive branch.

"I wasn't bitter," Rhyner says. "I just told him how I felt, and he told me how he felt. That was it."

Stubbornly, Williams hopes to one day resume their relationship, if not their friendship.

"If he calls me at 3 a.m. broken down in Waco, I'll go without question," he says. "He can't do anything to change how I feel about him...But I take full responsibility. I ruined our friendship."

Says Rhyner, "I'm still really pissed about all this. I hope there comes a day when I can recall our time together more fondly and think about him in friendlier terms. But not yet. Not after how it all went down."

Despite the ugly divorce, The Hardline appears softer but remains popular. The show conducted tryouts (Full disclosure: I twice sat in Williams' vacated chair), but those ultimately fizzled and, in fact, prompted increased roles for Davidson and Balis.

With the latest boffo ratings and Rhyner's seemingly renewed enthusiasm, it appears the show's DNA won't be altered anymore—at least no in the immediate future. In the winter '08 ratings book, The Hardline clobbered its lone sports-talk competition, ESPN Radio, by an almost 2-to-1 margin.

Without Williams, The Ticket's Super Bowl trip wasn't as high-jinksy and the annual compound week not as unpredictable, and the program's unique candor seems forever tainted. But to the majority of its fans, the beer-guzzling, boob-gawking, ball-bouncing boys' club is still the best thing on radio.

"I'm not sure what shape we'll ultimately wind up in, but I'll be here," says Rhyner, 57. "Just because The Hardline isn't the same doesn't mean it isn't good. It's evolving, and I'm excited about the direction we're headed. I've found my radio voice again."

Says Boggs, "They can play all the drops they want, but it's not Greggo. It's not The Hardline."

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Richie Whitt
Contact: Richie Whitt