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EXCLUSIVE - Mike Rhyner Resurrected; Cowboys Radio Competition Increases as Ticket Founder Unretires, Becomes 'Freak'

Mike Rhyner, inventor of the most successful sports radio station in America, is shockingly returning to the DFW airwaves as a competitor to The Fan and The Ticket on a new 97.1 The Freak.

This is Dallas Cowboys' iconic zealot Michael Irvin, taking a job as general manager of the Philadelphia Eagles.

This is Dallas Mavericks' legend Dirk Nowitzki, unretiring to play for the Miami Heat.

This is Tom Grieve, ditching his 55-year legacy with the Texas Rangers to become Director of Fun for the Houston Astros.

Unlike those inconceivable turnabouts, this is ... real.

It's Dallas-Fort Worth radio patriarch Mike Rhyner, unretiring and clearing his Texas Radio Hall-of-Fame throat to become a "Freak" that will - unfathomably - compete for listeners against the dynasty he built at The Ticket.

Multiple radio industry sources have confirmed the shocking news that will add a third sports-talk station to the local landscape and force long-time listeners to reassess their loyalty: Rhyner is coming out of retirement to be the signature voice on a new 97.1 The Freak, which will replace DFW's heritage brand "The Eagle."

The Freak - featuring a lineup that sources say will include Rhyner, Eagle holdovers Ben Rogers and Jeff "Skin" Wade, former 105.3 The Fan host Jeff Cavanaugh and Ticket refugees Julie Dobbs and Mike Sirois - is expected to debut next week, likely Friday.

Rhyner, who abruptly ended his 40-year radio career by retiring from The Ticket on Jan. 6, 2020, hasn't responded to a text message to confirm the move. But he has been dropping hints on his social media.

On Friday he admitted to be " ... jonesin' to go on the air ... "

And Saturday he injected "freaks" into an invitation for followers to see his Tom Petty tribute band play at the Dallas pub, Lee Harvey's.

Cavanaugh responded with a coy nod to "freaky stuff."

THE FREAK

The new station's Ticketesque format - guy-talk anchored by sports but also delving into lifestyle and entertainment - means DFW will again have three sports talk-radio options.

Created by Rhyner in 1994, The Ticket has won numerous national Marconi awards and held a stranglehold on local ratings for almost 30 years. Other than a glitch in the matrix early in 2020, it has dominated the Cowboys flagship station (105.3 The Fan) and bullied 103.3 ESPN off the air in October 2020.

Save for a weird three-year walkabout in 2004-07 when it transformed into an oldies  station called "Sunny" and the Spanish "La Preciosa", KEGL 97.1 FM has been DFW's "Eagle" since Jan. 20, 1981. Through the years it's been powered by the likes of revered radio voices Stevens and Pruett, Moby, Russ Martin, Kidd Kraddick and Howard Stern.

The Eagle got into the sports game in 2021 when it became the flagship station of the Mavs (who had been at ESPN for 20 years). But as of Friday apparently The Eagle will be jettisoned, replaced by The Freak. According to a source, the station will continue to be the home of Mavs basketball.

According to domain records, 971TheFreak.com was purchased and registered Sept. 9.

Cavanaugh, who one source says will hosts mornings on The Freak, competed against Rhyner in the afternoon timeslot while with The Fan's GBag Nation. He left The Fan last February, explaining on Twitter that "I just don’t have the same love of doing the show every day that I once did and I want to find that again."

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While ESPN failed and The Fan remains a distant second fiddle to The Ticket, The Freak is implementing a drastically different game plan. While The Ticket is an Alabama dynasty that simply reloads year after year, The Freak is Bear Bryant coming back to coach Vanderbilt.

RHYNER'S RETURN

Expansion sports franchises don't often build teams around 72-year-olds. But Rhyner isn't merely some glory-be-gone graybeard. He's the founding father of one of the most successful and influential sports talk-radio stations in America.

He invented the guy-talk format at The Ticket that captivated DFW, revolutionized radio across the country, and made him an industry legend. Without uttering another syllable on-air, his name will eternally rest comfortably alongside groundbreaking Dallas radio personalities Ron Chapman, Glenn Mitchell, Gordon McLendon and Kraddick.

Rhyner shocked listeners - and even co-workers - when he announced his retirement on Jan. 6, 2020, same day the Cowboys hired coach Mike McCarthy.

“I don’t have to find my life’s work,” he said in a retirement video posted on Twitter. “This has been it, and I am damn proud of it."

But in retirement, Rhyner kept busy. Stayed visible. Even remained audible.

He launched a podcast called Mike Rhyner Is Your Dark Companion, interviewing local guests such as former Cowboys quarterback Troy Aikman. He narrated former Dallas Observer writer Jim Schutze's award-winning look at Dallas' uncomfortable history of race relations: The Accommodation. Last March on The Eagle he was a guest co-host on the Ben and Skin show. And he starred in his life's documentary - Not In This Town - during which he met face-to-face, for the first time in 13 years, with his original Ticket Hardline co-host, Greg Williams.

In the documentary Rhyner dramatically says at one point, "Never say never to anything."

He almost left The Ticket for the The Fan in 2009, saying the move was "very close." But when rumors of this return began being whispered last week, we responded with "won't believe it until we hear it."

But almost three years after leaving The Ticket, Rhyner is back. Playing - stunningly - for an opposing team.

In his documentary, Rhyner admits "I will miss it terribly ... if something comes along, great."

Enter, The Freak.

Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said last week he fears the Philadelphia Eagles. His flagship radio station will no longer have to contend with The Eagle, but now Rhyner and his new team of Freaks.


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