We’re all eager to know what Mike Rhyner is going to do now that he is no longer a daily mouthpiece on the sports radio yak fest The Ticket, which in itself is a bit titillating seeing that Rhyner doesn’t know either. He says he’ll tell us when he tells himself, and who knows when that will be. Tomorrow? Next month? Year? Ever? But that’s typical Rhyner, right, the guy whose view strays so far outside the box it’s almost an insult to say his thought process is in any way similar to folks like you and me.
I got a sense of that while listening to his radio banter over the years and again the other day while speaking with him by phone, and once again when Crystal Vasquez brought me up to speed on her documentary about the UTA alumnus. Vasquez, who grew up in Arlington, began the documentary after having digested all things Rhyner and talking to pretty much everyone who had circled or are still circling his orbit. In the doc’s trailer you can catch longtime sports voice Brad Sham saying of Rhyner, “I don’t think there’s ever been anyone in the market, in sports radio, ever, who has had the impact that Mike has had because he completely understood the medium, his audience, and how to put them together.”
The Ticket in its infancy was indeed a way station of sports tête-à-tête, and Sham was right about Rhyner’s uncanny way of stretching a medium by combining Barber Shop banter with sports and virile philosophical ethos.
Vasquez’s challenge: how do you capture that on film?
First, she was quick to share the story of meeting Rhyner, and on his turf, no less, which is a little like staring down a lion in a wide-open field – nowhere to run or hide.
“Quite frankly,” Vasquez tells me, “he scared the hell out of me.”
Vasquez, who had worked as a sports reporter with Fox 4 after graduating from the University of North Texas, was doing fill-in traffic work for The Ticket when Rhyner walked in. “Hello,” he growled. “Who are you?” Vasquez doesn’t remember much after that. Except, “I wanted to get out of that room as soon as possible.”
Rhyner was known for his cantankerous nature, a straight-shooter who even then reminded you of someone who didn’t give a . . . – for the most part, he didn’t, and it’s clear that is one superpower he has over everyone else.
So it was when Vasquez heard about Rhyner’s retirement, in January, that she quickly met with him in early March to discuss his interest. As Rhyner heard her spiel, his first thought was: “Really? You want to do a documentary? On me?”
“My whole idea was that this would be viewed by most as another radio hack walking away from the gig,” Rhyner says. “It might have a life of, maybe 12 to 24 hours in the news cycle. I just didn’t think it would be much a of a big deal to anyone.”
Rhyner knew he’d have to talk about life beyond radio – his life growing up in Oak Cliff, for example. Vasquez accompanied Rhyner to his old stumping grounds, which brought up all sorts of memories. “That’s the idea,” Vasquez says. “We want to see who Mike Rhyner really is.”
Now we’ll get to see who Crystal Vasquez is, too. We ought to point out that her dad “wanted a little boy,” so her early years were spent watching sports, mainly the Chicago Bulls, Orlando Magic, the 49ers and Cowboys. “I was living on the wrong side of the country,” she says of when her military dad was stationed in the Bay Area. “My dad was a big Cowboys fan. I was a Cowboys fan by product of my allegiance to him.”
They settled in Arlington when dad was stationed in Fort Worth. Much like Rhyner, she’s something of a risk taker.
“I just respected the way he went against the status quo,” says Vasquez, whose next step in the process is finding a distribution partner for the documentary. “He did things the market had never seen. He just went in and said, well, if it fails, it fails, but I’m going to do what I think will not fail.”
Same mindset for Vasquez, which explains why she and Rhyner hit it off.
“I’ve seen her in action and she works her (butt) off,” Rhyner says. “She’s good and driven, and I’m just impressed with how she’s taken on this with both feet in. I like that.”