Sports talk radio duo Ben & Skin's wild ride across the airwaves of DFW
Jeff "Skin" Wade, co-host of the "Ben and Skin" show on KRLD/105.3 FM "The Fan," tells a story about the advantages of having a sports-talk show on the Dallas Cowboys' flagship station.
"I was on vacation in the Caribbean with my wife on a beach," he says. "I said something to my wife and a guy 10 feet from me turns to me and says, 'Are you Skin Wade?'" Wade says. "I said yes and he said, 'I listen to you guys on the internet. I’m from New York.' That’s an example of who the Cowboys are and what their reach is."
Ben Rogers, Wade's co-host and longtime friend, can top that.
"My brother was living in China, and he flew my brother and I over there," he says. "Then we went mountain biking in Nepal, and we are in the most remote place I have ever been to, looking at the base of Mount Everest. We are standing there talking and a guy comes over and asks, “Are you Ben from 'Ben and Skin?'
"So I asked him, 'Would you say that louder so that my brothers can hear you?' So my brother was like, 'Are you kidding me, is this really happening?'”
Rogers, who also credits being recognized to the Cowboys' reach, and Wade have known each other since seventh grade, when they met while playing basketball at the Huffines Recreation Center in Richardson. Football and the Cowboys may have helped them become world famous, but it was basketball that played a big role in vaulting them into the DFW sports-media world, where they have had shows on all three major sports-radio stations. But it was on TV where they got their start.
Both graduated from the University of North Texas and were working day jobs when Rogers was able to get them a shot at an on-air pre-game spot before the Dallas Mavericks telecasts on what was then "K-Star 49" (KSTR/Channel 49).
When Mark Cuban purchased the Mavericks in 2000 and moved the team to a different TV station for the next season, Rogers and Wade parlayed their TV show run into a show on (now-defunct) FOX Sports Radio 1190 AM station, which in turn led to their being named hosts of the Mavs post-game show on the KTCK/1310 AM "The Ticket."
That was the beginning of a wild ride that saw the "Ben & Skin" show join a select group of personalities who have hosted shows on all three of the Dallas-Fort Worth all-sports stations.
Ben & Skin discussed their time in the Dallas-Fort Worth sports media stratosphere, where they have tangled with Mark Cuban, chatted with President George W. Bush, and had a show on KESN/103.3 FM as well as the Ticket and 105.3 -- and have sometimes been on the same station more than once.
The two of you actually started in TV before you worked your way around the DFW sports radio dial. How did that come about?
Ben: I graduated from high school in 1989, college in 1999, and I’m not a doctor. A friend of the family told me about selling television advertising, which is a great job for a “C” student, and I started looking around and found out about this new station called KSTAR 49 that was using a new broadcast model with only sales operations in different cities. The parent company was buying rights to sports entities, but they were having a real skinny production element by showing reruns of "The Andy Griffith Show” and “The Rockford Files” around their sports. So there was a gap that we needed to fill between the game, and since I was writing the “Rogers Report” on the Mavs for the station's website, I told the boss, Rick Mills, that I have this guy named Skin that knows basketball inside and out, let us have this, it’ll be awesome. He actually kicked me out of the office, then called me like five minutes later and we talked about what it would be like, and he actually gave us our shot with a one-show tryout and that’s how it all started. Mr. Mills liked it and we ended up finishing out the season.
How did you end up breaking in to the sports-talk radio side of things?
Skin: We had a weekly radio show on FOX Sports Radio 1190 called “Basketball Jones.” It was on Thursday nights, and we caught a break because we were on the air when the Nick Van Exel-Raef LaFrentz trade went down between the Mavs and the Nuggets and a lot of people discovered our show that day. We did that for about a year, but pretty much the second we got on, Ben was reaching out to the Ticket because that was where we wanted to be. I wasn’t thinking of this as a career, I was thinking “cool, I get to talk about the Mavericks somewhere.”
Ben: When the Ticket first came on [in 1994], I was like, “Wow, these guys are cool, they’re musicians, they know about sports, but they talk about life,” and I can remember at the time I was working at a business-card factory where they cut the cards and we could go deliver them all day. My route involved going to Mesquite and Garland all the time, and I listened to the Ticket all day long. I thought to myself, “This is it, I want to do this! How do you do this? How do you get this job?” That’s when I fell in love with the medium. I was all about goofing off and talking sports, and I fell in love with that genre during that job. We blew up Friedo [Mark Friedman], who was the assistant [program director] at the Ticket, and he got us a meeting with the program director Bruce Gilbert. 1190 was dying, it was barely holding on, and he ended up hiring us [at the Ticket] to do the Mavs post-game show.
Skin: I remember not knowing that we were going to get paid for it, and I couldn’t believe it when they gave us money to talk about the Mavericks. After about two months, they started letting us fill in for "The Rant" on Saturday mornings. It was around the time where Gordo [Gordon Keith] was contemplating quitting the show every week, so we started getting the fourth Saturday of every month, and then six months in, we started getting fill-in work. When "The Rant ended, we were on every Saturday from noon to 2 p.m..
Ben: Within our first two weeks of hosting the Mavs post-game show, Cuban called in. Now, I’m the sales guy, I like to create relationships and beat down doors, while Skin is the brains of our operation, he is a beast. So Cuban calls in and he is mad about something we said on the show.
Skin: I remember exactly. I’m on the air destroying Shawn Bradley, the phone rings and the producer tells us that Cuban is on the line. So we were like “Yeah! Cuban’s listening!” Now at that time, Cuban was a young owner and he had rabbit ears. He had left the arena, was listening to us and called in to tell me that I didn’t know what I was talking about.
Ben: So me being the sales guy, I’m nervous and Skin is not backing down one bit. He’s going toe-to-toe with Cuban and it seemed like an eternity. It was an awesome discussion and they’re both landing their blows.
Skin: It was 45 minutes without a commercial.
Ben: That was the first time I had heard anyone go at it with Cuban, and I think Cuban respected it. My favorite part about how that evolved was Cuban would have an invitation-only media get-together once a year and we got invited. We were new to the sports-media scene. Not many knew who we were, but after that first heated call-in, we had a cool relationship with Mark, and he seemed to always have our back from that point on.
You were on 105.3 before it was a sports station, right?
Ben: There was no place in the lineup for us at the Ticket because every show was No. 1 and all the hosts had long-term contracts, so we actually left to go to [then-talk station] Live 105.3 and do a non-sports talk show that would feature pop culture, comedy and parody songs. Two months or so after we arrived [in 2008], there was a format change, and we ended up being moved into the time slot where [top-rated host] Russ Martin had been prior to the change to sports.
Skin: We flipped on Dec. 15, they brought in a new guy to run things within the CBS family, and me and Ben did not get along with him at all. It was a grind. We started at 105.3 on August, the format flipped Dec. 15 and we did our last show on July 4. Brian Purdy, he’s the top guy over there, he saw what was going on and was kind enough to let us out of our contract, and at that point, Friedo was working at ESPN, we had kept in touch, and he said he thought we would be a great fit there.
Ben: That was a tumultuous time, like, “Hey, welcome to the business.” We replaced a beloved show [Martin's] and were suddenly going against the guys we loved and idolized and it was such a crazy time. This new guy wanted to change our name to “Rogers & Wade” and threatened to split us up and make us do overnights with one of us in at midnight and the other at 4 a.m. Before our show, we would have to present our topics to him, and he would shoot down 90 percent of them. He wouldn’t let us talk Mavs during the NBA playoffs after Skin had been added to the Mavs television broadcast, and another time, we had [then-Texas Ranger] Josh Hamilton on hold, and he wouldn’t let us take the call and put him on the air. It felt like he was purposely torturing us and toying with us. It was the most miserable I've ever been in my entire life.
Skin: There was a time when we were down in San Antonio for the playoffs and I saw [ESPN host and Star-Telegram columnist] Randy Galloway and he told me, “We need you guys over with us.” I wasn’t sure that Randy knew who we were, but that was an amazing feeling. I mean we were in hell, falling into this abyss and to have Galloway say that made us feel so different about things.
Ben: Brian Purdy was great, and I would run through a wall for that guy. He wanted us to stay, but understood what was going on and that we were going through something we didn’t sign up for. While people were blogging and saying we got fired, we showed up our last day and brought him a case of wine as a thank you. This saint of a man essentially dug us a tunnel out of Shawshank Prison by releasing us form our deal, which is unheard of in our industry. We'll be eternally grateful.
So you end up on local ESPN Radio?
Ben: At ESPN, we were completely removed from the things we'd fallen in love with about sports-talk radio. Although we were still living the dream by working in radio, it wasn't ideal, as they wanted us to talk 99 percent sports. We also love talking pop culture, music, movies, etc. -- so we were a bit suffocated by their playbook. It wasn't exactly what we wanted to do, but we loved working with Friedo and it wasn't the worst thing in the world. And it was like winning the lottery compared to where we had just been.
Skin: When we were at ESPN, during a 13-month period, we went to every single game home and away for two World Series runs with an NBA championship sandwiched in between, and our show picked up so many listeners during that time period with all of that excitement. That 13-month period, and the fact that we were associated with those successes, in my opinion is a big reason that we are still on the air.
Ben: And at the time, in my worst opinion ever, I dubbed the Mavs the “One and Done Boys,” saying they would get bounced in the first round, and then I’m with Skin on the team plane traveling to the games as they made their finals run. When they hand Cuban the trophy in Miami, the first thing he says is “They called us the 'One and Done Boys'!” and I was like, “What a great legacy I’ve made for myself.” But I agree with Skin that was an epic run for our show.
Skin: Then there ended up being a lot of decisions being made in Bristol [ESPN corporate headquarters in Connecticut] and not local, so when our contract was up we were not going to sign the new contract under the new terms they were offering. We would have been happy to stay under the previous deal, but that was not an option.
Ben: Our last day at ESPN, our last guest was Mark Cuban. He came up to the station on a mission and said, “I want to be your last guest and I want to be in studio.” So the last thing you heard on our air was him saying our partner ESPN is making a terrible decision by not picking up this show. He’s fighting for us on his flagship station. We had come a long way from the early days of the Mavs post-game show on the Ticket.
Did you immediately land back at the Fan?
Ben:: We were back out on the street and had to sit through our second non-compete in a three-and-a-half-year span. It was scary financially as we each had young families. Our wives both deserve awards for staying supportive during that insanity. We were both probably risking too much at that point, but we believe in ourselves and knew we were close. Instead of hanging it up, we rolled the dice one more time and hoped someone would give us an opportunity to do the show we'd always wanted to do. [Program director] Gavin Spittle had just returned to 105.3 The Fan and thankfully was willing to gamble on us a second time.
Of all of the big-name guests you’ve had on your show over the years, is there one that stands out?
Skin: We had President George W. Bush on when they did the Bush Library’s “History of Presidents Throwing Out the First Pitch.” They gave us the rundown of what we could and couldn’t say, and we had him for 10 minutes. You think about presidents and the burden they carry around with them, and at the end, President Bush says, “Skin, can I ask you a question?” I was like the president just addressed me by my nickname. He wanted to know how I got the nickname Skin, and I told him that it stuck from being short for "Skinny" from when I was a teenager, and he said “OK.”
Ben: I’ve found over the years that people take tremendous joy in celebrating my most humiliating moments. In that interview in particular, right before Skin’s glorious moment, I had been prepping for the interview and was told that when [Bush] was one of the Rangers' owners that he had learned Spanish to interact with players like Juan Gonzalez. So I thought I was going to ask this really smart question, and his response was a simple “No” and then three seconds of dead air. Examples of a failed life and a charmed life.
How do you manage to stay humble with a job like this that so many people wish they could have?
Ben: Our identity is not our job. I could get fired tomorrow and be back at a cubicle doing sales. I don’t have an ego about this job. It’s a fun, roller-coaster ride that has taken us on these amazing adventures, and we have been humbled a million times getting here. There’s no part of me that thinks it’s time to be arrogant.
Skin: I also think that we both realize that we have really fun lives and there’s no reason to not enjoy it. People come up to us and tell us that they enjoy what we are doing, and that’s a great feeling.
Ben: We hit the job lottery. It wasn’t that long ago that I was selling women’s shoes or watching a guy get his thumb cut off in a ceiling-fan factory, so I think that is always in the back of my mind. We love where we are right now. KT [producer Kevin "KT" Turner] is the most talented producer on the planet. I've never seen anyone work harder in our business. He and Shippy [Jonathon Shipman] are hilarious and bring a youthful element to our show. At the end of the day, we are just fortunate and are truly grateful. It’s a gift.
Follow Jay Betsill on Twitter at @TheFamousJay