The joke began during the first stoppage in play in the second period of a late October game between the Dallas Stars and the Vancouver Canucks. After an icing call, Michael Gruber, the Stars’ music director, played “Photograph,” a song by Nickelback, the Canadian rock band whose music is probably best described as “divisive.” No one thought much of it at first. Then Gruber—known to most by his nickname, Grubes—played another Nickelback song. And another. And another.
“The third one, there’s just a groan,” Grubes says. It’s a couple of hours before a January game, and we’re talking from his perch behind the last row in section 110. He’s dressed in a green Stars watch cap, and with his red beard and short stature, he looks a little bit like a garden gnome. “And then, with each one, people start looking back at me: ‘What are you doing?’ ”
He continued playing only Nickelback songs for the remainder of the period—save for one. “Jason Danby [senior director of game presentation] suggested to end by going into an Avril Lavigne song, because she was married to the lead singer of Nickelback and all that,” Grubes says. “It got picked up, like, everywhere.”
CBS, Fox, SB Nation, and Yahoo!, among many others, all ran pieces about the stunt, and a national audience was introduced to Michael Gruber’s playful wit. It was overdue. In Dallas, he’s long been a cult hero in the sports world. A number of years ago, his father, lawyer G. Michael Gruber, was being honored at a downtown luncheon. The prominent litigator joked that, outside of a banquet room full of attorneys, most people knew him only as “Grubes’ dad.”
Grubes, 30, started as a high school intern at Sportsradio 1310 The Ticket in 2002 and eventually became the board operator for afternoon shows BaD Radio and The Hardline. There, he was beloved for his near-perfect deployment of “drops”—snippets of audio pulled from movies and TV and, especially, previous broadcasts, killer punchlines he tossed like grenades into each show. But his popularity never translated into money. So in 2012, Grubes left the station. “It wasn’t ideal to have to move back in with my parents five years after being full-time,” he says.
Grubes was hired by the Stars after the lockout-shortened 2012-2013 season. A forgiving audience full of Ticket listeners helped with a steep learning curve. “I had never run a sporting event before,” he says. “And I don’t know much about hockey.”
This season, he also became the DJ for Dallas Mavericks games, where he’s a more anonymous presence. But during every Stars game, he appears on the video board for a segment called “Killin’ It With Grubes,” a poll regarding which song fans don’t want to hear anymore. In October, after 10 straight Nickelback songs, the answer was clear.
“It ended up adding up to something like 190 percent,” he says.