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Arts & Entertainment

Brothers From Another Mother: Ben and Skin (Sort Of) In Their Own Words

Ben Rogers and Jeff "Skin" Wade have had the most unlikely rise to radio fame in Dallas history. Now they're ready for their next challenge: to overthrow Prestige Worldwide.
By Tim Rogers |
Elizabeth Lavin

Any full account of the spectacular rise of Ben “Kenobi” Rogers and Skinny “Skin” Wade to North Texas radio dominance during the weekday hours of 2 pm to 5 pm in the demographic of men aged 25 to 54 must necessarily begin on the storied hardwood of Richardson’s Huffhines Recreation Center.

It was there, in the early ’80s, that the two middle schoolers met and formed a friendship not unlike that of Ben and Jerry, or Mac Daddy and Daddy Mac, or Cagney and Lacey, a friendship that would take them to great heights, some of which were achieved, truth be told, with the aid of dank weed supplied by their friend Erykah Badu. But it all began with pickup basketball games at Huffhines Rec. Ben’s game was predicated on his sinewy thighs and his willingness to call the weakest of fouls. Skin relied on profanity.

BEN: This drunk narrator appears to know us. Although we supplied the underwhelming dank, and, bro, those were all extremely legitimate foul calls, bro.

SKIN: Are we sure it’s dank? I mean, if we’re talking Erykah, it’s likely she gave us herbal tea, and if someone was supplying someone else that good weed that long ago, how could anyone possibly remember any of those details? That’s like asking Dennis Hopper his favorite stories from the set of Easy Rider. And if you think that’s a dated reference, keep in mind that he started it by calling it “dank.”

BEN: Yo! I love, love, love me some Easy Slider!! They have that joint with the goat cheese and jelly, though. Burger nirvana, homie. Speaking of Nirvana, I heard your show sucks now that it’s on The Eagle. You just lost a listener.

It would be unfair to blame an entire suburb for Ben and Skin’s behavior, but living in Richardson must have really warped them. How else to explain why two parachute pants-wearing White boys started break-dancing at the rec center after those pickup games? And their teenage delusions didn’t end there. As they grew a bit older and began to feel their oats (and no doubt the effects of a few wine coolers), they would regularly excuse themselves from house parties to climb onto roofs, where, without the interference of whatever music the popular kids were enjoying inside, they would engage in freestyle rap battles. Their parents must have been so proud. It is worth noting that Ben was very focused around this time on a girl named Renee who happened to be dating Vanilla Ice. (Mr. Ice almost certainly could not be reached for comment.)

The Cure For Shingles: Skin with a high school friend on a roof, because roofs are great for freestyle rap battles.

SKIN: That was painful to read, as I very much remember wearing parachute pants and looking stupid and knowing I looked stupid but desperately clinging to the false notion that it made me cool. And I blame that on Richardson, too. Ben, how many dudes at your junior high would break out into the worm for no reason between classes?

BEN: We had more perms than worms. And I never met Robert Van Vanilla Winkle, but I do remember one day in 1988 when the loudass speakers of his magic mullet IROC-Z were rattling the windows of Lloyd V. Berkner’s classrooms as he posted up in the school parking lot. Not sure if he was there to steal my girl or if he just pulled over there to shave some new lines in his eyebrows. But rocking rooftop freestyles in the burbs with our buddy Chris Alvarez was the start of a miraculous journey. Fortunately for us, it happened in an era where none of it was captured on TikTok or Finfrock, whatever that hip weather app is called. Betting it was as uninspiring as an elevator fart.

Then something wonderful and also stupid happened their senior year of high school. Many years later, historians would look back at this development and suggest that it foreshadowed how the duo would one day find success. By this point, Ben’s thighs had entered and then far exceeded the “husky” classification, becoming a liability on the basketball court, and he’d failed to make a school team for several years, in part because coaches couldn’t find shorts that fit him. So he formed his own team called the Pelicans and signed up with the Spring Valley Athletic Association, a beloved city league whose mission is to “enrich the lives of children and their families by providing youth sports environments that are appropriate, organized, and enjoyable.” Ben made a mockery of this mission.

The Pelicans enlisted a fake coach, a kid who wore a suit to games and pretended to call plays. They provided halftime entertainment. After games, Ben would distribute flyers at school that brought news of Pelicans triumphs, with game recaps that included stats and quotes from players—all of it made up. Most crucially, he convinced Skin to quit playing actual competitive basketball and join the Pelicans, a huge signing at the time. Ben’s efforts drew sizable crowds of their classmates, who came to watch the high jinks and see Skin regularly hoist half-court shots during games. The Pelicans affair revealed Ben’s knack for marketing and Skin’s inclination to quit things that he should be doing and instead goof off.

SKIN: That’s an amazing assessment of what kind of happened. It eliminates all the sad parts of my teen years and repositions my terrible decisions as some sort of desire to be a fun-loving John Winger-styled antihero who loves exposing Coach Hulka to be the ass-clown that he truly was when I stopped playing for him in high school. I think I like this anonymous narrator. Where’d you find him, Ben?

Beats, Rhymes & Life: Ben and Skin’s first professional pairing was in a group called Suns of Sōl. They toured Texas with House of Pain, opened for Naughty by Nature, and helped introduce Erykah Badu to the music of The Roots.

BEN: Everything is lost until it’s found, Skin. John Kreese taught me that at a strip mall dojo in Garland when I couldn’t find the used nunchucks he sold me. I suppose that’s why he gets to wear those cool American flag-themed Hammer pants and go home to Starla every night. I wonder if that Pelicans newsletter really was the launch of my lifelong commitment to “self-serving misinformation distribution.” Coincidently, that’s also how I describe my marriage. By the way, the early college portion of this award-winning, groundbreaking “this is your life”-style super article about two guys who started at the bottom and, after a lot of hard work, finally ended up at the bottom will be crazy brief. I wasn’t ready for college at 18. I was dumber than a box of rubber hammers.

SKIN: All in due time, my friend. I mean, look at Rodney Dangerfield. He wasn’t ready for college until after his son finally sold Christine. Shout out to the Triple Lindy. And shout out to Dennis Miller and other rapid-fire reference bombardiers. Does Mr. Miller still work for the cable news channel with the slogan “self-serving misinformation distribution”? Whatever the case, he needs to get back on Monday Night Football with Witten and Boog. That’s my kinda party right there.

BEN: Speaking of partying, I wish I could say too much of it is why it took me a decade to get a college degree. “Bro, I just had too much fun in college to get through it quickly. My dudes called me Bluto. I used to smash guitars, wear a sweatshirt that said ‘college,’ and eat my way through the cafeteria line.” Actually, going full Belushi sounds terrible, too. I’ll stick with the truth of dropping out to chase an exceedingly unlikely rap career even though I look like John Goodman and have less talent than Salt Bae.

It is in everyone’s best interest to keep the account of Ben and Skin’s collegiate careers crazy brief. Skin racked up an impressive 1.3 GPA his first semester at UT Austin and wound up flunking out and returning to Richardson to live with his parents. He would later return to UT only so he could drop out. For his part, Ben distinguished himself by flunking out of Texas Tech, landing a job waiting tables with Skin at TGI Fridays to pay his parents back for the money they’d wasted on Tech, then getting fired from that job for giving Skin a free Bloomin’ Onion.

BEN: Actually, we were below-average waiters together at the Chili’s in Richardson, off Spring Valley and 75. I think I got fired for giving Skin a free broccoli and cheese soup one day after his shift. But it might have been because I missed 17 consecutive mandatory meetings. In those days, I was mostly known for my uniquely underwhelming and extremely mediocre efforts in all things. But I have always loved Chili’s. Like, true love. I greatly appreciate the freedom of the Triple Dipper.

SKIN: Chili’s was a great experience because it was the first time I ever heard queso referred to as “schlock.” Actually, that had no merit whatsoever, come to think of it. We did, however, have a fellow waiter recommend Ruben Ayala and Goodnight Audio as a place to record music, which was the catalyst for what would become a legacy of perfectly average rap music we would record over the next five or six years.

Ben and Skin have been together so long that they probably have a common-law marriage in several states.

If you have seen Straight Outta Compton or Coal Miner’s Daughter, then this storyline will sound familiar: two White suburban guys decide that they don’t want to lead the lives their parents have so neatly laid out for them because rooftop freestyle rapping is where their true passions lie, so they form a band called Suns of Sōl (later to become Sōl Chili MCs, because obviously that sounds way cooler) and live in an apartment in the Village paid for by a friend’s mom who had every intention of investing serious money in the band’s own record label, but as things spiraled into a disorganized mess, the mom wisely stopped coming through with the dough. It’s a cliché.

Rewind back to the Chili’s days for a moment. Skin had started writing for a local music magazine called Vibe and in that capacity met a fellow named Baby G who had won the DMC World DJ Championships. This contest was traditionally dominated by DJs from New York and Los Angeles, but Baby G hailed from Irving, a very big deal indeed. He gave Ben and Skin entrée to the Dallas hip-hop scene, introducing them to his “homies” and “dawgs,” including but not limited to members of the Decadent Dub Team, which later gave rise to Shabazz 3; the New Brigade, which became Skwod X; and Mad Flava, all household names that performed East Coast-influenced, De La Soul-style hip-hop—if your household is a Village apartment where people hang out and smoke weed till the wee hours in a regular freestyle rap session that came to be called The Session and got so big that it had to be moved to a Lower Greenville club. That’s where Erica Wright (aka Erykah Badu) was introduced to the music of a group whose name you’ll recognize if your household watches The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon. They are called The Roots, and she would later work with them.

At this point in the Ben and Skin biopic titled Too White to Fail, which should be made with an investment from that friend’s mom, there would be a car chase to a dearly departed bar called the Regal Beagle (which became a Central Market) and a montage of Ben and Skin touring Texas with House of Pain. The montage would end with a scene of Skin working two turntables at a club packed with a thousand people in the old European Crossroads, with Ben and a real-life husband-and-wife rap act called Husband and Wife opening for the group Naughty by Nature. Everything except the car chase would be true.

SKIN: I grew impatient reading that last part, but those days spent in the Village with Sissy Spacek were amazing. And at the end of that stretch, I had nothing left but debt and a kick-ass record collection. Something needed to change. Aside from my personal hygiene, which is still an ongoing struggle. I forgot what happened next. Did you trade the Three J’s or something?

BEN: Not exactly sure, but I don’t trust movies without kick-ass car chases—or a character Kurt Russell desperately wants to play. F these guys. They sound lame. That said, it was during our Village years that I was my absolute fattest. We lived too close to that damn McDonald’s on Southwestern, with way too many munchies-enhancing smoke clouds circulating. With our chances of making it in the music industry drowning in both sobering reality and pungent bongwater, this sad chapter of our story was most certainly a hopeless exploration of rock bottom.

If you thought the foregoing sounded like our heroes had hit rock bottom, you thought wrong. The true nadir came when Ben found himself selling shoes at the Nine West in Collin Creek Mall and a former high school classmate came in with two women for Ben to shod.

BEN: A real-life Al Bundy. The ship had hit the iceberg, and I was truthfully humiliated. It seemed futile to even dream of potentially acceptable outcomes to my troubled journey. Every bad decision I’d made along the way had finally come home to roost in the form of an unlikable, 5-foot-4 mini Brian Bosworth with spiked blond tips and two gorgeous, shoe-seeking supermodels towering over him on each arm. He mocked me that day in a way that pierced my inner soul. It almost killed me.

SKIN: Well, man, you know what they say: “Humiliation that feels like death can only make you stronger.” Actually, nobody ever said that. It’s cool, though. Actually, it’s not cool. Not cool at all. Man, that sucked. Just terrible. This is the saddest story I’ve ever half paid attention to. When does it get good?

Things started to suck less and get good in 2001. By then, Ben had earned a degree from UNT and gotten a job selling airtime at K-Star 49, a TV channel whose daytime programming included reruns of The Andy Griffith Show and The A-Team, which led into Dallas Mavericks games at night. One day in a meeting with his boss, Ben learned that the station needed two minutes filled in the Mavericks pregame show. He happened to know a former rapper named Skin “Wade” who was then studying beer at UNT and who thought he’d become a screenwriter but who probably had a schedule flexible enough to fill two minutes of airtime prior to a basketball game.

The Ben and Skin Show crew, with Krystina Ray and Kevin Turner.

“Fine,” Ben’s boss told him. “The two minutes are yours. But don’t do anything silly. No jokes or gags.” Ben agreed and then did a two-minute pregame show with Skin that was filled with jokes and gags and wigs and silly characters. His boss was pissed, but his boss’s boss, the legendary Rick Mills, loved it. That sounds good, right?

Mark Cuban bought the Mavericks in 2000 and eventually sold the team’s broadcast rights to CBS Channel 11, and Ben, too, went to the station, where he’d one day earn a major award for being the best salesperson in the market. Skin, meanwhile, had a vendetta against Wally Lynn, the man who did the postgame Mavericks show on 1310 The Ticket. Ben and Skin replaced Lynn, and in their first few weeks on the air, they clashed with Cuban, an incident that the pair would prefer we not delve into too deeply, seeing as how Skin is today the third man in the booth on Mavericks TV broadcasts, with Derek Harper and Mark Followill. But delve we must.

Skin had critical words to say about Shawn Bradley’s skills as a professional basketball player after Tyson Chandler, then playing for the Chicago Bulls, blew by the Mavs center for a dunk. Cuban called into the show, and there ensued a 45-minute argument about Bradley’s merits as a player, after which Cuban called The Ticket’s management to express his displeasure. Management, not knowing the finer points of basketball, summoned radio legend Norm Hitzges to adjudicate. After listening to a recording of the Bradley argument, Hitzges declared: “If you ditch these guys, you’ll be doing it because they were right.”

Only a little bit of narrative compression gets us to the year 2008, when Ben and Skin had been doing weekends and fill-in work at The Ticket for too long. Every show on that station was No. 1 in its demographic and under a long-term contract. So when a duo called Pugs and Kelly walked out at Live 105.3 because, among other reasons, they weren’t enjoying the antics of a co-worker named Russ Martin, whose show followed theirs, Ben and Skin applied for the spot.

It would be unfair to blame an entire suburb for Ben and Skin’s behavior, but living in Richardson must have really warped them.

The hiring manager, Gavin Spittle, was unfamiliar with the Pelicans or the Sōl Chili MCs or even the guys’ work on The Ticket. So they showed him a copy of D Magazine, which that year had named Ben and Skin the best columnists in the city for their work in a now-defunct publication called Quick. Their column was called “Hot Potato Salad,” and in it they traded remarks, like two freestyle rappers riffing in a text exchange on current events and pop-culture references. That D Magazine honor landed them their first full-time radio jobs. With two kids in diapers, Ben took a $100,000 pay cut to once again mix it up with his middle-school buddy.

SKIN: I can’t believe you gambled your family’s whole future because you were emboldened by a fake award we received from a magazine that no one had ever heard of and was on its last legs back then. No way that thing is still around. And we’re currently having our time wasted by an elaborate Zac Crain prank, but it is fun to pretend that some of this is true. Pugs is a terrible radio name. It’s barely better than Skin. But you, sir, have always been willing to go for it. Just like the protagonist in an ’80s teen sex comedy. Damn, those things have aged well, haven’t they?

BEN: Few movies age well, Skin. Except Teen Wolf, Cannonball Run, and most of the critically acclaimed Emmanuelle in Space series. As day-one P1s, working at The Ticket was a Christmas miracle. Thank God we were able to successfully blackmail Mark “Friedo” Friedman into a few minor on-air looks. Pretty remarkable that we somehow turned a Mavs postgame show on The Ticket into an actual career in radio. It’s like the Hail Mary if Staubach and Pearson were wearing blindfolds. And ball gags. And roller skates. While juggling chain saws.

It is truly mind-boggling to account for the number of radio stations for which Ben and Skin have broadcast a program. Let us not forget that once upon a time they hosted a show called Basketball Jones on 1190. From there, we jump to The Ticket; Live 105.3; ESPN 103.3; back to 105.3, which by then had changed its name to The Fan; and finally to 97.1 The Eagle. So let’s call it, conservatively, 24 different radio stations that have employed the couple. Is there anything else worth noting in this climb to dominance of North Texas airwaves? Yes, there is. Tom Bigby, who is now dead, was wrong about everything. The executive at 105.3 at one point wanted to call the show Rogers and Wade, which sounds almost as awesome as Rizzoli & Isles.

BEN: Bigby was a notorious corporate media villain who was basically a cross between Jabba the Hutt, Darth Vader, and the sarlacc from the Great Pit of Carkoon on Tatooine. Kind of a giant butthole with teeth. By the way, do the ladies dig all this super sexy in-depth Star Wars talk? Asking for my wife. Regardless, this was a harsh introduction to how badly East Coast radio suits can screw up a good thing.

SKIN: All that Star Wars talk reminded me of the best segment we ever did at ESPN. The one in which we fully fielded both sides of the ball with Star Wars characters. Boba Fett as a safety. Chewie as a tight end. And then of course the countless hours after those segments spent in the program director’s office explaining why we did that instead of rehashing some tired-ass Colin Cowherd audio that corporate in Bristol, Connecticut, loved. That was the moment where I was convinced we were destined to be radio nomads. Like Obi-Wan after Anakin was flipped. Flip ya forreal.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is a Thelonious Monk reference by way of The Usual Suspects. If you’re curious about The Ben and Skin Show, which in February celebrated its one-year anniversary on The Eagle, that’s what it sounds like. It sounds like two guys who grew up together, who have spent 20 years learning how to broadcast together, and who are now enjoying the best ratings they’ve ever had. Oh, and they own a brewery in Celina called Rollertown Beerworks that makes a great kolsch called Big German. Plus, we need to mention Krystina Ray and Kevin Turner; it wouldn’t be a radio show without them. And how do we address the untimely February death of Russ Martin, the radio legend whose show followed yours at The Eagle?

SKIN: The passing of Russ was jarring and knocked everyone off balance. As you can tell, we’ve been on a wild journey to get to a place where we could finally do the type of stupid-ass-let’s-do-donuts-on-the-iced-over-parking-lot-for-three-hours show that we’ve always wanted to do and do it alongside the type of North Texas radio legend that pioneered that style. But nothing is guaranteed in this world, so we just hope that KT and Krystina don’t quit the show to do full-time sports talk now that Dak has finally signed.

BEN: Which one is KT? All I can say is this is the most fun I’ve ever had doing this stupid radio show—even though it’s on an iconic radio station that’s featured courageous codpiece-wearing radio super-gladiators like Howard Stern, Kidd Kraddick, and Russ Martin. It’s a lot of pressure, which is why my teeth are always clenched. But we’re digging leading into Dan, Clo, and Alfie, and we don’t think there’s anything quite like the complete fun package being delivered to Dallas listeners in that five-hour stretch from 2 to 7 on The Mighty Eagle. It’s a laugh riot. Immediately followed by Quiet Riot. Feel the noize, humble narrator.

This story is all freaking amazing. Truly innovative. Bravo, sir.

SKIN: Thank you, Ben.

This story originally appeared in the May issue of D Magazine with the headline “Brothers From Another Mother.” Write to [email protected].

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