He was also a frequent listener and caller to the city's only talk radio station at the time. Eventually, he became a host there himself. Of course, talk radio offered modest pay back then. So in the '70s, Boortz earned a law degree. His legal work continued into the '90s, even while he was becoming the town's "top talker." Among his clients were luminaries such as heavyweight boxing champ Evander Holyfield. Finally, in the late '90s, Boortz moved his act to the South's radio giant, WSB. That brought him national syndication.
So why is Neal Boortz's story important to you and me? And what has this story to do with "Mr. Holland's Opus?" Read on.
Unlike many entertainers and celebrities, the off-the-air Boortz is in fact shy and unassuming. He seems an unlikely candidate to become the handpicked protege of any powerful media mogul. Instead, he personifies the dreams of many Americans. They may know what they want, but they face what look like impossible obstacles to reach them.
When Boortz went from talk-show listener to talk-show talker, it was in a modest media market -- and a Southern culture -- that wasn't used to "bluntspeak" like his. Even today, some radio station managers ignorantly pigeonhole him as a "Southern talk show host" and deprive their listeners of hearing one of the best minds and mouths on the air.
Unlike many conservative stars of talk, Boortz toes no party's line. He challenges listeners with facts, figures and the ruthless logic he learned as a lawyer. He loves to verbally joust with those who call in to disagree. He also lets his executive producer and his engineer-sidekick help to keep him in check by challenging him in a sort of freestyle banter. This formula has allowed Boortz to irritate some of the biggest names from both the left and the right. He calls it "stirring the pudding."
The high school teacher in "Opus" finally got to see his musical score performed live. This weekend, some of the biggest names in the talk radio business are gathering to celebrate the "music" created by Neal Boortz. I could argue that his 2005 New York Times-bestselling book about the "Fair Tax" was his magnum opus. But in reality, it may be the award he's to receive itself that culminates his career.
For those who cherish liberty and free speech; the right and the ability to say what's really on their minds; and the scrappy persistence to skillfully do one's job, the celebration of "Mr. Boortz's Opus" means more than honoring this one man.