For my money, the single most talented voice in the modern history of talk radio is retiring later this month. Not "one of" the most talented -- the most talented.
Neal Boortz began his career in radio while in college at Texas A&M, but his long stint in commercial radio started as one of the many individuals he would, over the years to follow, continually cut off: opinionated callers. Boortz in the late 1960s was a frequent caller to a local Atlanta talk show, and when the host died unexpectedly, he went from brash caller to brash host.
But Boortz's rise to the Radio Hall of fame (he was inducted in 2009) was not a jump from one rising radio market to another. Nor was it, for a good many years, all that lucrative. The truth is that Boortz, who dubbed himself everything from "The Talkmaster" to "Mighty Whitey" is an extremely shy and introspective person. In large gatherings, unless forced to, he will cling to the perimeter of a room away from others. In private, he is known to be extremely polite and unassuming. So now Boortz's cover is blown.
And while Boortz's politics of Libertarian mixed in with a large dose of conservative Republican leanings can sometimes be interpreted more as harsh and tough than most who have such large stages on radio, the man who will soon retire from his top-10 position among talk radio hosts is quite the opposite.
Always a soft touch for those in tough spots, Neal Boortz often quietly put his money and time where his mouth was not. He raised funds for the hungry, gave private donations to kids needing toys for Christmas, helped out many a family who had lost a spouse and had children to feed and mortgages to pay. Boortz never let most folks know of this "softer side" because, on the air, he was truly what I would term the personification of "intelligent chaos."
It was chaos because over the many years leading to his syndication in 1999, and certainly thereafter, Boortz would utter just about whatever came into his mind. He constantly called public schools "government schools," deriding their quality and calling them "tax-funded child abuse." He put just about everyone and everything in his target, ranging from Islamic extremists to Southerners devoted to the Confederate flag. He was, as he proudly proclaimed, an equal opportunity offender.
But what made Neal Boortz the best to ever preside over the phenomenon America now identifies as "talk radio" was his razor-sharp mind and equally sharp wit.
Boortz was trained as a lawyer and spent many of his years prior to syndication working hours both as a practicing attorney and radio personality. And the skills he honed as an attorney helped him slice and dice issues and those who dared to challenge him on air like few others could. Like a good trial attorney, Boortz would present his case, always with facts. And one slip-up by a would-be opponent, one lack of "evidence" for their statement, even one mispronounced word could lead to sudden death invoked by what his critics considered the talk show equivalent of Seinfeld's famed "Soup Nazi."
Then there was the humor. Over the years, too many people, including some big names in the media, mistook Boortz's style of, as he called it, "stirring the pudding" as being "vicious." The truth was, to those who listened daily, it was clear that Boortz often had his tongue firmly implanted in his check, pushing the limits of what he could say and mock.
None was funnier than his homage to indecipherable "street talk," as Boortz and his late Associate Producer Royal Marshall played a news interview from the shooting of a man (who survived, I might note) by the name of "Boo." The witness's sentences are virtually impossible to understand, but Marshall provided a "street talk" interpretation with the same deadpan perfection of a U.N. interpreter.
A quick online search will find the bit all over the Web, and it is hilarious.
The brightest, brashest and best voice of our time leaves talk radio at the height of his game just before a second term for President Obama. Those who were his loyal listeners will miss his daily dose of "intelligent chaos." To put it in more personal terms, and snatching a theme from the late humorist Lewis Grizzard, "Boo got shot ... and I'm not so happy myself." Your fans will miss you, Mr. Boortz.