Ron Smith, who came to Baltimore 38 years ago as a weekend TV anchorman but found his greatest success on radio as WBAL’s “Voice of Reason,” died Monday night of pancreatic cancer at his home in Shrewsbury, Pa.. He was 70.
Mr. Smith spent more than 26 years on WBAL’s airwaves, most of it in the afternoon drive-time period until a move to mornings last year, passionately talking politics from a conservative point of view. But it is not his politics for which he will likely be remembered as much as the informed conversation he helped create on Baltimore radio–and the way he publicly shared his final days with listeners of WBAL and readers of The Baltimore Sun.
On Nov. 28, after continuing on-air for more than two months despite having been diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer that had metastasized throughout his body, Mr. Smith signed off at the 50,000-watt news-talk station for the last time in his signature straightforward, no-nonsense, radio style.
“I’m retiring,” the former Marine said in a live broadcast. “I basically can no longer do it. I’m getting weaker every day, and it’s time to pull the plug. I’m just not up to it. So, you have to face that kind of thing. Basically, the curtain is coming down right now. I’m bidding everyone a very fond farewell.”
Clarence Mitchell IV, a colleague at WBAL, says that while he always admired Mr. Smith as a talk-show host, he was in awe of the public and powerful way that Mr. Smith handled his final days.
“The dignity and the manner with which Ron Smith has dealt with his illness, sharing it with his audience and the world, has really gained the respect of everyone who has followed his travail,” Mr. Mitchell said. “Since the understanding of his illness in the last few weeks and months of his life, he has gone out more gloriously as a man than he even was a talk-show host.”
Mr. Smith was a very good radio host, according to Towson University Professor Richard Vatz.
“Ron Smith, simply put, was the best radio talk-show host I have ever known,” said Mr. Vatz. “I can sum up even as brilliant and well-informed a talk-show host as Ron in a sentence: He hated insipid conversation. What are the qualities at which he excelled? Knowledgeability and lack of deception. He never faked knowing something he didn’t know.”
An estimated 120,000 listeners a week tuned in to Mr. Smith–an audience that put WBAL among the top five stations in the market during his weekday show right up to his sign-off.
The way the Baltimore community reached out to Mr. Smith since he announced his diagnosis of cancer on-air made him feel “very lucky,” his wife said.
“Ron thought it was just great that he got to read and hear his eulogies in recent weeks,” she said Monday night. “Ron’s comment on all the recognition: ‘My life has been completely ratified by affirmation. If there were a referendum on it, it would have won resoundingly.'”
[Editor’s Note: Ron Smith’s May 2011 interview with Jared Taylor is available here.]