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Ron Smith announces retirement from WBAL airwaves

Veteran WBAL radio host Ron Smith announced on-air Monday that he is in home hospice and will no longer appear on air.

"The decision has been made by me to stop appearing on the radio show," Smith said just before the start of his show, which begins at 9 a.m.

"I'm retiring," Smith continued. "I basically can no longer do it. I'm getting weaker every day, and it's time to pull the plug. How's that for succinct?"

Smith was talking on-air to morning show host Dave Durian, and in answer to a statement by Durian about Smith's feelings, the 69-year-old broadcaster said he "never wanted to retire." But the Stage Four pancreatic cancer that has spread through his body makes it impossible to go on the air any longer.

"I've had many blessings. I'm very appreciative to thousands of people who have reached out to me since the announcement of my illness," Smith said. "But I'm now in hospice care at home... 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."

Ed Kiernan, the radio station’s vice president and general manager, said that an announcement will be made later about the future of the show that Smith helmed. But, he declined to comment further.

"I really want this to be Ron's day," Kiernan said. "We are providing as much support and love for the Smith family as we can."

A colleague at WBAL described the mood in the station Monday as somber.

"We all knew that Ron would be retiring," said Clarence Mitchell IV, who hosts the C4 show.

"But knowing it and having confirmation of it are completely different things. You get hit with a sledgehammer. It hurts."

Though Mitchell had Monday off, he felt compelled to call in to his own talk show to share some of his favorite stories about Smith.

The initial encounter between the two men, who have diametrically opposed political views, was far from friendly. One day in 1986, Smith used his show to publicly lambaste Mitchell’s father, who was then running for re-election to the state Senate.

"I called in to say, 'How dare you talk that way about my father,'" the younger Mitchell recalled.

"But in the five years since I've become Ron's colleague, my opinion of him has changed 180 degrees.

"Even people who disagree with Ron politically respect him as a person. Ron never graduated from college, but he has a degree in intellectual curiosity. He's always learning, always searching, and he doesn't make emotional arguments that appeal to his listeners' baser qualities. He doesn't think that just because you're a Democrat, you're a bad person."

In his retirement announcement, Smith referenced an interview that I did with him last week that ran in Sunday's sun. You can read that here.

During the conversation that took place at his home in Shrewsbury on Wednesday, Smith said how much being on the air meant to him.

"It's what I do. It's who I am. It's my creative expression," he said.

Smith's wife, June, described her husband's appearances on WBAL radio as his "microphone therapy."

"It's his highest calling," she said. "It's where his heart is, He loves his family and friends, but he truly loves his microphone and his audience."

I think that context is important for today's announcement. If Smith could stay on the air, I believe he would.

Smith has shown incredibly tenacity in staying connected to the audience he has built over 26 years on Baltimore radio, and WBAL has made every effort, according to Smith, to make it possible for him to continue.

As reported in Sunday's story, WBAL had set up a "studio" in Smith's home so that he could be on the air without traveling to Baltimore. In the interview, Smith also thanked WBAL for giving him a free hand to do the show the way he wanted over the years.

Ed Kiernan, WBAL's general manager, said "no decision" has been made as to how Smith's 9 a.m. to noon weekdays timeslot will be filled.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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