"A caller responding to one of Ron's rants on the constant struggle between various theories and the hard, cold, facts of reality, said, 'You are The Voice of Reason.' Thus, it became so," she explained.
"It's his highest calling," June Smith said. "It's where his heart is. He loves his family and his friends, but he truly loves his microphone and his audience."
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.
"Radio was a great transition for Ron," said WBAL-TV anchor Stan Stovall, who was Mr. Smith's on-air TV partner in 1980 and has been a self-described close friend since. "Ron got to be himself on the radio. He got to put his opinions out there and show what an intellect he really was."
Mr. Smith said WBAL management understood something about the boy who hated school and what he saw as arbitrary rules imposed from above. His bosses were wise enough to let him do the show his way.
"I can't imagine what would have happened if I'd have been in places where they tried to manage me day to day, topic to topic," he said. "It would have strangled me. It would have suffocated me. So, I knew enough to be content with what I had here, because they let me do my show without interference."
Mr. Smith did have ups and downs in recent years. When he denounced the invasion of Iraq in the spring of 2003, large parts of his audience howled in protest — and then some tuned him out altogether.
"I lost somewhere between 30 and 40 percent of my audience just like that," he said, snapping his fingers in the air.
"They were angry with me, because my audience is basically conservative," he explained. "I mean, here I am for years and years expressing the viewpoints of the people who are conservative, so they're grateful. And then, their president says it's necessary to go to war with Iraq, and I say, 'No, no, it's not, it's the dumbest thing I ever heard of.' And they're very angry with me, because it's the president I'm disagreeing with — and who am I? But presidents don't necessarily know more than we do."
That anti-authoritarian strain surfaced often as Mr. Smith reflected on his life and work in last his interview with the Sun.
When asked if religion had become more important to him since his cancer diagnosis in October, he said, "I'm not a religious person.
"I'm a spiritual person, but not religious. I couldn't accept dogma for the same reason I couldn't go to school, OK?" he added, sounding more like the animated on-air "Talk Show Man" than he had at any other time during the conversation.
"Dogma means you have to accept all sorts of different things as being equally true, and they're not. I'm anti-dogmatic by my nature — anti-dogmatic, anti-authoritarian. So, the only thing I was suited for was what I did at WBAL for all these years."
Anti-authoritarian or not, Mr. Smith was as good an employee as any news-talk radio station could ever hope to have, according Ed Kiernan, longtime general manager of WBAL.
"A voracious reader, Ron Smith arrived at his opinions after careful thought and research. He arrived early to work always prepared and excited to get behind the microphone," Mr. Kiernan said.
"Our thoughts and prayers go out to the Smith family and his incredibly supportive wife, June. She loaned us Ron every day. Ron invested 26 years of his enormously successful career with WBAL radio. It wasn't long enough. Thank you, Ron. Godspeed. Semper Fi."
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.'"
In addition to his wife of 23 years, Mr. Smith is survived by three sons, a daughter and five grandchildren. The sons are Christopher Smith, Ward Smith and Andrew Smith of Lancaster, Pa., Eldersburg and Baltimore, respectively. Daughter Amy Zappardino Lichtenwalner lives in Glen Rock, Pa. Two previous marriages ended in divorce.
No public service will be held, according to June Smith.
Baltimore Sun researcher Paul McCardell contributed to this article.