WBAL's Ron Smith announces on-air that he has pancreatic cancer

The Baltimore Sun

Longtime WBAL talk-show host Ron Smith announced Monday on-air that he has pancreatic cancer.

The 69-year-old Smith, who has been at the radio station since 1984, said he plans to stay on at WBAL as he seeks treatment.

Smith told listeners Monday at the start of his 9 a.m. to noon weekday broadcast that he has been diagnosed with grade four pancreatic cancer.

Smith quoted a Johns Hopkins doctor telling him, "You have grade four pancreatic cancer that's metastasized to your liver, your abdominal cavity, the lungs and so on."

As a result of the diagnosis that Smith received Friday, he said, "There are going to be some changes here. I'm still going to do the show, but not all the time."

"Going forward, I'm going to fight this and see what happens -- how thecancer responds to the treatment, how my body responds to the treatment. There is no way to be sure of anything about this other than I will be undergoing chemotherapy for the rest of whatever time I have," he said.

"But it could be a considerable time, so, don't mourn me yet. All right? Just don't mourn me. I'm going to be here on the radio serving your needs and mine. ...But there will be days when I'm not here... But I want to also say I'm OK."

Clarence M. Mitchell IV, known to his WBAL audience as C4, said the mood at the station was "very somber" following Smith's announcement.

"Ron is an institution in Baltimore radio, but to us he's also family," Mitchell said. "And how do you feel when you hear that a family member has something serious like that? It was somber, very somber."

Like others at the station, Mitchell expressed admiration for the straightforward way Smith shared his news on-air.

"Hearing the dignity, the grace and the manner with which he shared this with an audience that he's been talking to for 26 or 27 years, I thought, was the most mentally healthy way to approach what he has to deal with," Mitchell said. "Like he said, he's not going anywhere. He's still here, and he's going to fight this thing."

Quoting his wife's reaction to the diagnosis, Smith said, "We're not happy, but we're at peace. And I'm surrounded by loving family and friends, who have already demonstrated that so much over this strange weekend that we have just lived. I can't express my gratitude enough for their love and support."

"This is not going to be a pity party," he added. "We're going to do a Ron Smith radio show every day that I'm here... Obviously, people are going to be upset, but just understand that I'm OK."

Smith, whose talk show moved from afternoon drive-time to the morning slot last year, is a Baltimore media institution. The conservative host was an anchorman on local TV before moving to radio more than a quarter century ago.

"Heck, when we moved from afternoons to mornings, there was a virtual listener uprising," he said Monday on-air. "And I could understand that. I felt guilty about it, because thousands of listeners had spent, in many cases, more than 20 years listening to me on their afternoon commute -- and they're very upset when things change. So, who likes change?"

But Smith, a native of Troy, N.Y., who came to Baltimore in 1973 to work for WBAL-TV as a weekend anchor, said that he "loves" being on the air, and he has no intention of leaving his morning show.

"I love doing what I do," he said. "This is the perfect task for me. And as long as I'm healthy enough to do it, as long as I have my mind and my voice, I'll be doing this. Again, thanks to management for its support, the support of [general manager] Ed Kiernan, in particular, I'll be doing this for some time to come chances are. But there will be days when I'm not here. So, that's the change in the Ron Smith radio program."

Smith, who also writes a weekly column for the Baltimore Sun op-edit page, said he had no sense that anything was wrong with him physically "until a few weeks ago" when he "began to feel unwell."

After seeking "medical help to find out what was going on," he was informed late last week by his doctor that a CAT scan showed a tumor on his pancreas. After receiving the diagnosis on Friday at Johns Hopkins, he asked the doctor if it "was worth fighting."

"Oh yes, this is worth fighting," Smith quoted thecancer specialist as saying. "There are fantastic new chemo-drugs, chemo-regimens, and I've seen worse cases than yours clear up. You never know what's going to happen."

"I'm committed to fight this thing," Smith told his listeners. "But it's going to take some time off to do it. In other words, I'm going to have chemotherapy on a regular basis. I don't have the schedule yet, because I won't see theoncologist until Friday. But once I have the schedule, then, with the help of management here, which has been so supportive, the Ron Smith show will continue with Ron Smith -- except on days when I can't be here."

Monday night, in a telephone interview with the Sun, Smith said the day had been an "emotional tsunami" and he was "just exhausted."

"I feel like I'm in limbo right now between the diagnosis and beginning to kill thecancer," the former Marine said. "It's like purgatory."

Smith said that while he's eager for the treatment to begin, right now he's savoring the support and affection he's feeling from family, friends, listeners and co-workers at WBAL. He called the outpouring of well wishes he received today via emails, calls and blog comments "just incredible."

"I have to tell you, I have so many friends that really care about me, and that's a very good feeling right now," he said.


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