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City & State or ZIP Tonight, this weekend, May 5th...
City & State or ZIP
City & State or ZIP Tonight, this weekend, May 5th...
City & State or ZIP

Profile of Neal Boortz

boortz_instory

After Neal Boortz was named to the National Radio Hall of Fame, the print folks assigned a profile story about the radio host to my colleague John Kessler. Kessler is one of our best writers but he isn’t a talk radio listener. Nonethless, he did a great job capturing the basic essence of Boortz with quick, neat brushstrokes. I just spoke with Royal Marshall, his show engineer, and he said Neal was cool with the story but was wondering why it didn’t make it online. I have no clue. But belatedly, here it is Neal!

You see the name, and you hear that voice. That clear-as-a-bell baritone with its flat intonation and ever-present edge of barely contained … what? Irony? Exasperation? Contempt?

He makes you laugh out loud. He makes your blood boil. He tells the painful truth.

Neal Boortz. The name says it all. Boor? Perhaps. Bore? Never.

After 40 years on the air and answering more than 180,000 callers, the WSB (AM 750) radio host will be inducted into the National Radio Hall of Fame — the highest honor a radio host can achieve.

“People outside our industry have no idea how big a deal this is, ” says Boortz’s WSB colleague and close friend, Clark Howard. ” It’s bigger than an Academy Award would be for an actor. Instead of honoring one piece of work, it honors a lifetime.”

“I was almost in tears, ” says Boortz, sounding (yes) humbled by the news. “What could be better than to be in the Hall of Fame?”

In person, Boortz is … Wait.

Wait just a moment.

Before we get to Boortz the person, let’s put away any notion of Boortz the performer, who attracts more than 5 million listeners on 230 radio stations nationwide. Though he is often lumped in with other conservative radio hosts such as Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity, he considers himself — adamantly — a Libertarian.

Like a ‘puppy dog’

Forget about it all for a few minutes — forget about his suggestion that Atlanta’s “urban outdoorsmen” (the homeless) should be shipped off in a freight train in the middle of the night; that certain Katrina victims were “worthless parasites”; that the parents of an incoherent 9-year-old were raising a “worm farmer.”

Forget Boortz’s more measured positions, as well: His support for the FairTax plan and former President Bush’s War on Terror. Turn off that hectoring radio voice for a moment, and …

“Are you sure I can’t get you a cup of coffee?” Boortz asks a visitor, making another of his many daily trips to the coffee pot in the cafeteria at WSB Radio’s Midtown Atlanta headquarters. He seems a little like Mr. Wilson — that gruff softie from the old Dennis the Menace cartoon.

He smells like coffee and cream, walks with an ambling gait and wears a loose-fitting print shirt over a small potbelly.

“I don’t look like it, but I do work out a lot, ” the 64-year-old Boortz jokes with self deprecation. “I do it so I can remain vertical.”

Sitting across a table, Boortz has an open, friendly face and a gentle — almost hangdog — demeanor that shows he’s listening. (”People don’t realize he’s a puppy dog, ” says Howard. “He’s actually pretty shy.”)

But there’s something more — a wary mischief in his eyes at all times, a smile always curling at the edges of his mouth. A Boortzism about to erupt …

Maybe. Not quite yet.

First he has to deflect a few questions politely. He and his wife, Donna, whom he calls “the Queen” on air, live intown but, no, he won’t say in which neighborhood. His one daughter, Laura, is in the medical field and close to getting her Ph.D. That’s it for personal talk. Sorry, but he’s protective of his family.

OK. What can we talk about? Naples, Florida? Doesn’t he broadcast frequently from an affiliated station there, where he has a second home?

“Yes, I’m more and more there, less and less here, ” Boortz says. “Down there it’s just much more relaxed and calmed down. You know, I can’t get off the air here and lay under an umbrella on the beach.”

As his listeners and more than 20,000 followers on Twitter know, he usually flies his own plane to Florida, a Mooney Ovation 3 that he calls “a little piston-powered propeller-driven rocket ship.” When the weather looks bad, he takes AirTran. Always AirTran. “I like their spunkiness. I like their marketing and their people.”

Any other airlines he favors?

“I like Singapore Airlines, ” he says with a smile spreading across his face and his voice blooming into its radio timbre. “It’s all about their flight attendants. You know, they fire them when they’re 23!”

Yep. There’s Boortz.

Left law, saved heart

A military brat with a checkered college career, Boortz arrived in Atlanta in 1967 and got his first job at the old Rich’s department store downtown grading diamonds. He soon talked his way into a hosting gig on WRNG, an early talk radio station based in Atlanta. His career as a talker didn’t pay well, but it flourished and soon landed him in a more prominent position at WGST radio, where he first encountered Howard.

He concurrently worked his way through several “real jobs” — loading trucks, selling carpet — before enrolling in the John Marshall School of Law, graduating with a degree in 1977 at the age of 32 that led him to a career as a commercial real estate lawyer.

“I was traveling around the country as a specialist in financing hotel renovations, ” Boortz says, deadpan. “If I continued doing that I’d be dead of a coronary or in a straightjacket.”

In 1992, his wife persuaded him to stop practicing law despite the loss of income. In 1993, he was hired by WSB, which is owned by the AJC’s parent company, Cox Enterprises.

As a radio performer Boortz says he learned to “walk as close to the edge as I can.” As soon as he espies a sacred cow, he wants hamburger.

But surely he regrets some of the more outrageous things he has said. Of course, he says, with a ready answer.

“I’ve been on the air for how many thousands of hours, and during that time there’s no scripting, ” Boortz says. “It’s all just stream-of-consciousness stuff. The Pope couldn’t talk that many hours and not say something he’d wish he could take back.”

Over those years, Boortz has noticed the callers have grown “younger, more informed, more reasoned and less combative.”

“I like more of a tussle, ” he admits, adding, “I love callers who disagree with me if they can keep it straight. If they call us and say, ‘You’re a Nazi, you’re a racist, ‘ then I’m less interested. I want callers who attack my ideas and my philosophy.”

Boortz claims to be a sucker for thoughtful dialogue of any form, which is why his current favorite television show is HBO’s psychotherapy drama, “In Treatment.”

“The dialogue between these people is so great, ” Boortz says, his eyes signaling a joke. “It’s a shrink and a deranged patient. Sorta like my radio show.”

Other television favorites include “Drop Dead Diva” and “COPS.” Boortz says, “The whole time I’m watching [a police interrogation on 'COPS'] I’m thinking, ‘Please beat the snot out of him right now!’”

Honor was a surprise

Boortz says that he was “completely blindsided” when he found out he was up for the National Radio Hall of Fame in the “Nationally Syndicated Radio Host” category — a process that involves a nomination followed by a popular vote. Though he repeatedly encouraged listeners to vote for him, he felt that his 230 stations didn’t present a robust enough set of listeners.

Boortz plans to take as many of his colleagues — including longtime producers and sometimes on-air sparring partners Royal Marshall and Belinda Skelton — up to the induction ceremony in Chicago in November. Boortz will be one of five live and three posthumous inductees this year.

“I’m so honored by this, I really am, ” says Boortz in a moment of humility. Yes, humility — not something one associates with Boortz the performer.

Boortz the man sounds almost moved to tears when he comments, “I’m going to be up there on the wall with the greats in this field. Legendary names like Paul Harvey and Edward R. Murrow.” Then a devilish look crosses his face. Boortz the entertainer emerges. “And Dr. Demento!” he says with a taunting laugh, naming his fellow inductee.

The radio host who cavalierly walks the line — the big line, which is that painful suture of American politics and culture — will go down for all posterity with a radio host who squeezes bike horns and sings novelty songs. This is an outcome that both Boortz’s fans and detractors should relish.

Neal Boortz’s top 9 pet peeves

1. Children in first class on airline flights — or children in bars

2. Hyphenated Americans

3. Dealer stickers on the back of cars

4. Minivans in the fast lane

5. Fat men in tank tops

6. Fat people on scooters

7. People who smoke in their car with children

8. Restaurants that automatically include the gratuity on the bill

9. Customer cards at grocery stores

Compiled from Royal Marshall and Belinda Skelton

18 comments Add your comment

IC Atlanta

September 24th, 2009
6:16 pm

What about drivers with blinkers on in the rain? That one makes me laugh every time I hear it.

Congratulations Boortz on your Hall of Fame induction.

RealFan11

September 24th, 2009
7:12 pm

Oh, he forgot to list Minorities on his pet-peeve list.

davis

September 24th, 2009
7:18 pm

Great article. I like Boortz and his ideals. His show is great too. Didn’t like it when I first got here 5 years ago but now I can’t get enough of it.

S O

September 24th, 2009
8:32 pm

So Mr. Boortz is “protective of his family”? How nice for them. Unfortunately, regrets or no, he has always been quite comfortable trashing other people’s loved ones.
Several years ago , three teenagers were killed in a single car accident. It was late at night and they had apparently been drinking and using drugs. Obviously, they made tragic choices — which they paid dearly for. On his radio program, Boortz completely denigrated them, adding that “the world is really better off without them.” Is that the “painful truth” Kessler was referring to? Is that when we were supposed to “laugh out loud?”
Does Boortz wish he could “take back” the time he labeled a 9 year old a “worm farmer”, or when he mercilessly blasted the parents of a girl who had gotten in trouble? How about when he provided the full name and number of a teacher who had deigned to disagree with him in his class, and encouraged his listeners to harass him at school?
Boortz has made a living out of attacking people he doesn’t know and bullying those he will never have to meet.
There aren’t enough awards in the world to erase the harm inflicted by his acts of cruelty.

tim

September 24th, 2009
9:59 pm

When the 3 teens made the choice to endanger the life of others, the world is a better place without them. I don’t always agree with Boortz, but I do enjoy listening to him. I’m happy for his induction, congrats!

atlBOY

September 24th, 2009
10:48 pm

“he has always been quite comfortable trashing other people’s loved ones.”

oh really? kinda like David Letterman trashed sarah palin’s children. how nice of you to point that out

TheTruth

September 24th, 2009
11:58 pm

Boortz…..Just wants people to take personal responsibility and be responsible for their actions. He dislikes only those minorities who use their “minoritiness” as a crutch or an excuse. That makes two of us. He also gets paid to “stir the pudd’n” so don’t take it personal. Congrats Boortz!

JM

September 25th, 2009
1:33 pm

Boo got shot! Boo got shot! I say o my god. . . .

Cherokee Dawg

September 26th, 2009
3:32 am

My dad turned me on to Boortz and although I don’t agree with most of his views, particularly the Katrina stuff because I just don’t think he understood the culture and dynamic down there enough to say what he said about it (and he made too many generalizations) I think he is a decent man. I like that he espouses above all personal accountability for one’s plight and actions. I don’t think he is a racist at all. He employs Royal and welcomes him to voice his opinion and if I am not mistaken, surprisingly, he and the late, great Hosea Williams were friends even though their politics were different. Boortz is not a Limbaugh or a Hannity in my opinion, although he tends to get lumped in with those guys.

Not Going To Use My Usual Name

September 26th, 2009
5:22 pm

Wow, S O–there’s some painful truth!

sluggy duggy

September 27th, 2009
4:18 am

First of all, as the Great One, Howard Stern has so hilariously highlighted on his show, the “Radio Hall of Fame” is an unaccredited non-entity. Being “inducted” plus 75 cents will get you a hard copy of the AJC. Second, Boortz is just another clone of that slimebag Limbaugh, a bottom-feeding right wing sychophant of the same old b.s. Republican talking points that Beck, Hannity, and the other 40,000 sc**bags on RW radio let spew out of their filthy jowls all day, every day across the country. He’s not unique, original, interesting, or entertaining. He’s a selfish, old, hateful, loathsome, unpleasant, morally bankrupt, lowlife of a person that will hopefully suffer a slow and painful demise someday for all the venom, vitriol, and division he he has helped to inflict upon the national discourse for all these years. Sure he has a lot of listeners. But McDonalds sells a lot of hamburgers, too. That don’t make ‘em good for you. Eat a turd, Boortz……and choke on it.

KennesawDave

September 27th, 2009
10:33 am

Hey Sluggy, Here’s a news flash for you; There are plenty of organizations that present awards to people that aren’t acredited MTV music awards for instance. So just because Howard says it, doesn’t make it gospel. Second of all, you are way out of line with your comments. There have been plenty of examples of people that disagree with Boortz in here that didn’t resort to name calling or wishing harm upon him. Say what you want about those that don’t share your obvious left-wing liberal radical views. But the only people out there that do harm to “national discourse” are people like you. Not to mention you proved by all the wordy insults in your comments that you are just as “hateful, loathsome, unpleasant, morally bankrupt, and even more a lowlife than Boortz is. So Congrats, you have just become that which you say you despise. Have a nice day!

Bob

September 28th, 2009
4:24 pm

Enter your comments here Congratulations to Neal Boortz. He does an excellent job in a business that has no forgiveness. If he stops producing listeners and revenue, radio will quickly drop hin much as they did Air America. That’s not going to happen anytime soon. You can tell that he really enjoys doing what he does for a living.

WiseOne

September 28th, 2009
4:30 pm

Sluggy Duggy got it right. Boortz is just a blowhard who attempts to spew his message daily to anyone willing to listen. He does so by playing the same game that Hannity and Rush do which is to let a caller make a point then kill their microphone in order for them not to be able to reply. Several years ago, I attempted to call into Hannity and the screener would not allow me to ask the question I wanted to ask which was legitimate, only to call me at a later date and field several questions until I proposed one that I could ask on air. He is a joke of an on-air personality but for all of the right-wing fanatics, just what you are looking for because he is willing to say the racist and sexist things you are thinking but neither have the guts nor forum to say them.

Gentleman Jim

September 28th, 2009
4:34 pm

What Sluggy should have mentioned is that last year Howard Stern was nominated. He was full of contempt for this so-called organization. (Anyone can set up a website and claim to be a National Hall of Fame for something). Stern ordered his listeners NOT to vote for him because he wanted no part of it. Now this year Boortz gets nominated and gets all choked up by this great honor. And then campaigns for it. 230 stations, 5 million listeners. He BEGS people to vote for him and gets emotional that he was able to stack the ballot.

Here is what I like about Neil Boortz: If a caller disagrees with him, he puts then in the front of the line to talk. Then if the caller actually makes a good argument, you can hear his gears churning as he tries to think of an excuse to hang up on the caller. If the caller is illogical or unable to make a good argument, he keeps them on longer.

Well congratulations on your meaningless award from a two-bit, nearly non-existent orgainization Neil. Where is the induction ceremony? Ryan’s Steakhouse?

john

September 28th, 2009
4:37 pm

I am dubious to the belief that Boortz is a libertarian. Has he actually endorsed any libertarian candidates ever?

Garth

September 28th, 2009
4:54 pm

Enter your comments hereI really dislike Neal Boortz. Wasn’t he recently voted the most despised radio personally in Atlanta? I am sorry I think he was voted “Most Rude”. Check your past editions, you failed to mention that in your kiss-up to the Cox Radio side of the AJC. All he talks about is his plane, his homes, his golf trip here golf trip there. He should have been an Italian Opera singer cause all he’s got is “me me me me me. And what won’t this guy plug on his show? He is a Radio Prostitute. Hey mister got $50 bucks Neal will love and plug your business long time! ” What really eats him up is the fact that he is second now maybe third string to Rush, Hannity and Beck. Beck is killing his show where they go head to head gaining share every day. I THINK HE HAS SLIPPED TO # 7 IN NATIONAL RADIO RATINGS. Boortz is to ugly to be on TV. I hear Fox has banned the blow hard! I know Bill O’Reilly has banned him from his show, the number 1 cable news program in the USA. Hannity # 2 talk TV show and radio talker in the country did not even appear with him on stage at his Freedom concert here last month. Just a matter of time before this old washed up motor mouth is gone. I so look forward to that day. He is just a bitter old man rambling and ranting about nothing.

Peachtree John

November 8th, 2009
7:12 am

Mr. Boortz arrived in Atlanta 5 months before I did. I was elated when he FINALLY found topics to cover other than welfare receipiants. Thankfully, he welcomed other topics and has proven that with time and talent, one can make a name for self. Congratulations on the award and for bringing entertainment to Atlanta and beyond.
You detractors should also know that Neal also adds much by bringing aid to those in need. I’m sure that aid includes more than life flights.
Keep up the good work.