Over the last 20 years, I’ve done thousands of radio interviews with hosts and anchors around the country.
WBAL’s Ron Smith in Baltimore was one of the first who spent time in-depth discussing my early books and columns. Whether he agreed or disagreed (the former Marine opposed the Iraq war), he was always gracious, deeply informed, engaged, and engaging.
He was not only a radio legend, but also a passionate supporter of the arts in his community and a media personality who truly cared about his listeners. I came to know of him initially through my brother-in-law, Daniel — one of Ron’s biggest fans and a cellist in Baltimore. When Daniel launched a local educational series called “Music In Common,” Ron volunteered to narrate the chamber music kick-off.
Here’s an article from 1994 on their collaboration:
Music in Common, a chamber music series, has quite an offering for its debut concert this weekend.
Cellist Daniel Malkin, founder and director of Music in Common, has assembled top local talent from the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, Peabody Institute, Kennedy Center and WBAL radio.
And while it might seem odd to find a news/talk radio personality in such company, talk show host Ron Smith, who will narrate the concert, loves classical music.
Mr. Smith will join Mr. Malkin, of the Kennedy Center Opera House Orchestra, violinist Wonju Kim of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, and Amy Lin, a pianist and faculty member at the Peabody Institute.
The four will perform classical works by Brahms and Tartini and contemporary pieces by Hindemith and Grant Beglarian Sunday afternoon at the 250-seat Wilde Lake Interfaith Center.
Mr. Malkin said that Music in Common’s goal is “to have fun concerts and have an informal atmosphere where musicians speak to the audience.
“It’s not really a children’s concert. But any kid who could appreciate a classical music concert could appreciate this.”
Mr. Smith, who describes himself as a latecomer to classical music, said he supports the group “trying to show the accessibility of serious music.”
“I’ve done these things before. I enjoy doing narration for serious music,” said Mr. Smith, who has worked in a similar capacity for the BSO and at the University of Maryland Baltimore County. He also covered the BSO’s trip to the former Soviet Union for WBAL.
Mr. Smith will introduce the classical pieces and narrate for the contemporary works.
The first is Hindemith’s “A Frog He Went A-Courting” variations, in which each variation is one verse of a nursery rhyme that Mr. Smith will read.
In April 1997, Daniel died of melanoma at the age of 33. He was charismatic, brilliant, funny, and passionate about politics, but much more than that — a man of family and faith who embraced all life had to offer.
I got in touch with Ron a few weeks ago to let him know how much he touched our family and to express thanks for his personal kindness both to Daniel and to me over the years. Amazingly — and true to his generous spirit — Ron took the time to respond:
This is Ron. I have very little time left. A few days perhaps. I’m at peace.
I’ve watched your career blossom over the years and have really enjoyed your strong points-of-view, even when not in agreement.
Daniel was a transcendent spirit.
Keep on truckin’ girl.
Last night, Baltimore’s Voice of Reason succumbed to cancer at the age of 70:
Ron died at his home in Shrewsbury, Pa., surrounded by his wife, June, and the rest of his family. He is survived by his wife, five children and seven grandchildren. Funeral services will be private. A public memorial service will be scheduled at a later date.
In October, Smith announced on his WBAL 1090 AM radio show that he had been diagnosed with stage four pancreatic cancer. In November, he elected to stop his chemotherapy treatments at Johns Hopkins Hospital and announced his retirement from broadcasting.
Ron had been a fixture on WBAL Radio and Television for nearly 40 years. Ron began his broadcasting career in Albany, N.Y., and arrived in Baltimore in 1973 as a reporter and anchor for WBAL-TV. He anchored television newscasts as part of WBAL-TV’s old “Action News” team between 1973 and 1980. Then, after a brief break from broadcasting to work as a stockbroker, Smith returned to WBAL Radio in 1985 to begin a whole new journey as a talk show host.
Never a screamer, Smith succeeded by staying on top of local and national politics and standing firm on his principles — even if his listeners disagreed.
My sadness today at Ron’s passing is mitigated by the joyous thought of Ron and Dan — two transcendent spirits — meeting again to share enlightened conversation and heavenly music.