When Neal Boortz retires from WSB radio this month after forty-three years of hosting a raucous, rancorous, and utterly compelling right-wing talk show speckled with flakes of libertarianism, he will have outlasted two Atlanta radio stations and one Georgia political party. Boortz agreed to a Q&A with Atlanta magazine contributor Doug Monroe, an occupant of the other end of the political spectrum.
Are you going into retirement cold turkey or will you continue to blog, write books, and make speeches? The main reason I’m retiring is so that I’ll have the freedom to travel. I’m in great health and still love what I do, but it’s just too restrictive. In forty-[three] years of talk radio I think I’ve had exactly four two-week vacations, and never one longer than that. But yes, I’m keeping my hand in. I’ll continue with the blog on boortz.com, I’m currently finishing Maybe I Should Just SHUT UP and GO AWAY!, my sixth book, and have two in the hopper to write. I’m listed with Premiere Speakers Bureau and they still give me the ones Hannity turns down. And last but not least, I’ll be doing daily commentaries every morning on WSB and will be the substitute fill-in host for Herman Cain, and anyone else who will have me. And yes—the Boortz Bus is equipped for broadcast.
When you first went on the air on Atlanta’s WRNG-AM—fifteen years before Rush Limbaugh started his show—did you have any idea how successful and dominating conservative talk radio would become? Absolutely not. Back then talk radio was a radio afterthought struggling to get some ratings here in Atlanta. I never expected it to turn into what it is today. Let me tell you, this has been a helluva ride. Sometimes, though, I suspect I’m getting out at just the right time.
Not many conservative talkers were on the air when you started. Who inspired you back then? Joe Pyne? Bob Grant? I went to high school in Southern California and absolutely loved Joe Pyne on his TV show. Never listened to him or to any other radio talk show until I came to Atlanta in 1967. Herb Elfman on WRNG was my first. When he died suddenly I moved into his job in under twelve hours. After all, it’s not like he gave WRNG two-weeks notice that he was going to shoot himself. Rest in peace, Herb.
If you were a young man starting out today, would you still try to go into talk radio with so many conservative voices on the radio and so many questions about the future of radio itself? Or would you do something different, and if so, what? There’s always something iffy about making your living in a medium that is licensed by the federal government—especially this federal government. Knowing what I know now? Sure! I would give the talk radio thing a try. But it’s more likely I would pursue a career in engineering or science. I wouldn’t fear competing against other conservative hosts, however. It’s not how conservative you are. It’s how you toe the issues line with the listeners. It’s how you entertain. This is something most of today’s talk show hosts don’t understand.
How have your political views evolved from 1969, when you went on WRNG, to today? I was much more of a doctrinaire conservative then. Now I’m more of a libertarian. I’ve completely changed my stance on some issues, such as abortion, prayer in the schools, gay rights, and other social issues.
Did you experience some sort of epiphany that turned you so bitterly against liberals? I don’t think I’m that bitter. I just like to laugh at liberals derisively. Their entire philosophy is based on anti-individualism and burdened down with a complete lack of logic. No liberal has ever been able to explain to me why it is okay for someone to use the government to do for them what would be a crime if they did it for themselves—such as seize someone else’s property because you think you need it more than they do.
Longtime listeners know you’ve had enduring friendships with black people, including Herman Cain, Hosea Williams, and Royal Marshall. At one point, you were Evander Holyfield’s lawyer. But your liberal critics have branded you as “racist” and a “hate radio” host. How do you respond to that criticism? I laugh at them. Ever heard of semantic saturation? That’s when a word or phrase is used to such excess that it ceases to have any meaning in real conversation. Racist is just such a word. The original meaning of the word was “a belief in the genetic superiority of one race over another.” The current meaning is: “You just said something negative about a black person. You are, therefore, racist.” If you want a good example of the “deer in the headlights” look, ask someone throwing around the racist word to do you a favor and explain to you the difference between racism and bigotry. Then stand back. [His] head could explode. The word simply has no meaning, effect, or impact any more.
As for “hate radio?” This, too, is ridiculously transparent. Liberals have simply branded any opinion or position with which they disagree as “hate.” This is a handy little rhetorical mechanism designed to help them avoid actually engaging on the topic. Example: I ask, “Did you know that in a classical economic sense, Barack Obama’s economic policies are actually more accurately defined as fascism rather than socialism?” They respond: “That’s hate talk. You do a hate radio show.” End of discussion.
One of the comments that brought an outpouring of outrage was when you said Georgia congresswoman Cynthia McKinney’s new hairdo made her look like a “ghetto slut.” Do you regret comments like that? Isn’t it nice that people want to focus on moments like that rather than something like, say, my defense of gay marriage? I’m not going to accept that my forty-[three]-year career is to be defined by a comment about Cynthia McKinney’s hair. Let’s not talk about that black woman who called from Jacksonville in tears because her life was in disarray, and how we changed her life by sending her to Orlando to attend a seminar on building positive emotional responses to negative influences. Let’s not talk about the young man I sent to a debate internship at Michigan. Let’s talk about Cynthia’s hair. By the way, on that particular day it looked like an explosion in a mattress factory. But then, look at my hair.
Some of your listeners get really upset about your shows, particularly when they agree with you. Do you ever worry about the emotional impact your show might have on them? No. Simply put. No. Did I offend someone? Well isn’t that just a pity. Nobody can offend you without your permission. I’m sure that my show has no more of a negative emotional impact on some people than does listening to hip-hop heroes rap about bitches and hos all day long.
Was the in-studio, on-the-air shouting match you had with then Mayor Bill Campbell the wildest show you ever had? If not, what was? Now that was a memorable day. I supported Campbell in his bid for mayor. After he won, he wasted no time showing Atlanta what a disaster he was going to be. I mean, the man actually turned Atlanta into a third-world flea market for the 1996 Olympic Games.
Do you want to tell the readers what I said to Campbell? He was in the studio ranting and raving about his personal issues with me. Finally I said: “Sit down and shut up, you goddamned son-of-a-bitch.” He sat down and shut up. Yes. I was angry and I vastly overreacted. I apologized to my listeners for that unprofessional outburst later. Campbell didn’t deserve an apology, so he didn’t get one.
By the way—interesting anecdote about that day. Seconds after my intemperate outburst, station manager Marc Morgan and program director Greg Moceri appeared outside the window to the studio with their eyes bugging out like stomped-on bullfrogs. I later asked them what they were thinking at that moment. Morgan told me: “Well, first, we were wondering if we should come in there and stop you. Then we tried to figure out if we were going to try to stop you, which one of us was going to dare to walk into that studio.”
Again, that was unprofessional and uncalled for. And again, I apologize. Not saying I’m sorry it happened . . . just that I apologize. I did, after all, turn out to be right.
Who are the best and worst politicians you’ve dealt with over the years?
The best? Well, one of my favorites was Newt Gingrich. When I started talk radio in 1970 he was my substitute host when I went on vacation. Smartest politician I’ve ever known. The worst? We’ll go back to Bill Campbell on that one. I mean: Did he really call that press conference to tell Atlanta that he had just signed a contract with the Atlanta government employee unions saying that while mayor he would never support an initiative or legislation that would cost one single union job? Why yes! I believe he did!
What role do you think you played in the demise of the Democratic Party in Georgia? None. They did that to themselves. My job wasn’t to destroy a politician or a political party. My role was to entertain. I hope I did that well.
In the past, you’ve mentioned the possibility of running for president as a Libertarian. How about 2016?
Oh, thanks for reminding me. Can’t rule it out—but the only way I could do that would be with the complete support of The Queen, my wife Donna, and that’s about as likely as me growing a full head of hair overnight.
What do you think is the funniest thing you’ve ever done or suggested on your show? I’d nominate calling the Confederate flag backers “flaggots.” I consistently said that there were only sixteen people in all of Georgia who wanted to stick with the old design of the Georgia state flag. This drove the flaggots nuts because they could never come up with more than sixteen to refute me.
You met Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. when you were selling jewelry at Rich’s. Did you sell him anything? Did you converse with him? Was this the old Downtown store? I can’t remember the conversation. Just that we talked. I was a wide-eyed kid just out of college. To this day I feel so honored to have met and talked with the man. He was a Republican, by the way.
Did your longtime associate Royal Marshall’s untimely death play a part in your decision to retire? Yes. Absolutely. The impact from Royal’s death was shattering. Actually, I wanted to hand in my notice a week later after the funeral. A stark reminder that life is so transitory really causes you to change your way of thinking. I miss Royal to this day and dream of him often. One of a kind.
To put it bluntly, why would anyone leave a syndicated show with 6 million listeners? Well . . . Obama did tell us that at some time we just have to admit that we’ve made enough money, right? I’m there! And again, it’s the travel thing. In the coming two years we’re traveling all over North America in the Boortz Bus, taking a ten-day Mediterranean cruse with former listeners, traveling to Antarctica, cruising the rivers of Europe in one of those long, fancy riverboats, and a Disney cruise with our granddaughter in the Caribbean. Try doing that with a daily talk show.
Oh, and one more thing. I’ve paid enough in taxes to the federal government, thank you very much, and I now dedicate myself to making sure that Obama doesn’t get any more from me than is absolutely necessary to stay out of federal prison.
Why have you chosen to live in Naples, Florida, instead of Atlanta? Will you keep a home here? Naples is the Carmel of Florida. We moved there full time in 2009. The reasons are many, and include the fact that there is no state income tax in Florida. In Georgia it would cost me over $1,000 a year for the license sticker for my car. In Naples it costs me about $230 for two years. In Atlanta I was paying $7,000 a year property taxes on my airplane. In Naples I pay nothing. In Naples I went into a restaurant on the main drag and left my iPhone sitting on the front seat of my convertible. When I got back ninety minutes later it was still there. Care to try that in Atlanta? I have a concealed weapons permit. I never carry in Naples. Do you think that’s the case in Atlanta? And then there’s the traffic.
Now don’t get me wrong—I love Atlanta. I could have moved and lived anywhere doing what I do. I turned down radio jobs in New York and California several times. For retirement, it’s Naples. And yes, we’ll keep a home in Atlanta.
What are your plans for your last show on January 21 with your successor, Herman Cain? I just don’t know. That is going to be very emotional. My second-to-last show, by the way, is going to come from the station where I began my radio career, WTAW in College Station, Texas. That will be before a large audience. I guess I’ll do the last show from the WSB studios rather than from Naples so I can be with Belinda and Cristina. But it’s going to be tough. I think I need to be on the road the very next day. I’m going to miss my audience and especially those two ladies.
How will you spend your time—and take care of yourself—during retirement? You play golf, fly planes, ride motorcycles, and travel with your wife, Donna. Is there anything else you plan to do? Race walking? Let’s see. Bring my handicap down. Learn to kite-surf. Would love to learn how to sail. I’m starting to dabble in watercolors; my daughter says I’m strangely good. And staying in top physical condition will, of course, be important. I’m thankful that I’m not heading into retirement with any health problems. Ugly isn’t a health problem. Having said all of that, my primary goal will be to spend as much time as I can being a good husband—Donna has put up with a lot over the years—and a great grandpa.
After forty-three years on the air—at WRNG-AM, WGST-AM, and WSB-AM—what is the legacy that you leave Atlanta? Legacy. Hmmmmm. Well, I only got fired once. That’s pretty good. And I left on my own terms. That’s rather rare in radio. Kicking Hannity’s tail in the ratings didn’t suck (we’re good friends to this day, by the way) and never putting a station’s license in jeopardy.
Actually . . . I’m angling for a brass plaque on International Drive right where the old Greyhound bus station used to be. “On July 2, 1967, Neal Boortz stepped off a Greyhound bus at this location to begin what was ultimately to become the second occupation of Atlanta.” Let me know when the dedication ceremony is and I’ll fly here from wherever I might be for the unveiling.
The Boortz "Happy Ending"
A retirement bash for Boortz will be thrown January 12 at the Fox Theatre. The radio host will be roasted/feted by Jeff Foxworthy, Sean Hannity, Herman Cain, and others. Ticket information at foxatltix/com.
*EXTENDED VERSION OF THE ARTICLE THAT RAN IN OUR JANUARY 2013 ISSUE