Mentors and Heroes

      Mentors are like heroes. Young men need them, but they are exotically rare. Since I’ve been a Christian, God has seen fit to put five men in my life who would  become my mentors.

      I’ve had a personal relationship with all of them, except for one. Each of them, in their own way, is responsible for a certain aspect of my ministry today. I will speak about two of them later on. But one of them deserves honorable mention right now. For in a number of ways, he inspired this book.

      He was a talk radio show host. I was in my early 20s when I discovered him. In my own estimation, the man was a pure genius. A genuine “one of a kind.” As far as the gift of communication goes, he was without peer. As far as his gift for story-telling, I’ve never met nor heard anyone who could top him. His ability to mesmerize an audience was unmatched. His skill at debating issues was unbeatable. His knack for creative humor was untouchable. If verbal acumen was measured in square miles, he would be Alaska. He possessed a brutal sincerity that was both refreshing and arresting.

      He was the most gifted communicator I had ever heard, before or since—bar none. He was a legend. A talk radio giant. And he was my hero. My “radio hero,” as I’ve come to affectionately call him.

      I would faithfully listen to his show each day as I drove home from work. It was a constant parade of unpredictable wit, drama, and provocative discussion. His smoldering talk style provided gripping theater of the mind. Many afternoons I would pull up in my drive-way . . . frozen. I simply couldn’t open the door to leave the vehicle. My radio hero held me spellbound for hours on end. If there is such a thing as “radio magic,” he possessed it.

      “Entertained” is too insipid a word to describe my experience as I listened to this man. Mesmerized comes a little closer.

      He was thoughtful, shamelessly provocative, and often confrontational. He refused to fit into anyone’s mold. His opinions were unique and seamlessly thought out. He constantly challenged the status quo and forced his listeners to reexamine their beliefs. He was controversial, but always intriguing. As a result, he was venerated and vilified, loved and loathed, hailed and hammered.

      While some saw him as little more than a raging provocateur, his demand for intellectual honesty made a profound impression on me. He was a master at skewering sacred cows . . . even his own. He provoked laughter, reappraisal, and sometimes fury from his listeners. But he always left them thinking and rethinking.

      I examined how he spoke. I observed his strategy in debate (as I said, he was unbeatable). But most of all, I sat in rapt attention as he delivered his extraordinary monologues. They were his trademark.

      His monologues permeated with gritty intellectual honesty and bristled with extraordinary insight. They were clever, poignant, and peppered with lashing wit. Sometimes edgy, sometimes enraging, periodically sentimental, but always fascinating.

      I studied them. Not the content, but the technique. (I often disagreed with his suppositions. So it wasn’t his beliefs that inspired me. It was how he communicated them.) Later, I discovered how he crafted his monologues and gut-wrenching stories.

      Sometimes his monologues would run one hour straight. Sometimes two. On occasion he would give a three hour monologue. Yet time stood still for me as I sat captivated in my car listening to this incredibly gifted man speak passionately about an issue that he felt important. It’s no wonder his ratings were off the charts. In those days, he was “king of the hill” of talk radio, by far and away—the unparralled ruler of the airwaves. (He retired years ago.)

      He was a man of immense and extraordinary talent. To put it in a word, he was brilliant. There has never been another like him. And I suspect there never will be.

      One of the many lessons my radio hero taught me during his meteoric career was this: That if you want people to listen to your message, then you have to cut your stomach open, heave your guts on the table and let people pick through them.

      Though I’ve always found that metaphor a tad too graphic, it makes the point. People are more apt to listen to those who are willing to reveal something of their personal lives. 

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