People Issue

Gordon Keith Makes His Name on the Radio, But He's Making Himself Heard as a Columnist

In this week's Dallas Observer we profile 30 of the metro area's most interesting characters, with new portraits of each from local photographer Stanton Stephens. See the entire Dallas Observer People Issue here.

Gordon Keith is sitting in a restaurant he'd prefer you not know the name of. It's not far from where he once lived, but he's in a new neighborhood now -- he won't say which -- where he presumably lives alone, although he won't say whether he's dating. He's answering little and asking a lot, and I, skilled in the dual arts of silence-filling and narcissism, am obliging, telling him the things he's laboring not to tell me.

Eventually, somehow, we arrive at the point: That his column in The Dallas Morning News, which debuted on the Op-Ed page this year, is the best in the paper. "I'm just glad I said yes to them," Keith says.

It's a small wonder they even asked. For almost 20 years, Keith has made his living as a comedic stuntman for KTCK-FM 1310 The Ticket, breaking up the sports- and guy-talk with a grab bag of old-school radio jokes: impersonations, characters, detours into weird news, etc. There's emotional intelligence lurking beneath a lot of it, but you have to listen long and hard before it finds you.

You'd expect the silliness to scare off the News -- especially the editorial page, a place for Serious Thinkers. But there it is, every other week: Keith on fathers and sons. Keith on the Bible. Keith on the way money comes between friends. His columns are smart and funny and universal. They also seem to act as a safe space for him to unclog the wisdom that collects in his head, thanks to some "social anxiety" and his penchant for privacy. "We are all custodians of our own mythology, and I spent too many years polishing mine instead of cleaning it up," he wrote recently, in a story about how he glorifies his adolescent failures. "I'm trying to change that."

He's also wondering whether there's room for some nuance on your commute. Morning radio requires a certain rigidity, Keith says, both in its format and its opinion-making. But he says he's struggling to muster the stridency and aggression and "jackassery" of Young Gordon, the guy who fell into radio and never got up.

"It gets hard to experiment," he says, but he wants to tinker. "I'm scared to change it wholesale." Then, like a conversational ninja, he's back to asking about me. I'm back to obliging, and he's back to listening, and I'm starting to realize how he collects all that wisdom in the first place.

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Joe Tone
Contact: Joe Tone