There's a lot of shouting on the third floor of the Tampa Convention Center. That's where hundreds of talk-radio all-stars from across the country have booths set up at the Republican National Convention, which is underway just a skip down Channelside Drive. Among the sights, ex–Saturday Night Live annoyance-turned-podcast-firebrand Victoria Jackson is in black-and-white polka dots, dry-humping every congressman who walks by. Across the aisle, on Tuesday, there was an uncomfortably close embrace between Newt Gingrich and Michele Bachmann. And in the middle of it all, there's Tedd Webb, a native of Cuban West Tampa and seemingly the least insane person in the room despite his resemblance to Goodfellas-era Joe Pesci.
Ask anyone in Tampa about Webb, and they most likely have a strong opinion. One Democratic city councilwoman winces when I mention his name, but after I suggest that he's nothing like the extreme crazies visiting for RNC festivities, she concedes, "I wouldn't say that I hate him at all." A 42-year-old white male taxi driver, who played college football and otherwise digs sports radio, tells me that he can't imagine morning airport calls without Webb. Overall, the iconic host gets more love than loathing, but he's not immune from the latter. And like any polarizing pro-life personality, Webb has had his share of public controversies, like when he called Ron Reagan Jr. an "asshole" for saying that his father had signs of Alzheimer's disease while in office.
Observing the RNC media herd, I found Webb to be an intriguing lone wolf in a circus full of brown-nosers. As media monopolization has killed so many rich local voices — a trend exemplified by the crush of syndicated robots on radio row — Webb still does something different, favoring colorful interviews with pols and entertainers over partisan screaming matches. With that in mind, I arrange to meet him through a mutual friend, and as a result see more of Tampa than most convention-goers. He doesn't mind showing me around. "I wouldn't have even gone to this if it wasn't in my backyard," he says. "I can't wait for these motherfuckers to get out of town."
Webb has woken up at 1:45 am on every weekday morning since Reagan was in office. At 63 years old, he still rises that early to catch up on pop culture and politics before signing on at 5 am. His competitors, he says, hardly do much homework anymore, and rely on playlists or worse — syndicated content. His current gig, a "radio magazine" on WFLA in Tampa Bay, is the only local program left on the station. His lead-in is George Noory, who traffics in cockamamie conspiracy theories. The rest of the daily line-up features multi-market conservative heavyweights like Mark Levin, Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, and Glenn Beck, the latter of whom co-hosted Webb's morning show in the early 2000s.
At a convention with thousands of personalities who are eager to find global audiences, Webb is the anomaly. Between connections with the likes of Beck, with whom he still speaks, and his longevity in the brutal radio business, he could have multiplied his audience years ago. But he never did, and instead says that he's a "community guy" who likes "talking about what [he] can help fix." Webb is a neighborhood guy at heart; over sausage gumbo and shredded beef at an authentic West Tampa Cuban joint named Del Rio's, he's graciously approached by every customer and worker.