Troy Neff back on radio — sober, more open than everWritten by Brandi Barhite | Community Ombudsman | firstname.lastname@example.org
Four years after his life publicly imploded, Troy Neff has returned to radio as a financial talk show host.
Neff’s unraveling began Dec. 10, 2008, with a road rage incident that resulted in his stabbing.
The next day, Clear Channel yanked his WCWA show.
After the stabbing, Neff vowed to be back on the air in 2009; however, his life — professionally and personally — continued to tank.
On Dec. 17, 2008, Toledo Free Press dropped his financial planning column for plagiarism.
Shortly after, he was charged with assault for the road rage incident.
Then in the early morning of Jan. 19, 2009, after an angry night of drinking, Neff got arrested for OVI (operating a vehicle while intoxicated) en route to his home in Curtice after almost running a police cruiser off the road.
Every incident resulted in media scrutiny that put Neff and his business, Advance Retirement Solutions, in peril. Not in the headlines was the news that his marriage was falling apart, his relationship with his daughter suffering.
“The marriage problems were already happening, but certainly nothing helped, especially at the end with all the drinking,” he said.
Four years later, Neff’s return to radio isn’t marked by resolution in all areas of his life. His divorce isn’t final; his relationship with his college-aged daughter is still on the mend.
“I will always be working on that. The amends we make to certain people in our lives we make for the rest of our lives. I never abandoned her during that time, but between her mom and I, it was very difficult.”
Neff was engaged for a while, but it didn’t work out; he dates, but nothing overly serious. His biggest accomplishment since last being on air is his sobriety. He said he has not had a drink since his OVI.
“I have been four years sober now. I needed to get things in my past and have them far enough in my past,” the 44-year-old said.
This time Neff’s show is devoted to financial news, his specialty, and is not trying to be a combination of Howard Stern and Rush Limbaugh, he said.
While this difference is notable, Neff is as open as ever and just as willing to say exactly what he thinks. He is tanner, fitter and more inked, too.
Fittingly, his new Clear Channel show is called “Rebel Financial Radio with Troy Neff.” The 30-minute show on WSPD airs Saturday at 6 a.m. and re-airs at 9:30 a.m. Sunday. Like last time, Neff owns his show and pays for the air time. He hopes to attract new clients.
“Part of me being successful, both good and bad, was having a little bit of a chip on my shoulder,” said the Genoa High School graduate. “You weren’t supposed to be successful in the financial business getting there the way that I got there. Most of them went to college, and I don’t know if they like that I get to play in their stadium.”
‘This is a disease’
No one can accuse Neff of slacking. When he does something, he goes after it with every ounce of energy and passion he can muster. Even his fitness regimen (and three gym memberships) demonstrates this commitment. That’s why admitting he can’t drink responsibly is so hard.
“Being somebody like me who has had other success in business and such, you beat yourself up because people think that I don’t have the willpower. My willpower is as strong as anybody’s willpower. This is a disease.”
Neff started drinking as a teen, even to the point of blacking out. There were periods where he tried to get sober in his 20s and was fairly successful for a few years. When Neff lived in Michigan, he went to Alcoholics Anonymous for a bit. When he returned to Ohio, he made the mistake of not getting a new sponsor. He thought he could control his drinking. He can now say, “Not in any time in my life was I ever able to control it.”
Neff’s drink of choice was vodka. He would try many tricks to keep his drinking under control. If he only had a certain number of drinks, he would be fine, he thought. If he had a certain type of alcohol, he could manage it.
“I started whenever my day was done. If my day was done at 4, 8 or 9, it didn’t matter. I would be out most weekdays to midnight or 2 a.m. and then I would be up at 4:30 a.m. on the radio. That was my day, every day. I don’t know how I did it. I was burning at both ends and in the middle.”
As a businessman and a biker, he is still around alcohol all the time. He can manage the temptation these days and said with certainty he will never have another drink.
“I believe that everyone is allowed a certain amount of alcohol in their life and I reached my allotment early,” he said. “It is about the environment you put yourself into. Some people are not comfortable being around it.”
Neff said the OVI was his “Come to Jesus moment.” He had driven back from Pittsburgh that day angry because Clear Channel had pulled his press pass for the Steelers playoff game. He went to Moe’s Place in Rossford and drank alone.
“It happens when you are ready. Sometimes things have to get bad enough for you to want change. Most people in their lives put up with a certain amount of things they rather not put up with; they don’t make a change until it gets bad enough.”
‘Just don’t do it again’
While drinking was not directly related to his road rage, Neff said it affected his mindset.
“He was spiraling pretty bad,” said his former producer Jeremy Baumhower. “I knew he had issues. I would hear his road rage on the phone at 5 a.m.”
On Dec. 10, Neff’s rage peaked. He was returning to his financial office in Perrysburg Township after helping the girls’ soccer team at Lake High School with weight training. Neff slammed on his brakes and honked at a man who had pulled out in front of him.
The out-of-towner, Jeffrey Hardeman, allegedly flipped him off. Arguing ensued, and Neff got out of his vehicle. Hardeman shoved him, he said, and Neff picked him up, slammed him to the ground and punched him.
“As I was getting up, I realized I had been stabbed,” Neff said. “I thought I was in a fist fight. I wasn’t beating the guy to an inch of his life.”
The next day, Michael S. Miller, editor in chief of Toledo Free Press, filled in as the guest host on Neff’s show. On pain meds from the stabbing, Neff called in to talk about his wounds and then said, “Apparently people got a memo at WSPD from Brian Wilson not to mention the story, not to mention my name at all today. I’d just like to say that Brian Wilson can go screw himself.”
Neff also sent an email to Wilson telling him “to go f*** himself.” Clear Channel owns WSPD in addition to WCWA and subsequently, his show was canceled.
“My clients really stuck by me and that meant everything. I reached out to so many when this happened,” Neff said. “I am good at what I do; I mean good. It had nothing to do with their accounts. Many of them have privately had DUIs. My clients gave me sympathy because of how big the story got blown up.
“They are yelling in their cars, minus the getting out, and thinking, ‘That could be me.’
“The clients were like, ‘Just don’t do it again.’”
Joe Clement, a financial adviser with Neff’s firm, said the staff worried about him but never thought about leaving him.
“There was no way any of us were going to turn our backs on him,” Clement said. “We have all had our problems; you don’t want to bail on someone. It wouldn’t be fair to our clients.”
Rebel with a cause
Neff always knew he wanted to return to radio; it was just a matter of when. After getting sober and completing his probation for his assault charge, which was reduced to disorderly conduct, Neff started to feel ready. When Neff heard Wilson had parted ways with Clear Channel, he thought it might be time to return.
“We are excited to have Troy Neff back,” said Kellie Holeman-Szenderski, regional market manager of Clear Channel Media & Entertainment, in an email statement. “He approached us with his show idea and we thought it would be a good fit for our weekend programming. Since Troy’s return we have received positive feedback from our listeners.”
Baumhower, who contributes a media column to Toledo Free Press, said he thinks Neff deserves this second chance. His previous show, “The Troy Neff Show,” was four hours a day Monday through Friday, which Neff said was too much. Baumhower said 30 minutes a week might not be enough.
“He is really smart and entertaining,” Baumhower said. “He had a bad spell, that was it. … The drive to win has always separated Troy.”
Neff said his market is made up of the people who firms like Merrill Lynch don’t want because they have less than a million dollars to invest. Listeners won’t hear him use the term “wealth” either.
“Show me one guy from Jeep who calls his money ‘wealth,”’ Neff said. “We don’t call our money wealth in Genoa. If you are talking about wealth, it means you probably aren’t talking about me. You are talking about rich people and I ain’t rich people.”
This is one reason Neff feels comfortable dressing more like himself these days. He used to ride his bike into work and then change into a suit with French cuffs. A few times he didn’t have time to change and no one objected, not even the 65-year-old widows.
“This is who I am. I feel like my clients respond. They feel comfortable when they come in with work boots and jeans because they are pipe fitters and work at Marathon; they are just regular people.”
Despite his rebellious streak, Neff said he was one of the few financial planners who pulled clients out of the market before the 2008 crash. When it comes to money, Neff plays it safe.
“We aren’t in the market now, we are in the minority,” Neff said. “I think another severe crash is coming. We are investing money, but not into stocks. Even though the market has went up, we are still not going to chase it. I believe there is going to be another big decline.”
Neff is optimistic the economy will eventually recover.
“I was lucky enough to manage money in the ’90s, which was the best decade ever after the best decade ever, which was the ’80s,” he said. “The past 12 years have been nowhere close to the best decade ever.
“I know this: When things were really good, they weren’t always going to stay that way, and when things are really bad, I know they won’t stay that way,” he said.
But are listeners ready to hear from Neff again?
“People love a comeback,” Neff said, confidently. “It was me doing what I had to do. Initially, I wanted it to turn around immediately. You want your life back. It just doesn’t happen like that. I didn’t know how long it would be.”