A new segment- what they say, featuring Reagan Smith

Hi everyone and happy hump day! I can’t believe I only have one more day of classes before summer term ends- I’m happy to say college has been good to me so far and way better than high-school. So, today I’m starting a new thing on here, where I will post an interview with someone who I think is noteworthy and interesting, in the realm of media (film,tv,radio,journalism,etc.). This segment will be on the first Wednesday of every month and I’m calling it ‘what they say Wednesdays.’ I’ve always been interested in doing some type of interview thing for my blog, so here it is!

My first victim interviewee is Reagan Smith, my american history professor with a background in radio broadcast. He earned a B.A and M.A in political science and history from Cleveland State University and has been a news broadcaster since 1980, as well as a professor at UCF. Smith is on the Florida News Network with 70 other stations statewide as a news anchor and public affairs director, and is the creator/co-host of a political talk show called “The Florida Round table” with Al Spry. Along with hosting multiple broadcast stations, Smith has also received numerous awards, including ones from The Associated Press and the United Press International. So here’s our Q & A on his work in the radio broadcast field and the current climate of american politics and media culture.

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Q: What led you into the field of news broadcasting?

A: I started in radio and was a disk jockey in suburban Cleveland when I was 16. By the time I was 18, I was working at the number one adult radio station in Cleveland. Back then FM was out there but no one really knew about it; AM was still popular and I ended up at one of the biggest broadcasting companies in the U.S- Storer. They kinda steered me in the direction of news. I started out as a disk jockey and had an all night jazz show, and I guess it dawned on me that you can’t automate the news- you an automate music- but it’s difficult to do that with news. When I was ready to go to college, I was accepted to Rollins College (central Florida) but still worked at Storer. And you can’t be 18 years old and make the kinda money I as making, certainly not in Florida. Most of the guys I was working with were World War 11 vets and they suggested that radio/tv is a young person’s job and that I’d need something to fall back on.

So I went to Cleveland state and got my major in history, minor in political science, and dare I say it, here I am 50 years later and still teaching and doing radio. They used to tell me if you could survive in the media until you turned 40, you could consider yourself a success; I’ll be 67 in January and I have the most popular political talk show in Florida right now.

Q: I’d say that’s pretty successful. So you mentioned before about working at the Cleveland station during the 60s, when a lot was going on and news was everywhere. What would be a few of your most memorable stories covered during that time? 

A: Well, in 1968 there was that three way presidential race and I met Nixon, Humphrey and Wallace during that time. Working in an adult newsroom like that, a lot of those people have been doing that stuff for years and when a politician comes to town, it falls to the 18 year old, and I would get the assignments. They’d always remind me that if anything ever happens- if anyone ever takes a shot at someone or something big happens, I’ll be a national reporter. So anyways, George Wallace came to town (Cleveland) on a Saturday and I drew the assignment to go see him. He filled the Cleveland music hall and when he left the hall to go out to his limo, there were thousands of protesters outside against him and I was following along and the police came through with clubs. They started whacking people and I got whacked in the head and now I have a letter of apology from the Cleveland city director.

Meeting Ronald Reagan multiple times has to be a standout thing for me as well, especially meeting him that first time in Cleveland. It was a big deal for me; we talked about having the same name and him and Nancy sent my mother an autographed picture.

Q: So you mentioned being there at Kent State during the riots. What exactly were you doing?

A: well, the Ohio national guard had been called in and I drew the assignment. I stayed on the campus and did hourly live reports. The station actually payed me at one point to grow my hair long and join the Students for a Democratic Society and see if we could infiltrate the organization; basically I went undercover. At Cleveland state, we had tons of protests- kids throwing chairs through the glass windows, etc- and so this was something I had seen before, but not kids getting shot. I was there with General Nel when the kids got shot and being a college student my self at the time, it was hard to watch. And it was a confusing time. As a young person, I didn’t like LBJ and along with a lot of other people, I certainly thought he was lying to us about the Vietnam war. And when I was sitting in class reading Voltaire and Russo and “is the tree and that mound of earth worth a human life” and those kind of questions, you get wrapped up in a philosophical mindset. So I was conflicted; here I was working for the establishment (the station) and yet I’m a student; it wasn’t an easy time for me.

Q: when did you come down to Florida and start your radio show “The Florida Round table?”

A: I came down to Florida in 1979, and )TFR)  has been about 20 years, around 1995.

Q: You have a guest on every show. So what would be a couple of your most memorable guests that you’ve had on the show?

A: well the easy ones would be to say presidents. We’ve had Jimmy Carter on the show, Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan. Just this year we had John Dean, Nixon’s personal attorney who published an 800 page book on thousands of hours of Nixon Watergate tapes that haven’t been listened to, and we had Joseph Califano who was chief domestic adviser to Lyndon Johnson. They were very young when they worked for these presidents and are some of the few surviving members who were active in those administrations and I felt very privileged to be able to pick their brains. Bob Graham, in my opinion the most popular democrat in Florida today,was one of the few people who insisted on coming to do the interviews in person. I’ve been friends with him for a while now. I first met him when working at WDBO down here, and he’d come in town to do some kind of speech, and we miss him. So the boss hands me a news card and tells me to go find him at the airport. I caught him in the men’s room and that’s actually where we did the interview. He’s one of my favorites.

Q: so, what’s the hardest part about running a political talk show?

A: well, being objective in my interviews was hard in the early days but that part has gotten easier. The way I’ve designed it is for the guest to do most of the talking. Ask the hard questions, and then let the guest answer. Don’t be disrespectful and don’t ambush the guest. If you embarrass a guest, they are under no obligation to come back again- and who knows, they could become the next president. We’ve had all kinds of people on the show- democrats, republicans, ect.- and years ago, it would be hard to bite my tongue. But it should be the guest doing most of the talking and the audience should be given credit for having a brain- allow the audience to form their own opinions, to say “you know what, you’re full of shit.” We have to remind ourselves that the audience doesn’t care what we say- they want to hear the guest.

Q: And besides the talk show, you also owned a couple of radio stations for a while. How did that shape your outlook on the industry?

A: It was enlightening and I’m glad I don’t do it now. I don’t really like what is happening to media in this country; radio and tv don’t have futures. And it’s quite simple actually, the internet has come along, computers have come along. Back when I was working in radio, there weren’t all the technologies of today and so there was lots of money in the industry, but the total revenue available for advertising, has not kept pace with the people who want to be in the business. And we have all kinds of networks now, and the money is just not there. It’s hard for me to say this because it’s what I’ve been doing over the years and it’s been good to me, but everyone is cutting corners now.

Before I retired from clear channel, they bought all these stations and from Orlando, I was in there 4:30 in the morning and I would write the newscast and pre-record them and send them over the computer to the stations in Port-Charlotte. And listening to the radio in Port- Charlotte, it sounds like i’m right there. To do that, I’d just go on the web and pull up the local newspaper, steal the local stories, write a newscast and send it down there. There’s no news man there in Port Charlotte, and doing that was a full time job; there’s more and more of that stuff going on.

Q: If you could pick anyone to interview on your talk show, who would it be? 

A: I’m not a particularly religious person but I think it would be interesting to have an opportunity to sit down with the Pope and talk. Or Putin- I think he’s just throwing everything back to his KGB days.

Q: Sum up American politics in two-three words

A: rigid ideologies

When I was a kid growing up, there were moderate republicans, conservative republicans, conservative democrats, moderate democrats; now the conservative democrats have migrated into the republican party and the moderate/liberal republicans migrated to the democratic party. So there used to be a cross- pollination, and I think senators and congressman used to be more open with each other. Someone once told me “politics is the art of compromise” and I think we’ve forgotten that.

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