A live wire

Aug 14

Morning disc jockey is a fixture on the air waves in central Arkansas.

People in central Arkansas have been waking up to Tommy Smith's gravely voice for years, cheering him on as he challenges on-air guests and taking detours from their normal routes to work in an effort to catch a glimpse of the barely-clad babes Smith invites to his live remotes.

Admit it. You've done it. Out of curiousity, of course. Just to see if that crazy guy on the radio is really doing what he says he's doing.

And that's why Smith has been a fixture on the central Arkansas radio scene for so long - he has the ability to draw us in and to keep us transfixed.

Asked to describe the 103.7 The Buzz DJ in three words, Smith's on-air cohort David Bazzel finally settles on "funny, intelligent and cantankerous."

And, yes, when first meeting him it's his prickly temperament and dry humor that catch your attention. But in a Walter Matthau a la Grumpy Old Men way. But, like many of Matthau's characters, a heart of gold is buried beneath Smith's grizzled exterior.

"That's the thing that's sort of deceiving about Tommy. He can be grumpy, cantankerous and aggressive. But he's got a big heart, he cares about people, he's sentimental and loves his wife - the polar opposite of what you hear on the air," said Bazzel, who has known Smith for about two decades.

Dian Porter Butterfield, business manager at The Buzz, also is quick to dispel the notion that Smith is unapproachable or gruff.

"A gentleman is what I always say" about him, she said.

A Little Rock native, Smith has been a DJ for an amazing 32 years. About 23 of those years were spent at Magic 105. His distinctive voice and quick wit were well-suited for a job in radio, and true to his on-air personality, Smith will answer any question you toss him.

Like most DJs, he worked his way up to the coveted morning spot. And, like most DJs in that spot, his chief complaint about the job is the early hours.

"I started out on the 7 [p.m.] to midnight shift, then afternoons, and then made the dumb mistake of volunteering to get up at 4:30 a.m. every morning to do the morning show," he said.

His stint on The Rock and Roll Breakfast - a notoriously raunchy morning show - ended one day when he was "told to leave the building."

"I had a nice six-month vacation after that," he said, referring to the completion of his "no-compete" clause with the station before moving on.

He said he misses those high-brow days sometimes but, "It had run its course. It was fun and I'll never apologize for it, but those days are gone."

Once the six-month "no-compete" clause in his Magic 105 contract expired, Smith stepped into the morning show opening at The Buzz (also known as The Show With No Name), and he will celebrate his three-year anniversary in December.

Bazzel said Little Rock is lucky to have a radio personality like Smith.

"There's no question he has national-market talent. He could be at any major market in America, and he's chosen to stay here because he loves Arkansas," Bazzel said.

Smith said his favorite thing about his home state is fall and long drives in the country in mid-September and October down roads like The Pig Trail.

Even though the focus at The Buzz is athletics, Smith doesn't classify his morning gig as a "sports" show, preferring to label it "radio potpourri."

His favorite sport is college football, but he admits the closest he's ever been to the field is in the world of video games.

"I could have been the best wide receiver of all time, but I was taken out by a prominent dentist," he said referring to a particularly rough tackle made against him in junior high by an unnamed teenager who would grow up to become a well-known dentist.

Being a local celebrity is not easy for him. He seems to prefer the faceless radio booth kind of fame, but there's no disguising his voice. The minute he opens his mouth, he's easily recognizable.

He cringes when asked if he's often recognized and approached in public.

"Yeah, and it used to bother me because it bothered my wife. I had a guy at Brownings [Mexican restaurant] who wanted me to sign his kid's menu. It's hard because if you don't sign it you're a jerk, but when I do, I feel pompous," Smith said.

Even though he often avoids the limelight, he's looking forward to being the man of the hour at the 33rd annual Original Toast and Roast benefiting Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Arkansas on Aug. 30 at the Peabody Hotel.

In a news release, event co-chairman Marc Haynes said, "Tommy Smith is always on the front lines supporting organizations through his talk radio show, and we want to honor him for using his voice to encourage others to do the same."

Smith anticipates that the speakers will have an exceptional time at his expense.

"I'm sure they'll have no shortage of material," he said.

The 3rd degree with Tommy Smith:

Most played song on your iPod (or 8-track in Tommy's case ...)

Right now it's probably "Rock and Roll Dreams" by Jim Steinman.

What would you eat for your last meal?

Pork chops, mashed potatoes and gravy, black-eyed peas with sliced Arkansas-grown tomatoes on top and for dessert I'd have my wife's banana pudding.

If we went out on Saturday night where would we find you?

In my big chair in front of a big TV with the A/C down to caveman levels. In my man cave.

Who would play you in the movie of your life?

Tom Selleck in 20 years. I say him because my wife's got a huge crush on Tom Selleck.

What would your superpower be?

To be invisible.

Why's that?

I'm the guy who found out where the duct work was at Central High School so I could watch the cheerleaders take a shower. We got stuck up there one time. I think they've redone it [the duct work] since then ... I've told a few cheerleaders about that in the days since.


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