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KBLX’s Elroy Smith is one of the most respected programmers in the industry. To post his achievements would be like writing a book. What I can say is he is the recipient of numerous awards and he has programmed in major markets such as Chicago and Philadelphia. Elroy took time out of his schedule to share with our readers his background and his philosophies on radio. Enjoy
“I never thought for a minute the executives at WGCI would consider me as a potential programmer for such a great radio station.”
Elroy Smith/Operations Manager/Program Director of KRBQ and KBLX, San Francisco
KEVROSS: I’m not sure if I had a chance to congratulate you formally on your relatively new position in San Francisco but congratulations…
ELROY SMITH: Thanks Kevin, I appreciate it. I’ve told you privately and I will say it publicly, congratulations on evolving Radio Facts into one of the industry’s most reliable resource for information in the radio and record industry. Your hard work and dedication has not been ignored by so many of us that admire what you have built.
KR: Thank You. You were a legend in Chicago for many years, did you ever think that you were going to leave?
ES: Chicago was extremely good to me for (15) years. I must give acknowledgment to programmer, Mr. James Alexander, who called me to say he just resigned and suggested that I apply for the job as Program Director for WGCI, Chicago. I then received a call from legendary morning man, the late Doug Banks, saying he just left the General Manager’s office, Mr. Marv Dyson, endorsing me to become the next Program Director of WGCI. At first, I thought that WGCI was out of my league. It was a station that intimidated me for many years. I never thought for a minute the executives at WGCI would consider me as a potential programmer for such a great radio station.
To follow the footsteps of some of the greatest programmers at WGCI, was an honor to me. Programmers like Barry Mayo, Lee Michaels, Sonny Taylor, Jimmy Smith, James Alexander, Richard Pegue etc. I remember getting the call from Marv Dyson, asking me if I was interested in interviewing for this position. I can vividly recall arriving in Chicago on a Friday afternoon in 1992, for an interview the following Monday. As I was driving on the Kennedy Expressway, I remember listening to Tom Joyner and thinking that I may be working with Tom Joyner and Doug Banks, two radio legends. I tormented myself thinking that neither one of these legends would listen to me. To my surprise, they were both great to work with.
I cannot continue this interview, without acknowledging one of the iconic figures in the business, Mr. Marv Dyson, along with Darryll Green, then station manager, who gave me the opportunity to program WGCI. As time went on, I became the Operations Manager of Gospel 1390 and V103, Chicago. Not only was radio a big part of my 15 years in Chicago, but that is where my personal life was enriched; I became a Christian, met my wife Vonda (now married 20 years!) and two of my three children were born in Chicago.
“…if you want to work for a company or a person, do not be fearful in reaching out and introducing yourself because you never know what can come out of that encounter.”
KR: What was it like to go from Chicago to Philadelphia?
ES: I had never been to Philadelphia before I accepted the job and did not know much about the market. However, I trusted a number of people at Radio One, who I genuinely respected. Zemira Jones, who was then overseeing the Philly market as the Reginal VP for Radio One; Barry Mayo, (then the President of the Radio Division for Radio One, Jay Stevens, Sr. VP of Programming Content) & the general manager, Andy Rosen. Furthermore, I knew of media maven Cathy Hughes since the 70’s and sincerely admired her work.
Interestingly, I first met Alfred Liggins when he was in his teens. With these incredible visionaries, resources and successful broadcasters in my corner, it was not hard making a decision to become the Operations Manager of Radio One’s Philadelphia cluster.
One of the blessings that I reflect on is that in every market I’ve worked in, I’ve faced a new challenge and always learned something. For Philadelphia, I was challenged with evolving the Radio One Inspiration Format division. We had a number of FM inspiration stations at Radio One and the company decided to have me oversee this format and continue to program Old School-100.3.
I did not know the inspiration format, but I learned it quickly and devised the template for all of the PRAISE stations at Radio One. This accomplishment is rewarding because I also played an instrumental role with the syndicated division of Reach Media’s inspiration platform.
KR: A lot of people were anticipating your purchase of the gospel station can you tell us what happened with that?
ES: Kevin, I was anticipating the purchase as well. However, there were too many red flags saying not to make this purchase. After consulting with my number one advisor, God and my number two advisor, my wife; it was clear this wasn’t a wise decision. As much as I wanted to, I am relieved that I listened to the advice and decided to walk away.
KR: So now you’re in the market and a station that is known for its longevity KBLX. San Francisco is a beautiful and very expensive place and has to be very different from all the other markets you’ve worked in. Tell us what is like to be there?
ES: Kevin, you are on point. This is an incredibly beautiful city and the people in the Bay Area are absolutely warm, proud of their city, hospitable, easy to talk to… I can go on and on. As for the company, Entercom, I am overwhelmed by the team spirit and positive energy in this building. It is absolutely contagious. This opportunity was a true blessing because my wife and I were in constant prayer that God would bring to us a rewarding opportunity.
I had sent Pat Paxton, the President of Programming for Entercom, an email after I decided not to purchase a radio station, asking him if there were any opportunities at Entercom. Pat got back to me to tell me that there were no openings at that time with Entercom.
A year later, here comes an opportunity with Entercom. What I have learned from this experience, is if you want to work for a company or a person, do not be fearful in reaching out and introducing yourself because you never know what can come out of that encounter. Pat connected me with, Steve DiNardo, the VP & General Manager of Entercom/SF, and that is when I knew I wanted to be apart of this amazing city and to be the Operations Manager of KRBQ and KBLX. Steve is a remarkable leader, who has created an environment that exudes “family” and “teamwork.”
“The current Mayor of Oakland was looking to assist African American males to get jobs in the Bay Area and asked for KBLX’s assistance. I am thrilled to say that hundreds of African American men walked away with employment …”
I am blessed to be overseeing two phenomenal radio stations; KRBQ-Q102, The ThrowBack Station & 102.9 KBLX, The Bay Area’s No.1 Station for R&B. These stations are positioned firmly in their respective lanes. Q102 has been around for just over two years and has made a strong impact in the Bay Area. We are not OLD SCHOOL, we are THROWBACK which means we are not relegated to the 80’s and 90’s. Our format isn’t limited to just African Americans, it attracts, Asians, Hispanics and others. Q102 is designed for the Bay Area and has become a force to be reckoned with.
You’ll hear throwbacks from Tupac, Mary J. Blige, Biggie, Usher, LL Cool Jay, TLC etc. The vibe of our DJs is reflective of the Bay Area. It is a vibrant and fun radio station attracting 735,100 listeners a week. As for KBLX, it is an iconic urban ac radio station in The Bay Area. It is entrenched in the community and is revered. KBLX has a weekly cume of 575,700 listeners. We recently hired some iconic radio personalities that include Miranda Wilson, Renel and Nikki Thomas. All of these ladies have a special connection with our listeners due to their many years on the radio in the Bay Area.
Just this past week, we had the honorable and former Mayor of San Francisco, Willie Brown visit our radio station. The phone lines went bananas. We are involved in the MLK March & Rally and the 100 black men and 100 women organizations. The current Mayor of Oakland was looking to assist African American males to get jobs in the Bay Area and asked for KBLX’s assistance. I am thrilled to say that hundreds of African American men walked away with employment on that day of the job fair that we sponsored with the Mayor.
KR: Tell me about The KBLX Morning Show
ES: Our morning show consists of Bay Area’s Kimmie Taylor, who is Ms. Info and Ms. Reasoning on the show. Tony Sculfield, is formerly of WGCI/Chicago and comedian, Tony Roberts, who recently joined the show is originally from Detroit. The Bay Area knows, Tony Roberts, because he has done a number of comedy shows in the market. Having two comedians on the morning show allow our listeners to wake up to a fun, unpredictable, compelling, informative and hilarious morning show. We are constantly hearing from our listeners saying how much they are laughing while driving to work. We call the show, The Dream Team.
KR: What’s different with your audience there v your other markets?
ES: The San Francisco African American population is the smallest black audience that I have ever programmed, other than Boston- back in the 80’s. The black population is 6.9% whereas, Chicago is 17% & Philadelphia is 21%. My programming in San Francisco is laser focused and we cannot miss a beat due to the small composition of our base audience. This is a great challenge for me and my team.
“I believe there are so many personalities that are very good, but reading a liner will never allow that personality to become a magnificent talent.”
KR: As you were always well-respected in the industry, you also wanted to see change and people taking more of a bold approach to urban radio and music. Do you still feel that way, Why?
ES: Kevin, the day I lose my burning desire to make a difference, it is time for me to say goodbye to this business. I despise cookie-cutter radio. I love when I go into a market and hear a radio station reflective of their city. I want all of my personalities to become brands. I consistently preach branding in meetings and one-on-ones & I reinforce that CONTENT is mandatory.
I believe there are so many personalities that are very good, but reading a liner will never allow that personality to become a magnificent talent. Yes, liners are vital but connecting with the listener builds the overall brand. I want listeners to feel compelled to tune in for relatable & topical information every single day. We are like a restaurant; always trying to get that customer to come back.
KR: Have you ever been on the air? When was the last time?
ES: I was on the air at W.I.L.D. in Boston in the 80’s, as their morning man for a number of years. When I went to program 100.3 JAMZ in Dallas, I was on the air for about a week, and that’s when I discovered that I was not a great personality. Hiring people like Jammin’ Jay Michaels, Keith Solis and Guy Brody reinforced that feeling. If every personality called in sick at either of my radio stations in SF, I would still refuse to go on the air. That decision will save the integrity of my brands.
KR: (lol) What was the response from your audience regarding the recent elections?
ES: In situations like this, I encourage my personalities to open up the phone lines, to get a temperature of how our audience feels. This is the time that the audience becomes the star and not the personality. They encouraged non-violence, as there were protests happening in both Oakland and SF. We even called one of the prominent ministers in Oakland, Pastor Charles Hames, to record a promo to put our listeners in a more positive frame of mine.
KR: Who you think are some of the most intriguing people in the music radio industry?
ES: Kevin, this is a tricky question. I am always leery about answering it, because, I will unintentionally, leave someone out. However, there are a number of people who intrigue me in this business and we’ll leave it as that.
KR: From your perspective, how do we maintain our value for a long future in the industry?
ES: I value honesty, integrity and sensitivity to people’s needs and concerns. Plus I pride myself on being fair, open, respectful, encouraging and always willing to learn. Being a great listener and finding more good in people than negative while challenging them to be their best is what I believe works. Finally, prayer is so important to me. Before I begin my day, I take the time to pray in my office because the bulk of my decisions are made in my office and it is vitally important that my decisions are righteous.
KR: Is there life after 40 in the industry?
ES: Yes. I want to replicate the legendary Herb Kent from Chicago and Doug Banks, who both sadly passed away recently doing what they love, which is radio. I would like the same to happen with me, leaving this planet as a program director that impacted the lives of so many people.