This month marked the 43rd anniversary of radio talk show host Bev Smith’s long-time media career. It also marks the end of her popular program, “The Bev Smith Show” heard on the American Urban Radio Networks, where she is fondly known as “The Queen of Late Night Talk.”
While she has hosted the eponymous show since 1998 — and is the only African-American woman radio talk show host who has a nationally syndicated show in the country — Smith was informed in August that her show would be canceled due to poor ratings. Initially, Smith was scheduled to continue her live broadcast until the end of October. Yet Smith’s daily live broadcast was silenced three weeks ago when the original deal switched to only pre-recorded shows until her end date.
Over the years, Smith has received nearly 300 awards, citations and trophies for her contributions in radio and television. For the past five years, Smith has been selected by Talkers Magazine as one of the one of the most important radio talk show hosts in America, she currently ranks as one of the top 50 in the nation.
“It came out of the wilderness,” recalled Smith. “And in my book, I’m going to call it ‘The Last Supper’ ... they took me to lunch and told me they were discontinuing my show because of money and that I attract old people. The people that have responded, most are under the age of 50, but what is wrong with people over 50? Baby Boomers are the largest contributors to our consumer base. I have not seen an individual study on our show in 13 years. In 13 years, we went from five markets to 40. In 13 years we went from no visibility to being called one of the top 50 shows in the country by Talkers magazine. This is crazy.”
Never afraid to tackle issues, Smith has lived with the homeless, walked the streets investigating prostitutes, raised money for babies with AIDS and talked with inmates on death row. She has interviewed personalities such as Bill Cosby, Vice President Al Gore, Jesse Jackson, Maxine Waters, Al Sharpton and a host of guests, many of whom she now refers to as her “special 20 friends.”
In Philadelphia, 900AM WURD served as Smith’s radio home. Currently, WURD is the only Black talk radio station in Pennsylvania. “We will miss Bev’s voice on the air,” said WURD programming consultant, Barbara Grant. “We’ve been carrying her for years, and she has been a real important part of the dialog in terms of issues that we are facing. She’s been a strong voice.” Grant added that the station would be happy to consider any new endeavors from Smith.
Smith began her television and radio career in 1971 when she was named Pittsburgh’s first African-American Consumer Affairs Investigative Reporter for WPXI Television. In 1975, she was named News and Public Affairs Director for Sheridan Broadcasting and hosted a lively talk show on Sheridan’s flagship station, WAMO. Since then, Smith has taken her “fire brand” style of talk shows to KDKA and WTAE Radio in Pittsburgh, WNWS in Miami, WKIS in Orlando and WRC in Washington, D.C. Bev also worked at Black Entertainment Television for over 13 years, as the host of the popular national television talk show “Our Voices.”
“I think that Black radio lost it’s mission when it decided to be an imitator instead of an innovator,” noted Smith. “When Black radio had it’s programming in the ‘40s, ‘50s, and the ‘60s era that I came up in, and I worked both in the ‘70s and the ‘80s, it had a mission, and that mission was to serve the Black community — no apology. Much like Spanish-speaking radio is today, whose mission is to serve the Spanish-speaking community and it makes no apologies for that. But in the ‘80s as progress came — and I don’t like to use the word integration, because I don’t think we have integration — but as we thought we were integrated and substituted that word for equality, Black radio gave up its mission and became just another place for music to be played. And that’s when the quality of the music and the programming went down. That’s when radio started imitating other cultures and went mainstream, and so African Americans lost a voice. Our radio was our griot — it was were we met, where we laughed, where people could earn a decent living and serve a community; it was where activities were. That’s why we only have two networks and the Hispanics have 40 or more. They know what their mission is.”
“The Best of Bev Smith” will continue to broadcast online at www.bevsmithtalks.com while she looks for a new broadcast home. “I’ve had several incarnations,” said the radio legend. “I’m going to miss it. I already do.”