Morning drive host at WJR-AM
Paul W. Smith, tirelessly working charitable efforts into his predawn radio schedule
Neal Rubin/ The Detroit News
Hundreds of nights since he took over the morning show on WJR-AM (760) — or maybe even thousands — Paul W. Smith has been faced with a choice: sleep, or talk?
Go to bed at a sensible hour before he wakes up at 4:30 a.m. to drive to midtown for his show, or emcee another charity event and come home too keyed up to go to bed?
Time and again, he's chosen the good cause instead of a good night's rest. A while back, he tallied the number of dollars he's helped raise, either hands-on or through appearances and on-air promotion, and it's staggering.
But it comes with a cost, and a yawn.
"Man," he says, "I'm tired."
When Smith came home to Detroit in 1996, 11 months after the death of radio legend J.P. McCarthy, it was the fulfillment of a life's ambition. "There's never been a moment," he says, "when I didn't want to go to work."That goes for his five years on the air in New York and the six after that in Philadelphia, too — once his feet hit the floor. There's a flicker, though, when the alarm goes off, where he wonders if it's all worthwhile.
Which, of course, it is.
There's the personal satisfaction in a kid from Monroe living a dream, making a career out of talking into a microphone and then becoming one of the signature voices of Detroit. And there's this:
Starting with his days co-hosting the Easter Seals telethon in New York and continuing through his Paul W. Smith Golf Classic for Think Detroit PAL, which returns to the Detroit Golf Club on Aug. 15 and has netted more than $2.5 million in seven years, he figures he's helped charities collect more than $100 million.
"When I first came back," he says, "I worked nonstop." He lent his resonant, inviting voice to every charity that asked, sometimes appearing at half a dozen events per week.
It was all part of the process of establishing his own identity, and it worked. Now he has kids, and he's dialed back the schedule, but he's still eating dinner in a ballroom someplace six or eight times a month.
It's an honor to be asked, he says, and to be a piece of a community he believes in. And then he yawns.