Elroy Smith ’81, an award-winning R&B and Urban radio programmer with experience in major markets across the country, led his latest station, 102.9 KBLX in San Francisco to become the first radio station inducted into the Bay Area Black Music Hall of Fame last weekend.
Smith is no stranger to firsts. In the early 1980s, shortly after graduating from Emerson, he was the first DJ to play New Edition’s “Candy Girl,” the first single off their debut album, while he was at 1090 WILD AM in Boston. He spent 15 years as program director of 107.5 WGCI in Chicago before heading to Philadelphia to serve as operations manager and format director of Radio-One’s group of Gospel stations in that market.
Prior to joining KBLX and Q102.1 KRBQ as operations manager and program director in 2016, Smith was operations director for a group of stations in Greenville, South Carolina. He was awarded Radio Music Awards Urban Programmer of the Year in 2005 and the Marconi Radio Award for Urban Station of the Year in 2006, among others. In 2010, he was inducted into the WERS Hall of Fame during Emerson's Alumni Weekend.
Emerson College Today asked Smith about his career and his time at Emerson:
ECT: KBLX is the first radio station to be inducted into the Bay Area Black Music Hall of Fame. Why do you think there hasn’t been one prior, and what is it about KBLX that allowed it to break through?
ES: I think …. continuing the legacy of 102.9 KBLX is a major contributor to being recognized by The Black Music Awards association in the Bay Area. This radio station has a very intimate connection with its listeners. KBLX has been around for close to 40 years and it’s still a significant part of the lives of over 500,000 listeners a week.
It has been a while since I have worked at a radio station where every employee in programming is hungry to win. The team spirit, energy and dedication with the intention to create historic radio is clear every single day. In addition, this team does everything with excellence. There is no half-stepping in the hallways of KBLX. We believe in reflecting the Bay Area personality. The bulk of our programming is local, which allows us to control our destiny. Regarding our listeners; the bond with our personalities is as close as a family. KBLX is more than a radio station it’s a sanctuary of music and community empowerment. The call letters are iconic and our legacy lives on.
ECT: What is your favorite part of your job?
ES: Watching my team evolve into becoming the best in the business. For example, to assist a part-time announcer become a full-timer, because of their dedication and commitment [to] being the best that they could be, is rewarding. In addition, to be able to brainstorm an idea and watch it take a life of its own is rewarding.
ECT: How did Emerson prepare you for your career in radio?
ES: Emerson’s curriculum was what helped me to smooth out my rough edges. My speaking ability was not the best. However, doing a speech class helped tremendously. My Oral Interpretation class showed me to how bring copy to life. Emerson’s radio station, WERS, allowed me to have a weekly radio show that helped me sharpen my on-air skills, [which] eventually [allowed] me to land a full-time, on-air job at the former AM urban station, WILD 1090, the day that I graduated.
ECT: Any memory from your years here that stands out?
ES: My Emerson memories:
- Great professors
- Great curriculum
- A fun environment
- A radio station that was run by faculty and students
- A college that is respected by the broadcast industry
ECT: Radio has changed a lot over the last three decades. What is one piece of advice that you would give someone starting out that you wouldn’t necessarily have told them at the beginning of your career?
ES: It is still one of the best industries for people that are serious about broadcasting. Be certain that this is something that you are passionate about, because it is an evolving business and you must be ready to evolve with it. Also, find a radio station that you love and study it from A to Z. Then reach out to the employer and apply for an internship, then apply for a job at the same station. I know this sounds too easy, and guess what: It is! Too many times we are told that we must start out in a small market. Not true. My career started in a top-10 market, which was Boston. If you do not think that you are ready, no one else will.
ECT: What’s one piece of advice that is just as relevant now as when you graduated?
ES: Do well in school, which will help you to do well in the working world. Study your craft and nurture it daily. Build strong relationships in this industry. Do not despair when you are told “no.” Keep trying, because someone is going to tell you “yes.”