Waynesboro, Virginia-native Scott Smith never knew he wanted to be on the radio until he got a job at Allegheny Mountain Radio in 2014. Before that, he ran the family farm, worked at The Recorder newspaper and was the ag project coordinator at The Highland Center.
It was an open afternoon DJ position that drew him to the radio world, and although Smith didn’t get that job, his career path changed from that point to now.
“In 2014, I applied for the then open afternoon DJ position here at the radio station, which I did not get,” he said. “When Heather [Niday] called to talk to me about it, she said, ‘We’re going to try to hire again for the Highland news reporter position,’ which hadn’t been occupied for quite awhile. I got that position in 2014.”
Smith quickly rose through the ranks, becoming news director in the spring of 2015, then station coordinator in 2016.
In October 2019, general manager Richard Hise resigned and Smith was named interim general manager.
“The board went through their search – all the things they have to do to advertise,” Smith said. “Then on Christmas Eve, they offered the position to me. So, that is my meteoric rise at Allegheny Mountain Radio.”
During that “meteoric rise,” Smith learned a valuable lesson – radio is his place to be.
“I can see now, now that I’ve gotten myself waist deep in it – I see that this is my calling,” he said. “It is. It just fits so many of the natural abilities that I have and the learned ones that I’ve gained through education and life lessons, quite frankly. It’s just perfect, and I will make no bones about it to say I am one of the extremely few lucky people on this planet that has the job they were meant to do and loves the job they were meant to do.”
Although he is now the general manager, Smith said his regular routine won’t change – especially his on-air time.
“That would have been my first executive decision,” he said. “I love being on the air. Really, with taking on the general manager position, I haven’t given up anything that I did before with the exception of being news director. I am still on-air as much, if not more, than I was before taking the GM position.
“That’s the heart and soul of radio, being on the air, and it’s my release time,” he continued. “I know there are other people – staff and volunteers – that feel the same way. When you’re on that microphone, that’s the time that you cannot worry about other things in life. You just get to sit back and have fun.”
But, Smith assures that it isn’t all fun and games at the station. He can’t say enough how seriously the staff and volunteers take their commitment to AMR.
“My perception of what a DJ is and does changed radically after being behind the microphone,” he said. “It is a different way to look at it and a different way to feel about it than when you’re listening. You’ve got to work at it. It’s not like you just push a button, sit back and listen to a song and then three minutes later, you do it again.
“I kind of liken it to a chess game because you can enjoy the move you just made, but you’ve also got to be thinking about three moves ahead,” he continued. “It’s a constantly evolving time while you’re on there.”
It takes a unique individual to work radio and while Smith doesn’t like to use the labels “weird or odd,” he said it does take a special kind of person to put themselves behind the mic.
“This is the sign off I do on my Sunday night show – I say, ‘Thanks for tuning in because without you, I’m just a guy talking to a wall,’” Smith said. “And that’s what you are doing. You are talking to a wall, but in your head, you’re talking to a person. If you have the type of unique personality that fits into that mold, it’s extremely enjoyable and addicting even.”
Along with the unique people, the station itself is quite unique. Unlike most FM stations that focus on only one genre of music – like pop, rock, classics or country – AMR is open to all kinds of music, provided it’s FCC approved.
“I try not to stick to a genre, at least in my show because that gives me the freedom to play anything I want to,” Smith said. “I’ll go from Prince to Tom Jones to Bachman Turner Overdrive to Guns N’ Roses. If you don’t tie yourself into a particular genre, you can get away with playing pretty much anything.”
The other draw to AMR for Smith is the people who have put their hearts and souls into providing not only entertainment, but valuable information to the public.
“We truly are a community radio, and I can’t say enough about the staff that works here,” he said. “I can’t say enough about the volunteers who are here because, quite frankly, these volunteer DJs, they have a job here, they just don’t get paid for it. They are here because they want to be involved in radio.
“Whatever their impetus for doing it, I take my hat off to them. The level of dedication and commitment that these people have is a commitment to the mission of what we do.”
While the home station for AMR is WVMR in Frost, Smith said he will be working out of the WVLS station in Monterey, Virginia, which is closer to home. He will travel to Frost at least once a week to do general manager duties.
Despite rising through the ranks and earning his way to the top, Smith is still a little leery about the whole “boss” persona.
“I understand that I am the boss as it comes to final decisions and signing the paychecks and things like that,” he said. “But, I look at the people I work with – not as employees – but as co-workers. We’re all in this together.
The most “boss-like” thing Smith did after getting the position was to start carrying a briefcase. He assures his co-workers and listeners that he will not change his appearance and begin to wear three-piece suits.
Oh, and the beard? It stays, too.
“I have a persona for radio because I’m much better to listen to than to look at,” he said, laughing. “I don’t have to do my hair to be on the air, which is a good thing because I don’t have any hair other than what you can see, so it all works. This is what I was meant to do, so I’m extremely lucky to be here, that’s for sure.”
In a message to the listening and non-listening public, Smith said the radio is much like the weather – if you don’t like it, just wait an hour, it will change.
“I would just tell people if you have a preconceived notion of what AMR is and you haven’t listened to it in a long time, tune back in again and give it a little bit of time,” he said. “Don’t just tune in for an hour and go ‘well, this is what they are.’
“Tune back into us, and give us a listen. I’m pretty sure you’re going to find something you like.”