Celebrate Kyle Smith’s 25 years with WYEP!
Kyle Smith is celebrating his 25th anniversary with WYEP on Friday, Dec. 1. He was hired as WYEP’s morning host, went on to hold the position of Program Director, and is the current Music Director and host of WYEP’s midday show. To celebrate Kyle’s longevity and dedication to Pittsburgh and the WYEP community, I took the opportunity to ask him questions about his career.
Rosemary Welsch: What keeps you passionate about music and radio?
Kyle Smith: It’s a number of things. My love for sharing and discovering new sounds, showing a connection from past sounds and their connection to new artists. Being able to reach beyond the hits audiences want and deserve alternatives to cookie-cutter radio. WYEP provides variety and spice every hour. There’s so much music being created and it’s an enjoyable task to try to make some sense of it all.
We share things we like, along with new and emerging artists, plus heritage acts, while spotlighting the talent for making music right here in our city. Radio is still immediate, can reflect the city’s sound, and hopefully makes everyone’s day just a little better through music. While radio, and delivery of its services have changed a lot in the 25 years I’ve been here, the mission of reflecting our community through all our platforms remains the top priority.
Welsch: What is the most ridiculous thing you’ve been involved with as a radio host?
Smith: It was a go-kart race. Enough said.
Welsch: What musicians do you admire and why?
Smith: There are so many, hard to narrow it to just a few.
Billy Bragg — He can write a scathing song about injustice and come up with a delicate love song that will make you cry.
Beck — He tackles multiple genres, is an excellent songwriter over the years, and seems to constantly evolve.
Wilco — The writing, musicianship, attention to detail, and longevity of their constant greatness.
Sylvan Esso — Have taken their soulful electro-pop sound and have elevated it to levels and success never expected.
Welsch: What was your most memorable interview — good or bad?
Smith: There are a few, and this one was definitely memorable, in a bad way. It was around 1995 and the Los Angeles punk band X was coming through the Twin Cities and stopping by while I was on-air for a live performance and interview. They were at the end of their first reunion tour and had put out a live record and had also contributed to the Beat The Retreat Richard Thompson tribute record. I learned a few lessons in preparation for radio interviews, having a list of back-up questions ready, and directing questions directly at one of the band members. John Doe and Exene Cervenka were both answering questions until Exene seemed to want to take the interview off the road and started moving away from music and into a topic of political prisoners, that I wasn’t informed on, random rants, and other various topics. It was definitely a learning moment in keeping the guest on topic and not allowing the takeover of the interview.
Welsch: When did you know you wanted to work in radio and why?
Smith: I started early by listening to A.M. radio in the 1970s, when I was young and growing up in Southern Minnesota. I was fascinated by announcers doing late night shows that reached dozens of states. It was in that time before the internet, 24-hour news cycles, or a cable channel for every sporting event.
Listening to baseball games at night on the Clear Channel stations on the A.M. dial made me a fan of following the game, hearing storytellers, and having a different ending each night. I didn’t realize it at first, but it made me interested in walking into my college station at the age of 20, to get trained to broadcast sports, news, and eventually music show hosting and programming.
Overall, I think what made me passionate about working in radio was that connection to the audience, the engagement that happens, reflection of the communities you serve, and the ability to create new things and try them out each day.
Welsch: What function does radio play in a listener’s world?
Smith: It reaches them for free, a window of discovery or comfort, and a connection to what’s happening in their communities.
Welsch: You’ve worked in both public and commercial radio. What do you think is the biggest difference?
Smith: Public radio pushes boundaries and challenges the listener, goes deeper, is an avenue for daily discovery, responsive to listeners, engaging, and isn’t controlled by the gigantic debit machines of commercial radio that cut back talent, number of songs played down to a lowest common denominator that gets worse each year. Public radio is broadcasting over the narrowcasting done in commercial radio.
Welsch: How many job interviews have you done in your underwear?
Smith: Just one, back in 1998. (To clarify, I was the person who interviewed Kyle in his underwear. It was a phone interview, so no favoritism occurred. I hired him based on his expertise, knowledge of music and radio, and his lovely countenance. If I had known he was unclad it would not have changed my decision — Rosemary)