Unless you are a huge sports talk radio listener, or have been at CSUN for more than 20 years, you probably have never heard of Dave Smith.
For those of us who do listen to sports talk radio, he is a hold-nothing-back, truth-telling AM 1540 the Ticket host.
Smith has broken two of the biggest sport stories in recent memory. In 1996, he broke the story about Shaquille O’Neal being traded from the Orlando Magic to the Los Angeles Lakers. Then in 1997, Smith was the first to report on the firing of UCLA men’s basketball coach Jim Harrick.
Smith has been named “Los Angeles’ Best Sports Talk Show Host” by the Daily News twice and has shared the award two other times.
“It means everything,” Smith said. “It means I am getting respect from my peers.”
Smith began his career at CSUN in the early 1980s but left in 1984. He returned in 1990 and graduated with a bachelor’s in journalism.
“I went to CSUN because it was local and I was in the neighborhood,” he said. “I thought it was the best thing for me.”
Smith enjoyed his days at CSUN, where he was a print journalism major. He said he learned the most from a Pan-African studies professor named Johnnie Scott. He learned more in Scott’s creative writing class in a semester than the rest of his collegiate career.
“The whole Journalism Department taught me discipline and how to write pretty well,” Smith said. “The professors here are great.”
Smith was also a sports writer for the Daily Sundial in 1980. He covered a wide range of sports, including basketball and softball.
“Believe it or not, softball was my favorite sport to cover,” Smith said. “At the time, the coach was a great guy. The players were all great and I covered them more than anyone else.”
After leaving CSUN in 1984, Smith bounced around. He was a school teacher for six-in-a-half years at Town and Country School in Pasadena and St. Michael’s in Studio City, teaching physical education and coaching basketball, baseball and football. While he taught elementary and junior high students, Smith was also a walk-on basketball coach at Canoga Park High School.
“I love coaching and I thought I would be really good at it,” Smith said. “I had a pretty good knowledge about basketball since I played it.”
Smith realized, however, that he knew nothing about basketball until he reviewed film every day, which took a couple of years to understand. As a coach, Smith loved to pound his opponents by using a full-court press and then always trying to fast break.
In 1982-83, Smith became the assistant coach of Canoga Park. He loved coaching and spending time with the kids, but hated the administration.
Smith also liked the fact that he got to coach black players. Because when he played against Canoga Park while at Village Christian High School, there was not one black player on the team.
One person who Smith knows well is men’s basketball head coach Bobby Braswell, whom he coached against when Braswell was coaching at Cleveland High School.
“I do not know how they (Cleveland) did it, but they always had a boatload of talent,” Smith said. “He is a great coach. He got them to play unselfishly. There was not a chance in hell we were going to win.”
Smith was inspired to go on the radio after listening to sports talk show hosts who he thought were awful.
One day, Smith went to the local public access station and began to host his own show for free. Smith developed a fan base but he wanted to get into sports talk radio. He did not want to go to a small town to begin his radio career, so he researched and found stations that allowed individuals to buy airtime.
He heard that KIAV 870 AM sold some of its time, so Smith went to the general manager and told him he wanted to buy airtime after “Monday Night Football” from 10 p.m. to midnight. He realized it would cost around $20,000.
He went out door-to-door and tried to gain listeners and advertisers for two months. He read local papers to see who was advertising and tried to sell his show to them. He eventually raised enough money to begin his show and never left Los Angeles to do so.
In 1995, Smith got his big break when a local station was going to an all-sports talk format. He called the general manager at KMAX 107.1 FM and set up a meeting. Smith brought some of his sponsors from KIAV and hosted the Saturday and Sunday night shows from 8 p.m. to midnight for a month. He eventually got the daily 8 p.m. to midnight show.
Then in 1997, when KMAX changed its format, Smith went to XTRA Sports AM 1150 in the same time slot. Smith stayed at the same slot for two years until he was offered the noon to 3 p.m. show and then the afternoon drive from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m.
“I think it is the most important time slot in sports radio,” Smith said.
He would prep for his show from midnight to 3 a.m. every night. He would call his producer and talk about ideas. But the best way to hold an audience is to push three hot-button topics, such as saying Shaq is fat or Lebron James is better than Kobe Bryant, to get people racing to the phones, Smith said.
When AM 690/1150 merged into one station, there were eight shows for only four slots. XTRA Sports decided not to keep Smiths’ show.
“They brought me into the office and said there was something offensive on my website that one of my writers wrote,” Smith said. “They said we could not be associated with this since you represent the station. But I found out later from other employees that the decision was made long before the merge. The website was an excuse.”
Smith later heard from an XTRA Sports 570 employee that people knew he was going to be laid off six months before the merger.
After a year out of work, Smith found himself at AM 1540 the Ticket. He liked the station and the lineup, but thought it needed someone like him. He saw the job as a good opportunity.
Originally, Smith was hired as a fill-in host, and after a year, he received his own show in the afternoon drive-time slot. This opportunity, however, was also different because Smith would have his own show, whereas he had a co-host before.
“It’s a little scary at first,” Smith said. “But I developed a philosophy to prepare for a show like I would never have a caller. But now I am in a groove and I have learned how to do it.”
Smith also runs a website where he writes a column everyday called thesportsgod.com. He said he tries to make it feel just like picking up a sports page, but better because the columns are opinionated. The website also employs a staff of writers and contributors.
Smith said his favorite interviews include Kevin Garnett, Bernard Hopkins, Don King and Rick Berry.
“Rick Berry is my favorite regular,” Smith said. “He is the most informative, knowledgeable basketball guy I have ever heard on the radio.”
At a women’s convention in Beverly Hills, Smith recalled one of his favorite stories. The convention was for women who wanted to have a successful career in broadcast journalism. The first two rows were full of broadcast journalism professors, Smith said. After introducing himself and giving background information, Smith gave the aspiring students a piece of advice while looking at the first two rows.
“Don’t listen to anything these guys say,” he said. “Everything they have ever told me in my life was wrong. Every one of them told me I had to work my way up. If I had listen to them, I would be doing high school in North Dakota. It is all about how you can produce revenue for the station and how to sell yourself.”
Justin Satzman can be reached at email@example.com.