Meet Your Neighbor: Tim Smith

For more than four decades, Tim Smith has lived and often worked for local radio stations.

Smith has been back on the air with WKYN since 2009, covering local government meetings and a number of other things.

Earlier this year, Gateway Radio Works, which owns WKYN as well as stations in Morehead and Mount Sterling, relaunched WWKY 990 AM, followed by WWKY 102.9 FM. The company also just opened a new studio at 138 N. Main St., next door to the Winchester post office.

WS: How long have you lived in Winchester?

TS: I came to work here at WWKY in 1973 in June. I had just graduated high school in Harrison County. I was going to Eastern Kentucky University in the fall of 1973 and took a job with WWKY. I went to class in the mornings and then I worked on the air at WWKY in the afternoons.

WS: Was working in radio your career goal?

TS: I started working in radio in Cynthiana in 1970. I was 14 years old. I was asked to come in and read an Associated Press five-minute news summary for the owner of the radio station in Cynthiana. I did that after school one day. He asked me that afternoon if I could start that weekend. I worked at the radio station until I came here.

WS: What sparked your interest in radio?

TS: There was a friend of mine … about three years older than me who worked at the radio station in Cynthiana. I would occasionally visit when he was on the air and would always listen to him. I thought, ‘Well I can do that.’ My uncle had done high school ball games for the station in Cynthiana and I would go with him occasionally. My uncle was the one that set up the meeting with the owner of the radio station because he thought I had a good voice. He called it a good radio voice.

WS: Did you want to do news or sports or DJ?

TS: I wanted to be a DJ, but I’ve done everything from being on air to owning a station. I owned 1380 AM from 1990 to 1995. I sold the station and got out of it and went into the insurance business for about 12 years. (Gateway Radio Works owner) Hays McMakin, I’d known him for 30-some years when he was at Channel 18, talked me back into it in 2009.

WS: What has the biggest change been in radio?

TS: Technology. In the 14 years I was out of it, the last time I edited anything was recorded on reel-to-reel tape. The last time I edited anything was with a razor blade and a yellow marker and an editing block and tape. Now you edit on a computer. It took Tom McMakin two weeks to teach me how to do it. It was teaching an old dog new tricks.

There are so many stations. They look at their market and what’s not being served, and then they select which format they are going to go with.

WS: What is the role of radio today in a world where people have music on their phones and Pandora?

TS: It’s local content. Content is king. You can hear the music you want to hear from a variety of sources. If you want to know when the Lions Club is meeting, if you want to know when the city commission is meeting and the fiscal court is meeting… and still hear the music you want to hear, that’s the reason that you tune to the local radio station. And then there are the ball games.

You’re not going to get that on Pandora and you’re not going to get it on Spotify. From a local standpoint, you’re not going to get it from any of the Lexington stations either. You’re going to get it here.

WS: When did you move to the new studio?

TS: We bought the building at 138 N. Main St. in April. We’re just now finally finishing up on it. We’ve done an awful lot outside and inside to the building.

We knew for quite some time there was an FM translator, 102.9. Translators are designed by the FCC officially to enhance the marketability of AM radio. You have to have an AM station to get a FM translator.

We knew five years ago there was an FM translator here. We proceeded to try to find an AM station we could buy, because there are no FM frequencies that are available.

In September 2016, Hays McMakin came up to me and said, ‘I’m going to London, Kentucky, tomorrow to buy an AM radio station.’ There was a frequency down there and the fellow was that close to turning it back in to the FCC.

We went down and bought his station. We just bought his frequency and brought it to Winchester. We knew we could move it here.

Once we did that, we were able to apply for and procure the FM translator. We signed WWKY AM on in January of this year and then put the FM translator on in March.

WS: After all these years in radio, what is the best part?

TS: I like local radio. I worked for WVLK from 1976 to 1980. I had a great time, worked with some great people. It was a big ego boost.

I worked on the air at night as a DJ. But you don’t get to know your audience. I know the people who listen to this. They communicate to me and I communicate to them.

In a bigger market, it’s not as personal. Here, people walk up to me on the street and say, “Why did you do that?’ and “Why did you say this?’ or ‘Why don’t you do this.”

You don’t get that in the bigger markets. In the small communities, you do.

It’s much more gratifying to me to be in a smaller community where you can actually see where you’ve done good, see where you’ve done bad. It’s closer and its more personal.