W. Ronald "Ron" Smith, a retired broadcasting executive who had started his career in Baltimore on WFBR-AM, died of a heart attack April 17 at his Egg Harbor Township home in New Jersey. He was 75.
"He was such a great guy. He started in radio and later switched to TV," said Dick Ireland, who had known Mr. Smith since they were both 16 and who was a familiar presence to Baltimore listeners for 26 years as a WLIF-FM radio personality. "He loved what he did on the radio, and I know he loved doing it, but I think he liked being on the other side, in sales and managing stations."
The son of Wilton Albert Smith, a Navy budget analyst, and Anna Eileen Brown Smith, a clerical worker, Wilton Ronald Smith — he never used his first name — was born in Baltimore and raised in Arbutus. He was a 1957 graduate of Catonsville High School.
"His interest in broadcasting began when he was 8 years old, when he was given a tape recorder," said his son, Kenneth R. Smith of Crofton. "He pretended to be a disc jockey and would read the news from the newspaper and tape it to hone his skills."
When Mr. Smith was a senior at Catonsville High, he made his professional debut on WFBR as a weekend sports announcer.
In 1957, he was hired as a personal assistant to Buddy Deane, who hosted "The Buddy Deane Show," a popular afternoon WJZ-TV rock 'n' roll show. He also was the show's announcer and would accompany Mr. Deane to dances and personal appearances.
"Ron had a lot of personality and drive, and he had a great interest in 'The Buddy Deane' show,'" said Zvi Shoubin, who started the show in 1957.
"Buddy did weekend hops, and Ron would go along with him to help coordinate and control the situation. In his professional career, he achieved a lot," said Mr. Shoubin, who is now managing director of program services at Maryland Public Television.
Mr. Smith's son said his father used to take an 8 mm camera to "The Buddy Deane Show" and film the program.
"His home movies are among the only video imagery that remains of the show, which aired in an era when shows weren't recorded," his son said.
When Maryland Public Television did a documentary of the show several years ago, some of Mr. Smith's film footage was used.
In 1960, Mr. Smith left "The Buddy Deane Show" and worked at WDMV-AM and WICO-AM on the Eastern Shore until he developed vocal cord polyps that cut his career short.
He was working as a vice president of Adler Communications Corp. in Washington, and when the agency expanded its operations into broadcasting, Warren Adler and Mr. Smith purchased WAYE-AM in Baltimore in 1968.
The new owners changed the station's format from classical music to one featuring all news. It was the first all-news station in Baltimore and the only one in the nation featuring major networks, CBS and ABC, reported The Baltimore Sun at the time.
They also purchased Hagerstown stations WHAG-AM and –FM; and in 1970, Mr. Smith successfully launched WHAG-TV, also in Hagerstown. He remained with the TV station for 17 years as sales manager.
While at WHAG-TV, he briefly owned and operated WAAT-FM in Johnstown, Pa., and from 1987 to 1989, he owned and operated WCBG-AM in Chambersburg, Pa.
Mr. Smith joined the staff of WMGM-TV in Linwood, N.J., an NBC affiliate, where he was sales manager for 14 years. In 2003, he was named the station's general manager, a position he held until retiring in 2013.
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"We've known each other for 15 years, and I thought the world of Ron. He was 100 percent up-front and honest. It was a pleasure dealing with him," said David Coskey, president of Longport Media in Linwood, which owns the station. "I think you'd be hard-pressed to find a person that didn't think the world of Ron Smith."
Mr. Smith, who had earlier lived in Hagerstown and Chambersburg, had been a resident of Linwood since 1989. He was active in business and civic and community organizations. In recent years, he was involved with Gilda's Club South Jersey, a cancer support group.
His wife of 23 years, the former Lois Jane Shobel, died in 2009.