On the Job: Rodger Smith Talks Up Radio to All Ages

Posted: July 22, 2009 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: July 22, 2009 at 9:42 am

By Rashad Mulla

Rodger Smith. Photo by Rashad Mulla

Rodger Smith. Photo by Rashad Mulla

This summer, Fairfax-area high school and middle school students are the latest to benefit from radio guru Rodger Smith’s expertise.

A Communication Department instructor and the faculty advisor for WGMU, Mason’s on-campus radio station, Smith is currently leading his 14th annual WGMU Summer Radio Camp. The program, aimed at rising sixth through 12th graders, runs on a one-week, five-hour-a-day schedule.

This year, Smith is leading two one-week programs. One ran July 13–17, and the other, currently in session, runs July 20–24. Each camp features a field trip at the end of the week. Last week, Smith took his students to the WJFK (106.7 FM, Manassas, Va.) headquarters. This week, he plans to take his students to WDCT (1310 AM, Fairfax, Va.).

“We teach them basic radio skills,” Smith says. “Like how to do an on-air shift when you’re playing music on a rotation basis; how to interview people in a news situation; how to write news reports, stories and commentary; and how to produce commercials.”

Smith put these skills to good use in his own career, which began at Warren County High School in Front Royal, Va. As a member of his school’s broadcasting club, Smith played music and reported on school news for a local radio station.

He later landed multiple internships with radio stations while a student at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Va., and graduated in 1986 with a degree in communication arts.

After a stop at a Staunton, Va., station, Smith became a news director, sports director and morning radio personality at WFTR in his hometown of Front Royal. He subsequently worked at another radio station in Winchester, Va., before settling at Mason in 1994.

Smith came to Mason to work two part-time jobs – faculty advisor and adjunct faculty member. He has been a fixture here ever since.

The summer camp is his annual opportunity to break from the norm.

“It gives me a chance to work with students outside of college and teach them skills I’ve developed over time,” Smith says. “I like the constant challenge of teaching high school and middle school [students].”

Students of the camp will be rewarded for their hard work, as well. Smith says all participants receive audio copies of what they produced, which totals 20 minutes of on-air work.

“This way, they have a tangible reward of what they accomplished, and they can share it with others,” Smith says.

When these students depart, Smith will begin preparing for his college students. He teaches five classes during the academic year: two radio workshop classes, a sports media class, a radio production class and a media management class. He also gets the new WGMU student staff acclimated, promotes the station and tries to keep up with the ever-changing needs of today’s college radio listener.

And although jobs in radio – like print media – have decreased, Smith says the morning drive staple is still the best type of one-on-one communication out there.

“In television, it is assumed that there are a lot of people watching, so the phrase ‘hello everyone’ is common,” Smith says. “I don’t allow that in radio.”

Technology has forced radio to adopt different practices – such as podcasts – but Smith says the medium will be around for the long haul.

“Radio’s going to be around forever. It’ll be interesting to see how it evolves,” he says.

Write to gazette at gazette@gmu.edu