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Canadian news radio commentary maestro Dick Smyth dies at the age of 85

His career has included a number of influential stints such as CKLW-AM in Windsor, Ontario, when it was known as “The Big 8,” and 1050 CHUM in Toronto.

And his face was familiar to viewers in the early days of Citytv’s newscasts, where he offered apologetic and lively opinions on political leaders, the economy and local issues.

“He could eviscerate; he could be nice. He could make you think; He could make you angry, ”said George Gordon, a friend and colleague of CHUM.

“If you’ve got into a conversation with him, he’s not lacking in opinions, and if you wanted to argue with him, you should do your homework better.”

Those qualities came into play personally, Gordon said, and they translated beautifully on the radio, where Smyth became a bridge between news and fiery editorials – an authoritative voice that sounded louder than most.

Originally from Montreal, Smyth was fascinated by radio programs in his youth. This led him to join a children’s theater group that performed live in the air. Usually he played the giants and ogres, he once recalled.

The experience helped him land his first official radio concert on a station in Cornwall, Ontario, where he met his wife.

But it was rented from the legendary Windsor station “The Big 8”. named for its powerful 50,000 watt signal at 800 on the AM dial, it was a serious opportunity for Smyth to build his reputation as an excellent morning newscaster and reporter.

When the 1967 Detroit Riots were sparked by a police raid on an illegal after-hours club for black Americans, Smyth was one of the few Canadian reporters on the scene.

As he ventured across the Windsor border, his reports captured the fear that gripped Motor City as martial law went into effect. Each update featured vivid descriptions of the scene and colorful interviews with locals.

The news has earned a lot of credit. Smyth was the first Canadian to receive the Radio Television News Directors Association’s International Award.

It set the stage for the following years. He stayed at Windsor Station until 1969 when he joined Toronto’s CHUM as news director. His other outposts included CFTR-AM and 680 News.

Over the years, Smyth became increasingly known to the public for his skills as a conservative commentator and one of the most recognizable figures on Canadian news radio.

“I was always flattered when someone said they were sitting in a parking lot because they wanted to hear my comment,” he said in a 2012 interview on RadioViz’s YouTube channel.

“Even if they were late for work, they would be sitting in a car and listening. I think that’s a big compliment. “

However, Smyth had many critics as his controversial opinions were often divisive and sometimes even viewed as hateful.

After Canada’s first large-scale demonstration for equal rights for lesbians and gays on Parliament Hill in 1971, Smyth condemned the CHUM radio waves and called the marching people “militant alcoholics, militant lepers, or militant lunatics”. The words stung many in the gay community who felt they were playing with suggestions from the time when LGBTQ people were mentally ill.

Brian Waite, a founding member of Toronto Gay Action, appeared on CHUM days after Smyth’s comment, calling him “vengeful” and “bigoted” for “sharing the same views that produced the worst epochs of oppression and brutality in human history to have . “

Smyth would go against the gay community so many times that the historical Archives Lesbian and Gay Liberation in Canada called him an “anti-gay news editor.”

But Smyth’s comment angered other groups as well.

In 1996, a complaint was filed with the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council over comments made on 680 messages about Jewish mothers who some listeners considered anti-Semitic. The CBSC scolded Smyth saying he had violated Canadian broadcasting standards, and both he and one of the station directors apologized on the air.

Smyth found a different audience on television in the early 1980s when he was a frequent contributor to Citytv’s CityPulse newscast.

His small screen persona built on his signature radio voice by exposing audiences to the expressive physical theaters he became known for in the newsroom. Sometimes he would swing a tobacco pipe to highlight his points, a trait that dates back to his early radio days.

Smyth retired from full-time broadcasting in 1997, a decision he made after suffering from severe depression.

He continued to lend his voice to syndicated radio commentary for the next decade.

More recently, Smyth reflected on the role of traditional broadcast news networks in a media market that had largely moved into the digital world.

“There aren’t any great news channels on the radio today,” he said in 2012.

“I think of Jack Dennett, the late Gordon Sinclair, people who brought a flair, a personality … even an opinion. You didn’t want to miss her in the morning. “

He added, “You won’t attract audiences with messages unless you have a certain style.”

This Canadian press report was first published on March 6, 2021.

David Friend, the Canadian press

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