Longtime Chattanooga radio personality Richard Parker Smith, who died Wednesday morning, generally was regarded as a talented but sometimes troubled man, friends and co-workers said.
“He was gifted to the point of torment,” said former co-host Jason Walker, “and the saddest part of losing my friend is the potential he left unrealized.”
Smith, 48, died unexpectedly at home, according to his brother Greg Smith, who said the family is dealing with the sudden loss, and funeral plans are being finalized.
“It is a fairly large family with a lot of people involved, and we want to do this thing right,” he said.
Parker Smith’s radio career began in 1981 when he became the weekend radio news reporter at WDXB-AM. He later worked as the overnight disc jockey at WFLI-AM before teaming up with Bill Burkett at WDOD-AM in the mid-1980s.
In 1986, while he was at WDOD, Smith made news by being invited to the White House after he sent President Reagan a letter offering his support and detailing a radio poll he had done in which 81 of 86 respondents said America should bomb Libya.
His story was twisted and retold in a couple of newspapers and, for a while, Smith was known here and in Washington, D.C., as the DJ that wanted to blow up Libya.
His last radio job was at WDOD-FM, where he teamed with Walker.
“As a new kid in radio, I wasn’t prepared for my first morning show with Parker,” Walker said. “It was akin to waking up pinned by a steamroller.
“Years later, I’d be brought back to him far more grown-up and prepared to endure his concentrated abuse. Parker analyzed you with laser accuracy and used your deepest innermost weaknesses to make great radio. If you could take it, you would never have a better time standing behind a microphone.”
Smith was hired, and fired, from WDOD by station manager Danny Howard.
“I worked with Parker on three distinct occasions since coming to Chattanooga (in 1990),” Howard said. “First at WLMX-FM, and later he did two stints at The Mountain (WDOD). He was uniquely Parker.
“He had an undeniably unique ability to get a reaction, whether it was positive or negative.”
WGOW-FM “Sport Talk” co-host Scott “Quake” McMahan worked with Smith from 1994 to 1996 as the talk-radio trend was catching on.
“He worked with Kevin West on a show called ‘Smith and West.’ It was wild. They would bring in transvestites or whatever. It was Jerry Springer on the radio.
“Honestly, he was probably the most talented person I have ever worked with, but he could not seem to get it all pointed in the right direction.
“I can’t say I’m shocked (at his death). He seemed like he was always chasing demons.”
While at WDOD, Smith befriended longtime WDEF personality Luther Massengill. The two stations are in the same building on Broad Street and the two remained friends.
“He had his mellow side, and he was outspoken, too,” Massengill said. “He’d tell you what he thought right quick.”
Barry Courter is staff reporter and columnist for the Times Free Press. He started his journalism career at the Chattanooga News-Free Press in 1987. He covers primarily entertainment and events for ChattanoogaNow, as well as feature stories for the Life section. Born in Lafayette, Ind., Barry has lived in Chattanooga since 1968. He graduated from Notre Dame High School and the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga with a degree in broadcast journalism. He previously was ...