By David Carroll


CHATTANOOGA (WRCB)-  Parker Smith was the Chattanooga radio personality most likely to elicit this response from his listeners: "Did he really say that?"

Smith was a graduate of McCallie School and UT-Chattanooga who spent more than two decades entertaining, informing, and occasionally enraging listeners (as well as his beleaguered bosses).  He often shared stories of working at Lake Winnepesaukah as a youth, and his hard-partying lifestyle.  He had been in declining health in recent years, and died Wednesday morning at the age of 48.

In the early 1980's, he played country music and hosted talk shows on WDOD-AM and FM.  Starting out in WDOD's news department, he appeared on Bill Burkett's morning show, and his comical asides attracted strong listener response.  Soon he became Burkett's on-air partner.  During his WDOD stay, he coined a lifelong nickname for news director Earl Freudenberg.  Noting that most of the callers of Freudenberg's talk show "Viewpoint" began their conversations by saying "Hey Earl," Smith began referring to it as the "Hey Earl" show.  It stuck.

A few years later, he was one-half of a popular morning team (with Burkett) on the highly-rated WLMX (Lite Mix 105).  By the early 1990's, he took his act to WBDX (Magic 102.7), WFXS (Fox 102) and Talk 102.7, where he teamed with Kevin West, now news director of WGOW.  On his Facebook page, West said Smith "was the most gifted radio guy I ever worked with."

His last radio job, partnering with Jason Walker on the 96.5 (The Mountain) morning show, ended about five years ago.  Walker said, "The mind of Parker Smith was an amazing playground, and I consider myself blessed for the years I spent working with a truly talented, phenomenally unique broadcaster."  Another "Mountain" colleague, Brad Steiner said, "Parker was the same person on the air as he was off the air.  For me, there is no bigger compliment I can give.  No matter his faults, the man meant more to me than anyone will ever know."

Listeners and colleagues shared Facebook comments remembering Smith for his no-holds-barred style, which endeared him to some, while angering others.  Smith was an enthusiastic fan of entertainer Dean Martin, with whom he shared many carefree traits.

 He was preceded in death by his mother Carolyn Smith and nephew George Smith.  He is survived by his father Frank Smith; brothers Chuck and Greg Smith; sister Cydney Davis; nieces and nephews Charlie, Parker, Natalie, Katie and Laura.

According to Lane Funeral Home, "the family appreciates all the kindness shown by Parker's many friends and fans, but will have a private service and no visitation.  Memorial contributions can be made to Community Kitchen, CADAS or a charity of your choice."

Personal note:  I credit Parker Smith with some laugh-out-loud moments on the radio, causing me to pull off the highway more than once.  Parker had no "edit" switch between his brain and his mouth, creating some hilarious (if sometimes uncomfortable) moments.  Playing along with Earl Freudenberg's on-air joke that "Parker is getting married" while he was on vacation, Parker happily accepted gifts, cakes and cookies from listeners.  When Earl said to him, "Shouldn't we tell the truth?" Parker said, "Let's wait awhile.  I'm enjoying this."

Parker had a humorous, though respectful relationship with his inter-office radio colleague Luther Masingill, who worked across the hall from him on WDEF Radio.  One bright morning, Luther looked down from his second-floor window, waving at Parker, who was taking a smoke break in the parking lot.  Parker waved back at the radio legend, then mooned him; no doubt causing Luther to shake his head at his wayward colleague.

But there was also the morning back in 2001, when Luther wasn't himself.  Struggling through his first hour on the air, by 7:30 it was apparent he was ill.  Parker, who would pop into Luther's studio every hour or so to kid him about lost dogs, noticed something was wrong.  He convinced Luther to go home and rest, offering to drive him home.  Luther, at that time nearing 80, insisted he was perfectly capable of driving himself.  Parker accompanied him down the steep flight of stairs to his truck, reminding him to be careful.  Luther didn't know that Parker then quietly got in his own car, following along to make sure he really did make it home safely.

When I would see Parker at UTC football games in recent years, he would always tell my sons, "I like your dad because he takes me to Denny's every time I get fired."  Well, actually it was IHOP, and it was only twice.  Unfortunately, Parker's string of radio jobs ran out a few years back.  There were no more hirings or firings.  But I will visit IHOP soon in memory of Parker.  Or maybe Denny's.  He would like that.   - David Carroll