Bill Smith, a veteran Los Angeles radio and television newsman whose face and voice were long familiar to KTLA viewers as well as fans of KTTV’s irreverent “Metro News-Metro News,” has died at age 74.
“Metro News-Metro News,” which Smith co-wrote, produced and co-anchored, followed the satirical soap opera “Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman” on Channel 11’s evening lineup in the late 1970s. A nontraditional news program, the fast-moving show was aimed at people who were either weary of or just not interested in a formulaic run-through of the day’s breaking news.
The program was a departure for Smith, who began his journalism career as a reporter for the Sunland-Tujunga Record Ledger before becoming a fixture on drive-time talk radio with Wink Martindale and then as a field reporter, midday anchor and even a weatherman, first with KTTV and then KTLA.
“Bill could just walk up to anybody, camera rolling, and he could get them to loosen up instantly,” cameraman Greg Theroux recalled in a KTLA tribute. “It was magic.”
Chuck Street, a longtime traffic reporter in L.A., recalled in a profile he wrote last year that one of Smith’s first assignments was to cover a visit by President Lyndon B. Johnson. Suddenly in position to ask the president a question, the rookie reporter did the best he could.
“Which one of these planes is yours?” he asked, gesturing to the pair of Air Force jets on the tarmac of Los Angeles International Airport.
“Son,” Johnson said, “They’re all mine.”
Smith was born Feb. 20, 1943. His father was a military man, and the family moved frequently. He went to grade school in Japan, high school in Germany and graduated while living on Governors Island in New York Harbor. The family eventually moved to the San Fernando Valley.
He began his broadcast career as a disc jockey and news reporter at KVFM in Panorama City and then shifted to KGIL, where he produced the popular “Dick Whittington Show.”
Smith eventually became a constant on KABC radio — filling in on the “Ken and Bob” morning show, Michael Jackson’s midday broadcast and Martindale’s highly-rated afternoon talk show.
As a television field reporter on KTTV, and then KTLA, Smith was on the scene for the defining L.A. moments — brush fires, mudslides, earthquakes, riots. He also spent time on the sunny side of the street, covering the Rose Parade, the Academy Awards, the Olympics Games and annual civic festivals. He won a pair of Golden Mike Awards and a Los Angeles Area Emmy Award.
Smith died July 9 after battling Alzheimer’s disease, his family said.
He is survived by his wife, Karen Samson Smith; a son, Jake; and a brother, Dr. Robert L. Smith.