Legendary newsman Dick Smyth died Saturday at age 86. It had been more than 20 years since Dick’s voice had been heard on a Toronto radio station, but for listeners, and later CITY TV viewers, Dick’s booming voice was unforgettable.
I first heard Dick Smyth the 1960’s when he was the morning voice of news at CKLW—the Big 8—as it was called. It was a 50,000-watt powerhouse sitting in Windsor, but in every other way a Detroit station. It was the days before Canadian Content regulations and somehow CKLW managed to stay on the air, providing not a scrap of local Windsor content. The commercials were all Detroit businesses and the news content was Motown as well. CKLW was the top 40 radio station of choice across the US Midwest. It was the era of “20-20 News,”—fast paced-urgent delivery with the sound effect of a teletype in the background—all urgency and physically demanding. And in those days most of the news from Detroit was about murder. “Another murder in the Motor City,” Dick would intone. People tuned in for the news, but as Dick later observed after his retirement, in those days people tuned in to hear news personalities as well—and in Detroit Dick was it. Not a traditional radio news reporter, Dick nonetheless made his way across the river during the Detroit race riots of 1967 and filed stories that later garnered him an award from the Radio and Television News Derechos’ Association.
Dick took his talents to CHUM in Toronto in 1969 it was the era of AM rock. FM was strictly an afterthought for radio operators then, and 1050 CHUM was Toronto’s answer to the Big 8. Once again, he became the most recognizable voice in the market. While at CHUM radio he started delivering commentary on the CHUM TV station CITY TV, and won over whole new audience with editorials that would have him thrown off the air with todays’ sensibilities. But even then, in a more wild and woolly time he was hauled before the Broadcast Standards Council more than once.
Dick left Toronto radio in 1997 after suffering from Severe depression. In 1975 Dick Smythe was invited to talk to broadcast journalism students at Fanshaw College in London. Sitting cross-legged on the floor with a flask of whiskey dick regaled the would-be broadcasters with story after story about his radio career that started in Cornwall. But like so many of the broadcast legends of that time Dick had never been to journalism school, nor had most of the other broadcast legends of the day—Gordon Sinclair and Jack Dennett to name two.
Dick Smyth retired to Huntsville, where he still broadcast comments on the local stations, and it was there that he died on Saturday.