Elroy Smith: Radio Hitmaker in the Spirit
This week, we give recognition to one of the industry’s most prominent radio programmers, Mr. Elroy R.C. Smith. Highly respected in secular and gospel, this hit-maker is responsible for helping to launch the music of Vanilla Ice, Public Announcement, New Edition as well as some of the biggest crossover hits in music including “Open My Heart” and “We Fall Down.” Of these accomplishments, Smith tells us simply: “It’s been so exciting helping these artists evolve into something great.”
He is modest, indeed. Smith’s decision to play a song could make or break any artist. “It is so awesome when you look back and see how hard people have worked and how it all started,” he demurs. “Not every song is going to be a hit record.”That’s a lot of pressure thrown on me, but may God be glorified,” adds the former Clear Channel Operations Manager who has programmed the nation’s top radio stations for nearly two decades.
The current Reach Media Consultant to the Yolanda Adams and James Fortune Show talks about the music closest to his heart and the artist, “This is a format that‘s going to be around forever because it’s heartfelt,” he shares as he embarks on another huge adventure on the dial.
JET: How Do you choose a hit?
ES: “I go by the Spirit. When you get those goose bumps…that‘s what happened with “Why We Sing.” When your heart is affected—those are powerful lyrics that speak to the heart of the listener. I look for songs that have strong hooks. Hezekiah Walker sent “Every Praise”—I said that song is melodic and we put it on instantly.David Mann called and said ‘I got this song, Kirk Franklin wrote and produced it’. I listened and said this song is going to be epic. “Take Me to The King” is a classic for her (Tamela Mann) and I am proud to be a part of it.”
JET: When did you embrace gospel music?
ES: “I was listening to the Music of Love and Inspiration and you (Effie) played “Why We Sing.” It was such a moving song I listened to my heart and put the song in regular rotation. Was that an awkward move—absolutely and it was out of the realm of how program directors would program a song? That song ended up becoming huge.”
JET: Were you criticized for programming gospel music?
ES: “I got backlash from other programmers who thought this was so weird. Radio is designed to stay within the format but we (WGCI) deviated to go left. We helped break the remix of “Jesus Can Work It Out.” The listeners were eating it up. They didn’t know format, but they knew this radio station ‘is playing my song’ and they had a connection with it. The last one was “Never would have Made It.” Since then, that genre of music has not really hit the main stream.”
JET: When did you commit to gospel music 100%?
ES: “Radio One, I remember standing in my office and I said ‘let me go ahead and embrace mainstream gospel, so your average person—the person straddling the fence would listen.’ The format started to evolve—a more inspirational format relegated to anyone that wants to be inspired. People listened to this station more than any other station—because this was their form of ministry.”
JET: How do you remain humble?
ES: “I preach this to every person—it’s not you…it’s the chair you sit in. When that chair is pulled away—you go to the grocery store like everybody else. When you become arrogant and pompous God pulls it away. It all belongs to God and it’s only on loan. I want to love on people because that’s the way I want to be treated. The ultimate answer is God I’ve got to follow your will. I hope that I was obedient to God’s will.”
About Effie Rolfe
Effie Rolfe is a media consultant, personality and speaker. For years, she was the “voice of inspiration” each Sunday morning and middays on Chicago radio. She also speaks at schools, churches and workshops. Effie writes for several publications and is the author of The K(N)ots Prayer. Visit her Website effierolfe.com; like her on mseffierolfe.com and follow her via @effiedrolfe.