Smith, Greg 1964–
Greg Smith 1964–
Radio show host
As a member of America’s largest minority group—the disabled—Greg Smith’s goal has been to increase awareness and shatter the misconceptions and stereotypes about people with disabilities. On his radio show, On A Roll, Smith has targeted such issues as dignity, respect, and equality for people with disabilities. He has worked not only for greater opportunities, especially in employment, for the disabled, but to inform others of the opportunities that already exist. Additionally, as a member of America’s second largest minority, Smith has worked to ensure that African Americans who are disabled to have the same opportunities as others in the disability community.
Smith’s radio show, airing live each week across the nation, worldwide, and through the Internet, is the only commercial, syndicated radio talk program for the disability community. On A Roll has brought humor along with awareness to listeners as Smith works to connect the disability community to resources, information, and ideas. But the show has also garnered listeners who do not have disabilities. Smith said in an On A Roll news release, “Most people are surprised by the content of the show. It’s far from being a boring weekly disability community meeting on the air. It’s very upbeat and positive, with lots of laughs, and it is targeted for a general audience by design.” He has interviewed civil rights advocate Jessie Jackson, disability rights pioneer Justin Dart, actor Christopher Reeve, Bob Dole, and many more. In addition to running and hosting On A Roll, Greg Smith has also done motivational speaking and conducted disability-awareness seminars.
One of two children, Gregory Allen Smith was born to Jim and Adelia Barnes Smith on March 25, 1964 in Bay Springs, Mississippi. His mother was a language arts teacher; his father had been an All-America quarterback at Alcorn University and later coached high school sports and became an business executive. When Smith was three years old, the family moved to upstate New York after his father completed his master’s degree and went to work for Corning Glassworks. When Smith was in the fourth grade his father was transferred to Chicago, and Smith spent the rest of his childhood and teen years there.
As a baby, Smith did not show the same developmental progress of children his age. He was diagnosed with
At a Glance…
Born Gregory Alien Smith on March 25, 1964, in Bay Springs, MS; son of Adelia Barnes Smith (a language arts teacher) and Jim Smith (a high school coach and business executive); children: Greg Jr., Donovan, and Berkeley. Education: Arizona State University, B.A. in broadcasting, 1986.
Career: Radio announcer. KTAR, director of research and sales promotion, 1986-91; AccessLife.com, consultant, 2000-01; On A Roll radio program, founder and host, 1992-.
Awards: Access Center for Independent Living, 20 Years, 20 Leaders Award in The Disability Community, 2000; Public Radio News Directors Inc., Second Place Award for commentary about the movie Toy Story 2, 2000.
Member: National Association of Black Journalists; President’s Committee on Employment of People with Disabilities, Communications Subcommittee; Media Advisory Board, American Association of People with Disabilities; Board of Directors, National Association on Alcohol, Drugs, and Disabilities, Inc.
muscular dystrophy when he was two years old and given a life expectancy of one to ten years. His youth was riddled with chronic viral infections that hospitalized him frequently. He had difficulty walking. Yet despite his need for close care, his parents set him on the road to independence early on, sending him to a public school despite doctor recommendations that Smith attend a school for children with disabilities. When Smith announced that he wanted to go upstairs to bed, his father would encourage him to do so on his own. Smith told Neu; Mobility, “…he made me aware that you have to have a plan B. Sure, it’s nice to be carried up the stairs, but sometimes you have to take matters into your own hands.”
Smith did not grow up waiting around for others to help him. His positive attitude and confidence paved the way for him to succeed in what he wanted to accomplish.“I think optimism is a prerequisite to success,” Smith toldNew Mobility. “If you surround yourself with positive, optimistic people and thoughts, then good things will happen to you.” Smith was student council vice-president in seventh grade and president in eighth. In 1977, he had surgery to straighten his spine. Doctors fused his spine with metal rods to keep it straight, but the surgery resulted in Smith’s becoming a wheelchair user. However, this did not stop him from doing what he wanted, including playing drums in his high school marching band.
Smith attended Downers Grove South High School in suburban Chicago and was an avid sports fan. He kept the statistics for the basketball and football games, and then began announcing the football, basketball, and baseball games at the student-run community radio station at the high school.“I knew then that radio was something I wanted to do,” he told New Mobility. “I had the deep voice and it didn’t require physical strength.” He felt theit if he could not play sports he could still be involved by announcing.“Play-by-play was a way for me to perform, like the athletes were performing,” he told The Cincinnati Enquirer.
Smith attended Arizona State University in Tempe and lived on his own. His parents thought he should have an attendant to assist him in getting ready and to classes on time in the mornings but Smith was insistent that he could live independently. Smith announced at Arizona State University as well, and became the sports director of the campus station in his freshman year. According to New Mobility, he became known as “the voice of the Sun Devils.” He graduated in 1986 with a bachelor’s degree in broadcasting from the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism at Arizona State University. He had selected Arizona State University in Tempe because of its journalism school and because he had heard it had a new radio station and felt there might be an opportunity for him there. His radio work included interviewing several sports figures, including baseball’s Barry Bonds, the NBA’s Byron Scott, Kym Hampton of the WNBA, and NFL veterans Randall McDaniel and Eric ????, as well as Michael Jordan and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. In 1985 he was thrilled to get in on the NFC Divisional Playoff Game at Soldier Field in Chicago while he was home for Christmas. In the Bear’s locker room, he interviewed Mike Ditka, Walter Payton, Mike Singletary, and others.
When Smith graduated he wanted to work in the radio industry in sales, but finding work was difficult and he attributed the difficult]; to his disability and perceptions of weakness.“Nobody would give me a chance,” he told The Cincinnati Enquirer.“They told me they didn’t think anybody in a wheelchair could do the job.” He was finally hired by Phoenix station KTAR as Research and Sales Promotion Director. In this position he wrote ad copy and analyzed statistics. He also got back on the air and hosted “Cardinal Talk,” a program for Phoenix football fans. He worked in his research and sales promotion position for five years but he still wanted to be in sales.
When Smith could not convince his employer that he could be a sales representative, he decided to leave the station and strike out on his own. In December of 1992, after much thought and planning, Smith launched his radio show Arizona On a Roll at KFNN, 1510 AM, with Bank of America as his sponsor. It was not an easy decision. By this time Smith had married and the couple had a baby. Eventually,“Arizona” was dropped from the program name.
When New Mobility magazine sponsored On A Roll, it paid for satellite connection and for national syndication. The show’s listenership grew to around twenty stations and 20, 000 listeners. But after a year and a half the magazine dropped its sponsorship. Now divorced and with three children, Smith moved in with his parents in Ohio, continuing to run the show from their Yellow Springs home. Smith had been traveling and speaking and continued to do so, all the while making plans to keep the show successful and to make it grow.“You have to make your own opportunities in life,” he told Solutions Marketing Group.“I wanted to set up something on a little bigger scale.” Smith gained Microsoft as a sponsor and then later, General Motors. The live radio show airs for two hours on Sundays, but Smith spends a full work week preparing research, coordinating, and writing.
When an article on Smith was published in February 1999 by The Wall Street Journal, he was contacted by a literary agent about writing a book about his life. He also gained a new syndicator with the Radio Center for People with Disabilities, a non-profit organization that trains people with disabilities for radio industry careers.
In 2000 Smith started an email discussion group for blacks who are disabled. He told Solutions Marketing Group,“The objective of this group is to give African Americans with disabilities a forum to discuss unique issues we face. I want to do what I can to facilitate more involvement of blacks with disabilities in the disability movement.”
Also in 2000, Smith was honored as October’s Profile in Excellence by The Solutions Marketing Group, a firm that recognizes the achievements of companies. Instead of a company, the firm chose to highlight Greg Smith and his achievements as a businessperson with a disability. For a year, Smith wrote and read public radio commentaries, which aired bi-weekly on WYSO in Yellow Springs, Ohio. Smith won second place in the Public Radio News Director’s National Award for his December of 1999 commentary on the movie Toy Story 2, where a toy is broken and then is rejected by the boy who had played with it.
Smith moved to Tampa, Florida in 2000, teaming up with the web site company AccessLife.com. The company, which specialized in providing news, opinions, information, and products for people with disabilities, featured Smith as home page columnist and content consultant. He was also involved in sales and marketing. The company went out of business in 2001, leaving Smith to think about where he wanted to go next.
Although On A Roll has kept him busy, Smith has continued making plans for the future, hoping to expand into other markets. He told Contemporary Black Biography,“On A Roll has its purpose, and eventually I would love to just do the Greg Smith show, something not even disability related, but because I am disabled I’m friendly to that concept, that topic.” Despite plans for other projects, Smith told CBB,“My work with On A Roll is not finished, I don’t want to give up on it…I would like to get the show to the point where it’s already a success and then I could move on and do other things and hand it over to someone else.”
The Arizona Republic, December 10, 1992, p. C2.
The Cincinnati Enquirer, June 24, 1999.
Dayton Daily News, September 12, 1998, p. 11B.
Additional information was obtained online at: www.enabledonline.com; New Mobility magazine online, www.newmobility.com; the On A Roll Radio website, www.onarollradio.com; The Solutions Marketing Group website, www.disability-marketing.com; and from a personal interview with Contemporary Black Biography on February 6, 2001.
—Sandy J. Stiefer
"Smith, Greg 1964–." Contemporary Black Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. (April 20, 2019). https://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/smith-greg-1964
"Smith, Greg 1964–." Contemporary Black Biography. . Retrieved April 20, 2019 from Encyclopedia.com: https://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/smith-greg-1964
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