- Faith & Family
During his formative years in Liberty City where he attended Miami Central Senior High, MJ Smith says he always figured he would become a lawyer. But after calling in one day to a local radio station to request a song, his life would move in a totally new and unexpected direction. Now 40-years-old, he has become a fixture at WMBM (AM 1490) and emerged as one of Florida’s premier DJs, emcees and voice-over specialists. And he remains proud of calling South Florida his home.
“I was 16 and was told I had the kind of voice that would work on the radio,” he said. “The confirmation came when I heard myself on the broadcast and thought ‘yeah I could do that.’”
Smith began to seek the advice of those already in the business like the legendary Rick Party and says he was instrumental in his development.
“Rick took me under his wings and became my mentor and he wasn’t the only one — that was really important,” he said. “I then went to school for my certification at Miami Lakes Tech. Back then you needed a license to be on the air. But more than that, you needed to know someone. The industry was so locked down that folks would hang around the radio stations, trying to get to know the emcees. The goal was to get your demo tape into their hands and have them listen to it. It’s even harder to get to the top folks today and is even more about who you know. Of course you must have the talent and you have to always be ready whenever that knock on the door comes your way.”
After a couple of gigs including a small classical music station in Palm Beach, Smith eventually got a call from WMBM but it was for R&B programming. He says it didn’t matter — he just wanted to prove he was ready.
Smith makes his mark on the gospel trail
In 2010, MJ, as most call him, was recognized as the radio announcer of the year during the South Florida Gospel Music Awards. He has opened concerts for and facilitated interviews with Kirk Franklin, Byron Cage, Ann and Mary Mary, just to name a few. And while he didn’t win, he is proud to say that in 2009 he was nominated for one of the industry’s top honors — the Stellar Awards Radio Announcer of the Year.
“It took me awhile to get the knack of working in the gospel genre but as I started to bring different things to my show, people started paying attention to me and the buzz began,” he said. “I was mixing in gospel hip-hop and more contemporary forms and started to develop a following. It can be a long day for me because while I may only be on the air for five hours each day of the week, I still have to do the voicing for commercials, make appearances and work on branding the station.”
Smith serves as the president of the Miami Chapter for the Florida Gospel Announcers Guild where he focuses on providing opportunities for lesser-known artists and those who have dreams of becoming tomorrow’s top gospel DJ.
“Gospel music continues to change and we now have satellite programming and I-pods, but one thing that won’t change is people’s attraction to certain on-air hosts,” he said. “We all have our personalities and styles — that’s what often keeps folk tuning in.”
Call him unique, even quirky, but MJ Smith has earned his way to the top and keeps on pushing for excellence. He’s truly making a joyful noise!
By D. Kevin McNeir