The name Jeremi Smith may not be immediately recognizable. The man behind the name is, though: He's a big, easygoing guy with a shock of curly blond hair who often wears a black T-shirt with an Evologic logo on the front. Get close enough to hear him speak and you may have a "Hey, I know that voice," thought. That's because Jeremi Smith is better known as Big J, the effervescent radio DJ on 100.3 (KQXR).
I sat down with him the other day to see how he got into radio in the first place, how he feels about his job, and what he thinks the future holds for him.
I asked him if he liked doing the morning show. He answered quickly, "Did I like it? I didn't like getting up at four in the morning." Laughing, I re-worded my question and asked if he was disappointed about no longer being on the air in that coveted time slot.
"You kind of have to be a little more orchestrated in the morning and a little more organized, and I'm scatterbrained," he answered. "I don't put a lot of thought into what I do on the air. In the morning show you have to think ahead on things and be super creative. It's very draining. It's not as easy as you think it would be. It was fun to interview people, but you really have to be on top of things, and I'm just not that organized early in the morning.'
After graduating from Valley Christian High School in 1996, Smith steered toward politics. Wanting to take some time off before starting a college career, he began working for the Idaho State Republican Party on Sen. Larry Craig's campaign. His job was to get on the phone bank, asking for donations. He said, "I did a pretty good job and had an interest in it. They needed someone to run the phone bank for the election campaign in 1996 so I was asked to help out. It was grueling. I worked 14 hours a day and I got real cynical. I was uncompromising on the issues we were talking about. I would get phone calls all the time from really angry Democrats and we would battle on the phone. Also, people would go vandalize the Larry Craig signs and I would have to go fix them. I [soon] realized it wasn't what I really wanted to do. I got burned out on the politics in this town." Laughing, he adds, "I still feel for the guys I see putting up signs, even if they are Democrats."
Fed up with politics, he decided higher education would be a good route. He enrolled at Boise State, majoring in Mass Communication and Journalism. After doing a couple of on-air stints with a DJ friend, he realized radio might be just the right place for him. He's very clear, though that it may not be for everyone: "It's hard work. I would tell anyone who wants to be in radio, 'Do not set your sights on [it].' You can work hard at it, but you're not going to get paid a whole lot of money, and it takes a lot of sacrifice. And just focusing on being an on-air person is not going to give you a long life [in radio]. It's the stuff behind the scenes you need to know. If you want a career in radio, you have to be willing to learn how to work with all of the technology."
Smith knows his technology. He said being on-air is only a small part of his job. He spends at least 15 hours a week making commercials, promos and working on things that benefit the radio station as a whole, not just his show. Smith said in the six years he's worked at 100.3, he's seen talented people come and go because all they wanted was to be on the air. They just weren't willing to put in the time it takes to have a career in radio.
Smith's hard work is paying off--not just for himself, but for the radio station as a whole.
Recently, the radio station lost its program director and Smith lost his drive-time morning show slot to a syndicated show. Smith took on the 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. on-air time slot and also acted as interim program director, which meant producing commercials for the radio station and coming up with new station promotions. His hard work (along that of the rest of the station's employees) is paying off: 100.3 won a Radio and Records, Inc. award in 2005 for Best Alternative Station in their market (www.radioandrecords.com).
With a new program director on board, Smith is back focusing on music. He seems happy and content and looking forward to the future at 100.3. He said his plan is to look into playing more music by local musicians. Sounds simple enough, but there's a lot more to it then just playing a CD. Smith said, "So much goes into getting a song on air and even more goes into dealing with what happens afterwards."
But, Smith's got a heart as big as his hair, and even though he's busy, he's passionate about his work. With him in their corner, local bands might get their big break with Big J.