“He just loved what he did — he just loved it,” Smith’s former KTLA colleague Eric Spillman said in a tribute the station did during Monday night’s newscast. “This was his dream job.”
Smith was in L.A. newsradio before segueing to TV, working at KGIL in the mid-1970s and later at KABC. He made his name anchoring the afternoon news with Nancy Nelson on KTTV, but it was another gig at the station that solidified his local standing. He co-anchored Metro News Metro News, the irreverent and influential newscast that followed the soap opera sendup Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman — before the dawn of Fernwood 2-Night. In a video tribute this morning (watch it below), KTLA’s Sam Rubin called the program “the true forerunner to any of the fun and freewheeling newscasts that we enjoy here today.”
Smith left KTTV in 1987 and joined KTLA in 1995, and his man-on-the-street interviews became a local favorite. “Bill could just walk up to anybody, camera rolling, and he could get them to loosen up instantly,” cameraman and friend Greg Theroux said in the station’s tribute. “It was magic.”
In 2008, a year after billionaire Sam Zell acquired KTLA parent Tribune Company, Smith was laid off along with some producers and fellow popular reporters Willa Sandmeyer and Janet Choi. In a segment on today’s KTLA Morning News, veteran anchor-reporter Sam Rubin said: “In 2007, a dopey billionaire purchased the company and hired a group of pirates and bandits to run it, including a news consultant who was the devil himself. This consultant would fly from TV station to TV station with crazy directives including ‘hit lists’ — people at each station he didn’t know, who he decided just to get rid of for basically no reason. To our great shame and detriment, Bill Smith was on that hit list.”
Last year, Smith — who colleagues called “the Wordsmith” because of his command of language, received the Diamond Circle Award from the Pacific Pioneer Broadcasters.
Survivors include Smith’s wife Karen and son Jake.
Here is a nearly seven-minute segment by Smith’s longtime KTLA colleague Sam Rub that aired this morning: