For many Key West residents, their mornings begin with the same routine. Coffee is brewed, an incredible sunrise paints the sky, and the smooth didactic waves of Jack Smith’s voice greet the thousands of listeners who tune into Pirate Radio each morning.
Jack Smith is the prodigal son of Key West radio celebrities. He is a second-generation radioman whose father announced the Key West High School baseball games play-by-play beginning in 1953 with WKWS Radio, owned by John and Mary Spottswood.
“In those days there were not many stations in Key West,” said Smith. “Baseball was a way of life. I believe nearly a dozen Key West players were drafted into the majors during one of the seasons my dad called the games.”
Before he was Key West’s most notable radio personality, Smith traveled the world working for radio stations from Russia and all over Europe to Las Vegas and Los Angeles. He was in Russia more than 10 years with an MTV radio station that played “Euro Trash” and learned some of the language and culture.
“In St. Petersburg they use vodka for everything. They give it to you if you are cold, if you are sick or if you ran out of gas… and if often works,” said Smith. “It was amazing to experience their culture.”
For Smith, broadcasting has been a lifelong passion. His first big gig was with Spin Magazine, where he created Spin Radio and got his first chance to interview superstars.
“Boy George was the first big celebrity I interviewed. He was a really cool guy and a great interview,” said Smith. “We met him through a mutual connection with Ministry of Sound.”
Smith, accompanied by his wife Jennifer throughout his journey, landed in L.A to work for a combination of hip-hop and country stations. The dissimilar vehicles allowed him to interview marquee names in the music world, including Chris Cornell, Snoop Dogg, Biggie Smalls, Brad Paisley and many others. However, Smith’s love for Key West would soon call him home.
“Key West reminds me of my hometown in Wisconsin. Everybody knows everybody and it is a close-knit community. This is the favorite place I have lived in my travels,” said Smith.
Today, Smith is the only local owner of a radio station in Monroe County larger than 100 kilowatts, capturing listeners from Key West to Key Largo with his 101.7 and 96.7 FM stations. The playlists are a handpicked by Jack and wife, Jennifer; offering a diverse blend of contemporary and classic hits ranging from Jimi Hendrix, Eddie Vedder and Soundgarden—to fresh artists such as Wilco, Jack White and Amos Lee.
“I pick all the songs by hand when most stations have a bank. It is nice for people all ages to enjoy the music I select,” said Jennifer. “Jack is very smart and dedicated and definitely a go getter. He runs everything on his own, and wears many hats.”
While Pirate Radio plays the types of songs that would make any music lover stop fiddling with the radio dial, Smith adheres to a simple method that has allowed him to corner the local radio market.
“It’s not necessarily the songs you play,” said Smith. “It’s what you do in between those songs that define a radio station.”
Jack commands morning radio with the No. 1 ranked show, Monday through Friday, co-hosted by the talented Becca Morse. The show does what so many others fall short of, offering informative news, yet maintaining edgy topics, humorous quips and a love for the Keys community. Rarely a day goes by that Jack doesn’t highlight a non-profit, give a shout out to a pet in need of adoption at the SPCA or offer a story about his “best friend,” a 13-year-old yellow lab by the name of Luci.
“Radio stations are supposed to reflect the community,” said Smith. “They are supposed to be a personal voice for the listener, while sounding like the lifestyle that surrounds them.”
His future plans for the station include adding an electronic, trance, chillout and dubstep show. For information on Pirate Radio visit: pirateradiokeywest.com.
Little Known Fact:
If Jack could interview anybody dead or alive, it would be John Lennon.