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Published: Thursday, 1/27/2011

Robert D. Smith, Jr., 1929-2011: Regional public radio, TV head kept honey bees

Robert D. Smith, Jr., who as head of public broadcasting in Toledo oversaw the founding of WGTE-FM in 1976 and, in 1981, of WGLE-FM in Lima, Ohio, died of cancer Jan. 20 in Kendal at Oberlin, a retirement community in Oberlin, Ohio, where he lived the last seven years. He was 81.

The aftereffects of an auto accident led to a medical retirement in 1988, his son, Stephen, said.

Mr. Smith was president and general manager of the Public Broadcasting Foundation of Northwest Ohio.

When he was hired in 1974 to run WGTE-TV, Channel 30, he had a strong record in public broadcasting. Mr. Smith was vice president and general manager of the educational television organization that operated WNZT-TV in Annandale, Va., a Washington suburb, for which he produced an Emmy Award-winning children's series.

Before that, he was director of programming at WETA-TV, Washington, and was producer of Washington Week In Review as the long-running news and public affairs program began.

In Toledo, one of his aims was to improve locally produced television offerings. WGTE-FM got its start in May, 1976, with classical music and National Public Radio programming -- which had been absent from local airwaves since budget cuts by Bowling Green State University caused its FM station to lose federal money and NPR affiliation the year before.

"He was passionate about public television and public radio," said Tom Paine, WGTE radio program manager, who was hired by Mr. Smith in 1975 to help stock and staff the FM station. "He would say WGTE brings Toledo thoughtful programs which are cherished by viewers and listeners. The 'cherished' is a Bob word. He loved our public service mission, and it was something that energized him every single day."

Mr. Smith was ever eager to move on to something new, Mr. Paine said, and about six months after WGTE-FM took to the air, he proposed a second radio station.

Ohio Public Radio in 1982 gave its trustees award to Mr. Smith for his work in getting WGLE-FM on the air the previous year.

He was driven -- and sincere, said Shirley Timonere, whom he hired as a television programmer. She succeeded Mr. Smith and was president and chief executive until 2002. "What he wanted to do, he wanted to do for the community," she said.

His son said: "He really felt that he was the aggregator of other people's energies, talents, and excitement.

"He never viewed himself as the guy who had all the best ideas," his son said. "He viewed himself as the guy who brought people together who had the best ideas [in] a place where they could perform at their utmost."

He was proud, too, of the local productions that originated at WGTE, his son said.

"He really believed in the public purpose of public broadcasting, and so do I -- the obligation to serve the audience with stuff that's meaningful and of high quality and can't be found elsewhere," said his son, executive editor and host of American RadioWorks, the radio documentary unit of American Public Media.

Mr. Smith, formerly of Perrysburg, was born March 29, 1929, in Dayton. He was a 1951 graduate of the College of Wooster, where he founded the campus radio station. He served stateside in the Air Force during the Korean War, making instructional films. He had a master's degree from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.

Beekeeping was his hobby, and he made industrial videos for beekeepers. He was a friend of the late Virginia Secor Stranahan, who founded the 577 Foundation in Perrysburg, and for a time was beekeeper-in-residence there.

Surviving are his wife, Janet Evans Smith; daughters, Janna Eversmeyer and Lisa Goss; son, Stephen Smith; sister, Robin Ellinor, and six grandchildren.

Memorial services will be at 3 p.m. Feb. 12 at Kendal at Oberlin in Oberlin, Ohio.

The family suggests tributes to WGTE Public Media or the Way Public Library, Perrysburg.

Contact Mark Zaborney at: mzaborney@theblade.com or 419-724-6182.



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