For my first “Prompter” blog post, I thought it fitting to pay homage to a journalist, friend, and mentor who’s cheered and nurtured my career and work — Al Smith. We’ve all been eager to read Smith’s memoir, appropriately titled, “WordSmith.” I won’t spoil the story for you; instead I’ll share a tribute I did in June at the University of Kentucky for Al the night he was recognized with a public service award named in his honor. There are times when I fight to find the right words, but on that occasion, they flowed like water from a spring.
The following is from that speech:
Al inherited me as his coproducer in the latter third of his career at KET. My Friday night dates as co-producer with Al of Comment on Kentucky began in 1997. He peppered me with so many questions about my background, professional and personal. And, after each answer, he’d reply in that seemingly approving, yet still skeptical, coffee-grinder voice, “I see.” It didn’t take long for us to find our groove.
Al would skid into KET each Friday night, an arm full of the week’s papers and notes only he could read. Then he’d dash into the makeup room and hold court with the panel he’d assembled for the night. But Al had a very sensitive side. He instinctively knew who could handle what charge or topic, even if he forgot who he assigned it to.
For viewers, Al’s end-of-show commentary made it clear that he wasn’t just invested and committed to journalism, but to history. Whether he mused about his rural roots, the foibles of leaders past and present, or the state of education, he was endlessly enlightening, amusing, and engaging. Not for his benefit, but ours.
Before Al walked off the Comment set a few years ago, we took a road trip together to his Russellville roots for a piece we produced in his farewell program. I spent the day taping him as me met up with old and new friends who carry on the work he once did in the downtown newspaper there. With his radio pal Don Neagle, he talked about the business and how it has changed, the fight over school consolidation, and better hospitals. When Al walked the streets of Russellville that day, he was a rock star, but his swagger was humble and introspective.
You could see the years of reflection flashing before his eyes. It was moving for me, and I realized in a new way — a more appreciative way — the treasure Al is to Kentucky. A man dedicated to his craft in all its incarnations, to telling the truth, putting up a fight for it, and guiding generations of Kentucky journalists and public servants.
Thank you, Al. Kentucky is better for your service to it!
Editor’s note: Al Smith was the host of Comment on Kentucky, KET’s longest-running public affairs program, for more than 30 years.