Norm Gregory Radio Scrapbook: Lee “Emperor” Smith Audio

by Norm Gregory on September 3, 2011

in 1970, 1974, Audio, KJR, Radio Scrapbook

Emperor Smith

I found some KJR audio from Lee “Emperor” Smith’s program. “Your Emperor” was the KJR morning man from mid 1970 to early 1974. He arrived from Spokane to take over from the short lived Bwana Johnny morning show and “retired” to the KJR sales department four years later and Charlie Brown became KJR’s morning man.

Emp Smith, KJR Retro Spectacular 1970

Emp Smith, KJR Memorial Day Weekend 1000, 1970

Emp Smith, KJR, April 1974

I worked with Lee in Spokane and Seattle . . . he was unique and never dull. Last time I saw him was at our 1995 KJR reunion at KJR-FM, May 1995. The Emp died in Riverside CA on October 12, 2001 of cancer. Joel Leroy Smith was 59 years old.

Links to previous posts:

Emperor Smith Leaves KJR Mornings, May 1974

The Former Emp, Lee Smith Lands In San Francisco

Seattle Morning DJs 1975: KJR’s Charlie Brown

Charlie Brown & Tom Murphy, KJR 1968

Lee “Emperor” Smith Tributes

Pat O’Day: In 1967, I received this aircheck tape in the mail from a Deejay named Lee Smith. He was working for a station in Yuma Arizona and I had done some consulting for that station years before.

The aircheck evidenced a voice with great warmth, an individual with a great sense of humor and all with great pace. Our KJRB Spokane was in need of just such a personality in AM Drive and Lee was hired to do the job. We changed his moniker to “Good Morning Smith!” He was immediately successful in Spokane.

It was later on that after Lan Roberts had left KJR and we had been unsuccessful at filling the vacuum that we brought Lee to Seattle and KJR. Sensing the need to make a big splash, I took a page from Bob Hudson’s book at KRLA and we named our new Morning Drive Man, Emperor Smith. (It was accomplished with an on air election to select an official Emperor for Seattle, in which you could call on the phone and vote for Lee Smith or his opponent. (The opponent in the election had no name, just his opponent.) Well, Lee won in a landslide

So, now wearing a crown of green leaves and his new burgundy toga with golden sandals and scepter, The new “Emp” was heavily promoted with Television and the sides of busses. Seattle totally accepted the entire scheme and there was no doubt. Seattle now had an Emperor. His name was Emperor Smith!

This was followed by a large jump is the rating of the morning hours because not only was he instantly famous. HE WAS GOOD! His wit, charm, energy and totally local emphasis was just what the town wanted. He simply became huge!

Of the many great stories about our Emp, one comes to mind this day. I had arranged for him to lead the Husky Marching Band in the National Anthem at the California game. We added something special. Attired in his now famous Toga on this chilly rainy fall day, he rode into the Husky Stadium on a beautiful big white horse. He galloped up to the conductors platform, led the band and then, with great crowd response, remounted the horse and continued around the track to the student section. There he leaned down, grabbed the head Cheer Leaders microphone and shouted “Your Emperor is freezing his ass off out here!”

He retired from the Morning Show prematurely but he said he wanted to pursue a new direction and that in radio sales. He was successful in that direction but only to find that he still wanted to be on the air. He returned to the air for a period with KSFO San Francisco and later with KYYX FM in Seattle. Neither of these efforts were to match the true magic he initiated as Emperor of Seattle and KJR.

Lee had no enemies. You couldn’t get mad at him because there was such a special innocence about him. He was also highly intelligent and in his lifetime, never really came to understand his total strength. I can recount so many stories that can bear this out but for now lets just say, he had a certain naiveté that made him such a special humane being.

Long Live the Emperor in our minds and hearts! Emperor Smith. [ October 19, 2001 ]

Kjr flyer emp

Tom Murphy: This is very sad news. I always liked Lee. I enjoyed his company and I thought he was great talent. The way he pulled off “The Emperor Bit” was truly amazing. He was one of “The Good Ones.” Very sorry to hear of Lee’s passing. [ October 19, 2001 ]

Norm Gregory: I worked with Lee in Spokane and Seattle, no matter if he was “Good Morning” Smith, the “Emp” or just Lee off the air he was the same unique guy. He wasn’t a character he made up he WAS that character and that’s what he will always be to us. God love ya Emp. [ October 19, 2001 ]

Charlie Brown: This is such a shock. Last I saw Lee was at the KJR reunion at the KJR FM studios and at the Pat O’Day hosted party in Bellevue. Oddly Lee told us that he was working at a funeral home in Florida, I think, or selling cemetery plots…something bizarre in that industry.

When I first met Lee he had just bought a new, 1966, Yellow Dodge Charger with an engine the size of Utah. He took us on a test drive that I still haven’t recovered from. Lee did Mornings at KJRB from 1965 to 1968. To that time I don’t think I had ever heard a better morning man. He was compelling to listen to. I can remember copying his intonations and style. Amongst other bits on the air he would read letters from his granma in Mobedes. When Lee followed Lan doing mornings at KJR I took his place doing mornings at KJRB in 1968. When he left the air in May of 1974 to do sales at KJR I followed him there as well.

I’m sorry to hear this news and wish his family well. Our little community is less one of the great ones. [ October 19, 2001 ]

Scapebook 050574EmpPhoto

Gary Shannon: Just a few thoughts on the passing of Lee Smith.

I was in the KJR control room on New Years Eve morning in 1970 something when the “Emp” inadvertently blurted out: “I feel like shit” while turning to me with a mic wide open.

Even at six in the morning on the morning after New Years Eve, the phone bank began pulsating. I remember the “Emp” answering calls from shocked listeners and his reply was classic Emperor Smith. He said: “would the Emperor say such a thing…you must be listening to another radio station ..perhaps it was Hardwick over on KVI.”

We all become something more than ourselves wrapped in the safe cocoon of a radio persona. No one was more committed. He played it to the hilt and that took balls; especially on chilly Seattle nights in a toga with a character named “Mr. Terrific” in the Age of Aquarius competing with Dick Balch for attention at those KJR All-American basketball games. Even it seemed slightly out of sync with the times it still worked. He made it work.

He was warm and engaging and he executed with conviction and never flinched. The “Emp” never lost the Lee Smith within him. He never pulled rank. He was supportive. He was a team player.

Oh, and he was never above taking in a couple of porn flics after a hearty breakfast at the “13 Coins”. I was really into it. He fell asleep. He had left it all at Channel 95. [ October 20, 2001 ]

Steve Slaton: Emp was a fantastic early influence and inspiration for me. First, as a common listener growing up in Tacoma, he was the first guy that could begin to follow Lan Roberts on KJR. His playful wit and awesome presence made him fun to listen to! You knew he didn’t take the whole thing seriously and you had to love him for it. I would later get to know Emp by working with him. When I was hired at age 20, in the Summer of 1973 to be the overnight guy at KISW (we shared the same West Seattle building) Emp would roll up in his way cool Porshe hours before his show and get to work. He read, wrote, recorded and recorded Mr. Terrific bits. In short, he worked his butt off and Seattle adored him for it! Emp was proof that radio could be a viable employment opportunity! I was a nobody. Emp was a somebody, but he always took the time to help me learn. Emp, I will always put my hand on the radio for you! God Bless! [ October 20, 2001 ]

What is going on here? I have been digging through My Collection of photos, news clippings and other documents from my 35 years in radio. The Collection can be sorted:

By radio station: KPUG • KJRB • KJR • KZOK • KQFM • KOMO • KJR-FM

By year: 1961 • 1963 • 1967 • 1968 • 1969 • 1970 • 1971 • 1972
1973 • 1974 • 1975 • 1976 • 1977 • 1978 • 1979 • 1980 • 1981 • 1994

1 RK Henderson May 28, 2016 at 11:43 pm

Love those old airchecks! Such memories! Thanks, Norm!

Robin Henderson
Program Director

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