Why Paul W. Smith is moving from mornings to middays on Detroit’s WJR

Tune in to Smith’s noon show starting June 20

Paul Smith (Cumulus Radio Station Group)

DETROIT – WJR’s Paul W. Smith is moving to the midday radio slot after hosting mornings for over 27 years on Detroit radio.

Smith has been bringing his voice to Detroit homes, cars, and businesses weekly from 6-9 a.m. on the morning show “Great Voice of The Great Lakes.” The Wall Street Journal has dubbed Smith as “the king of talk radio in Detroit.”

The move was announced on Monday by Cumulus Media Group in Detroit. The show “Focus” will be replacing the syndicated Dan Bongino Show that has lived in the 12-2 p.m. time slot.

Initially from Monroe, Mich. the radio personality has helped shape AM radio throughout his career. Smith has interviewed every American president since Gerald R. Ford, another Michigander. Aside from the awards and interviews he has conducted, the Michigan native hosts an annual golf tournament for the Detroit Police Athletic League.

Smith has been inducted into the Michigan Broadcasting Hall of Fame (2016) and the National Radio Hall of Fame (2014).

Why he’s moving

The on-air personality stated that the radio station would have happily let him continue to do the morning show for as long as he wanted.

“They’ve said it a million times and I did it as long as I wanted it,” explained Smith. “But I am certifiably exhausted. If you talk to people who do know me or see me out and about, they never could believe over these 27 years that I would be out seeing an event donating my time and services. It could be 10 or 11 o’clock at night and people would come up to me and say, ‘Oh, you must have off tomorrow morning?’ and I’d say no, no, no, I’ll be there on the air.”

Smith joined the Detroit radio station in the early ‘80s where he started out in the Motor City market working weekends and filling in for JP McCarthy. From there, Smith eventually took over the original “Focus” show, which took place at the same time, starting at noon. WJR states that shortly after Smith’s predecessor passed away, he was selected to be the permanent host for the WJR morning show.

Paul Smith (Cumulus Radio Station Group)

Smith has decades of his time in radio ever since was 15 years old. Over the years he has worked a variety of shifts, and for almost three decades, he could be heard on your radio from 6 to 9 a.m. daily.

“I have been living with 3 to 3.5 hours of sleep for a very long time. You know, we say that in America, most of us are sleep deprived. If you open up a dictionary under sleep deprived, my picture is actually there next to the definition. I don’t like feeling tired all the time, but I have to tell you the truth, I have burned, burned the candle at both ends for a very, very long time,” said Smith.

The new lineup of shows for WJR will go into effect on June 20. Smith will still be on your local airwaves as the host of “Focus” which will air from noon to 2 p.m. When it comes to the morning show, former Local 4 anchor Guy Gordon will replace the big shoes that Smith has left.

I believe Guy Gordon is gonna do a great job,” said Smith. “In fact, the whole new lineup we have, I think is gonna be a very good lineup.”

Below is the updated lineup of WJR’s talk shows starting June 20, 2023:

6-9 a.m.“JR Morning” with Guy Gordon
9 a.m. - 12 p.m.“All Talk” with Tom Jordan and Kevin Dietz
12-2 p.m.“Focus” with Paul W. Smith
2-4 p.m.“JR Afternoon” Show with host Chris Renwick
4-6 p.m.“The Mitch Albom Show”
6-7 p.m“SportsWrap” with host Sean Baligian

Smith’s noon show will replace the syndicated Dan Bongino show, giving WJR more of an opportunity to expand the community’s access to influential newsmakers throughout the Great Lakes state.

“Launching the Focus show will give Paul W. Smith the opportunity to expand, on and off the air, his unmatched relationships with Michigan’s most influential newsmakers, for the benefit of our audience and our advertising partners. WJR is The Great Voice of the Great Lakes and going 100% local is a big win for all Michiganders who count on WJR to inform and educate us about everything happening here in our state!”

Steve Finateri, Vice President/Market Manager of Cumulus Detroit -- June 5, 2023

What to know about ‘Focus’ airing from noon to 2 p.m. daily 📻

The opportunity for the two-hour noon show came along and Smith said he had to jump at it because he stated he believes WJR and their listeners deserve to have programming that is aimed at the things that are pertinent to the Detroit area.

Smith said that several things have happened to create an opportunity to bring “Focus” back.

“And though I’ll be doing many of the same things that I’ve done in the mornings for the last 27-plus years, I will have more time rather than rushing through the governor in six minutes or rushing through a conversation with the mayor in eight minutes or whatever it might be,” Smith said.

“And, we will focus on what we’ve always focused on, which is the business of the great state of Michigan and how we can get better at everything we do and how we can all be sure to take advantage of everything that Michigan has to offer, which is a lot.”

“I think that people who’ve enjoyed me in the mornings will follow me to the midday. And for people in the midday who didn’t ever listen to me in the mornings, I hope that they’ll start to like me. I’m sure there’ll be people who are missing programming that they got used to and that they was very good programming with the national stuff. But I hope they understand and realize that in the end, this is all for them and the fact that they’ll be programming that really affects their lives very specifically.”

Paul W. Smith, WJR host of "Focus"

The longtime on-air personality explains that there will be options to host the show from a variety of places and be more on the road, becoming more immersed with Michiganders.

We asked Smith what his mornings are going to look like now that he doesn’t have to be up at 4 a.m. every day, and his reply? “I am going to sleep.”

“I’m gonna have new energy to do my midday show and all the other things that I do,” said Smith. “I’ll continue to do my Detroit News column and anything else such as special remotes and on-location broadcasts.”

Paul W. Smith at the 2023 Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix presented by Lear (Cumulus Radio Station Group)

The legacy of Paul W. Smith and how he isn’t catching a breath anytime soon

The Detroit personality said he knew he wanted to be a radio DJ at the age of 15. Smith did announcements at his high school and said that he jumped at every opportunity he could to be as involved in school as he could be but keeping him out of the classroom.

After doing announcements for his high school, he jumped at a chance at a local radio station in Monroe that needed somebody who sat next to the school’s sports announcers during games and filled in the radio station.

Smith would do this during grade school. After high school, Smith went to community college and continued working at the radio station, and also worked at the Monroe Holiday Inn.

“I did all the things I could do to pay for school and then when I could afford it, I transferred to the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, probably graduating from there in 1975,” said Smith.

After college, Smith went to Toledo. “I coming born and raised from Monroe, I could either turn left and go to Toledo or turn right and go to Detroit,” said Smith about his opportunities. “I had a lifetime in Toledo. I did a radio show, I did a daily live television show. I even acted in legitimate theater at a dinner theater. So I mean, I get a lot of different things in Toledo and I enjoyed it very much. And then I got a call from a gentleman who later became a good friend, named Dick who became our, our news director who just retired recently, but he’s still doing features on WJR and that is, he said, ‘you know, if you wanna get up to the Detroit area, CKLW needs a morning man.’ And I had never dreamed of working at CKLW. In fact, I was one of the guys who grew up listening to WJR my parent’s radio station while my friends listen to AM where the music was and they listened to CKLW. But I went. I got the job, at CKLW when they were trying to transition from music to talk, which was not easy.”

Smith said that eventually he was brought over to WJR, which is what he always wanted. That is where he would fill in for McCarthy and then start the original “Focus.” Smith was able to do this when he was on air in Philadelphia.

“So backing up a little bit, I went, when I was done with college, I wanted a full-time job. There weren’t any full-time jobs available at that time. So I actually filled in Christmas Week in New York City at a radio station called WMCA. They offered me a job, but it was like ridiculously low of money. And I said, ‘I can’t, I can’t live in New York City for that kind of money’. And this was many, many years ago. So what happened was they heard me then at WABC and WABC offered me a Monday through Friday job. So that is where I ended up, and when I look back now, I can’t believe it myself. But incredibly, I worked seven days a week for well over a year, working Monday through Friday at WABC. Then every Friday for my, at my own expense catching an airplane back to Detroit and did the Saturday morning and Sunday morning radio shows at WJR because I loved JR so much. Every Sunday I’d get back on an airplane and fly back to New York and be on the air at WABC Monday. So I was working at two different radio stations seven days a week.”

Paul W. Smith, WJR

Smith eventually started to fill in at a station in Philly, and that is where he had the opportunity to help out WJR and started the long format interview show “Focus.” There would be on average about two to three guests during the show.

“It was good programming, but we always wanted to be all Michigan-based programming,” said Smith. “Meaning programming that concentrated on things that were important to our home market home audience.”

The Detroit personality mentions that he has worked with many who stayed on the air doing their daily shows while they are in their eighties and nineties.

“Those guys worked well into, an age that if they were running a corporation or something else, they probably wouldn’t be allowed to do that,” said Smith. “But in our business, thank goodness until we start to not making sense or drooling. As long as we can be pertinent and make sense and to communicate, with our audience. And I’m gonna continue, I do relentless positive radio, relentless, positive radio is what I try to do.”

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer with WJR's Paul Smith (Cumulus Radio Station Group)