BALLINGER — Jeff Smith, a hometown product of Ballinger, was hired as general manager for KRUN radio station in July of 2017. He has been working tirelessly to re-establish the radio station as contributing member of the community.
Smith points out that he also serves in other positions in the small radio station.
“I’m the morning show host, sales manager, production manager, program director and janitor,” Smith said.
Smith is a worthy selection to take over a radio station that began programming at 6 a.m. on Aug. 6, 1947. Then-program director Jimmie Isaacs, formerly of KRBC, kicked off K-Runnels radio’s life with the first sentence, “Good morning and welcome to the first days of broadcast on KRUN.”
Smith was born and raised in Ballinger, following in his father’s footsteps by playing football at Ballinger High School. After graduation, Smith worked as a contractor in Iraq as well as Dallas, San Angelo, Dyess Air Force Base and Arizona. He wasn’t a DJ back then. He wasn’t even in radio or sales. He was an HVAC technician and project manager.
Smith wasn’t even the first choice to take over the station with the owners, the Graham brothers out of Odessa. Their first choice was Smith’s mother, Jeri Smith, who had recently retired from the San Angelo Standard-Times. Jeri Smith declined the offer to take over the station and mentioned it to her son. Jeff thought about it for a while and thought, “I can do that.”
He talked to Graham’s business manager, Manny Gerhardt, and told him, “I will take over the challenge of making the station a success.” The station had suffered from a lack of business and poor management. Smith knew it would be an uphill battle, “The first thing I did was hire mom. She knows sales and management and helped me out a great deal.”
Prior to the Smith working for the station, Gary Graham had planned to close it down, shutting the doors on over seven decades of broadcasting history in Ballinger. Smith knew the challenges of turning the station around would be immense when he walked through the front doors.
“There were repairs that needed to be made,” Smith said. “Boxes were stacked all over the place, the station needed a good cleaning and so mom and I did the work. It looked like the station was being run as a hobby and not a business.”
In addition to the facelift, the DJ at the time proved difficult for Smith to work with. “We had problems from the beginning,” Smith said. “He wouldn’t talk to me much and continually blew me off. I kept talking to Gary about it and he came down to help. When he got here, he asked the DJ how long it would take to teach me the radio system. He said it would take about two weeks. Shortly after that I recorded a segment then edited it to learn the process. Gary and I both liked it and that was it. Soon the difficult DJ was gone. After he left, we realized the system was over twenty years old and needed to be updated.”
The station had less than $200 in its bank account and Graham decided to go all-in and ensure that Smith had the resources he needed to be a success.
“The station was $20,000 in debt,” Smith said. “Gary wrote me a check to cover the debt and gave me a little more so I’d have a cushion to work with and pay the bills with.”
They needed broadcasting talent and experience so Graham brought in one of his DJs from his chain of nightclubs.
“The DJ helped me out a lot,” Smith said. “He helped me learn the system so we updated it and then brought in an automated system.”
With the talent in place, Smith had to turn his attention to sales and rebuilding the station’s reputation within the community.
“We not only had to rebuild our sales, we had to bring new business to the station,” Smith said. “I created a new logo and tag line, ‘KRUN, where country begins.’ Country does begin and end with this town. It has strong roots in country music. We also had to focus on becoming more involved with the community, groups like 4-H, school band, sports and other groups. Supporting KRUN is supporting the community and we work towards that goal every day. If we get 50,000 views on Facebook and just one person comes to visit Ballinger then we did something. That person might eventually move here and start a business.”
His mother stayed on and helped but had to retire in April due to her health.
Radio stations have to stay current and keep up with the industry. To that end, Smith brought in some more talent.
“I revamped the morning show and brought in Landy Cason,” Smith said. “We had a great time on the morning show. He comes in for two hours every morning now.”
In addition to revamping the station, he started Facebook Live video feeds that have received over 37,000 views.
Smith has a special appreciation for life that is usually reserved for the nation’s military and first responders.
“When I was contracted for construction in Iraq, another company heard I was down there and wanted to talk to me,” Smith said. “They flew me in to Haditha and the base was under attack. We got mortared every day for a week and when I left the base was under attack again.”
Smith studied the history of the station and spoke about it in a recent presentation to the Lions Club.
“When this station started, it had 16 employees,” Smith said. “It was important enough that eight shareholders came together to build it. One of the shareholders was R.E. “Bob” Bruce of whom Bruce Field is named for. They invested $30,000, the equivalent of $410,000 today. The station was originally located on the second floor of the Zappe building, which is currently the home of Gonzalez restaurant.“
KRUN is steeped in history and has reported on some of the most important events in our country’s history as Smith points out.
“KRUN covered a presidential assassination, man walking on the moon, Vietnam, the attempted assassination of Reagan, the Challenger disaster, 9/11 and scandal after scandal in our government,” Smith said. “It is the fabric of Runnels County. It is part of our history and has reported on our history for 71 years. We owe it to the station and to Ballinger to keep it going and build relationships within the community and the county.”
The station is in Smith’s capable hands and he has the knowledge to bring it back to the forefront of the community. What he can’t do himself he brings in qualified people to help with. Smith is personable and a good communicator and cares about the community. He values the station’s place in the community and the community itself. Under Smith’s direction the station has every opportunity to flourish and support the community.