Skyline of Richmond, Virginia

Teamsters on Radio

04.24.09

Richard Negri wrote on April 20, 2009 at 2:09pm

Although he is a burgeoning celebrity in central Pennsylvania, Rick Smith says he is an average man—and that might just be what makes him so popular.

A truck driver for Roadway Express, Smith is a member of Local 776 out of Harrisburg. On the weekends when he’s not on the road, Smith can be found in the studios of WHYL AM 960, broadcasting his voice—and his opinions—over the airways.

Host of a self-titled radio show, Smith provides the listeners in his area with something he calls unique and different—the perspective of a working-class, union man.

“Everything here is very conservative and very far to the right. In our area, my radio show offers a progressive point of view. I look at things through the eyes of a working man because that’s what I am,” Smith said. “I discuss the struggles of keeping a roof over my head and food on my table; I think people can identify with that.”

Labor Education

Smith isn’t the only Teamster radio host with which the public identifies. Tackling many of the same issues is Gary Washington, host of the WRFG 89.3 show “Labor Forum,” which is based in Atlanta.

A Teamster member since 1972, Washington uses his air time to discuss issues that are close to his heart. He takes his cues from civil rights and labor activist Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. As a result, “Labor Forum” has become one of the most listened to programs on WRFG, with fans tuning in from near and far.

“On my program, we always try to keep people in tune with the work of Dr. King,” Washington said. “Labor was always an important thing to him. Although his plate was full, he always made time for labor.”

Aside from promoting King’s messages of peace and equality, Washington also uses his radio show to highlight activities of Teamster members. Often, his guests include workers who are trying to organize.

“We are putting out the message of the Teamsters Union that it is important to be organized,” Washington explained. “You can complain, but you won’t get anywhere. One voice is just a voice in the wilderness, but voices together are like an ocean with the strength of a tornado. You have to organize.”

Many of the guests on his show are also college students and Washington said that isn’t coincidental. Without a strong labor curriculum in public schools, Washington takes it upon himself to educate Atlanta’s young people about the labor movement and the importance of labor unions.

Forum for Labor

While Washington aims to educate others about labor, Smith’s goal is to offer the average working American a friendly forum for open discussion. His show was originally set to be a program “of, for and by the working people,” but over the years it has morphed into something more—an answer to right-wing talk radio programs which have controlled the AM airways for years.

“What I like best is taking on the right wring. I like the combative nature of the program,” Smith said. “Once you start putting out a reasonable argument and start to answer the far-out right wing talking points, people begin to understand.”

In the four and a half years since Smith started his show—dubbed “The Rick Smith Show”—he has tackled nearly every labor-related topic, ranging from the Employee Free Choice Act to the government bailout of the “Big Three.” His guests have included such high-profile figures as then-Sen. Hillary Clinton, Sen. Ted Kennedy and Teamsters General President Jim Hoffa.

Aside from inviting guests to voice their opinions on his program, Smith also makes it a point to tell his own story—one that involves hard work, dedication and the American dream.

“I grew up in a housing project on the west side of Cleveland. By American standards, we were poor. Thanks to hard work and help from the union, I now live in a good neighborhood and I have health care and a pension. I could still be in the projects working myself to the bone like a lot of people, but I’m not because of the union,” Smith said. “I hope that what I have done in my life shows people that unions are good things.”

Top Ratings

Although finding new and fresh topics for the program can sometimes be a challenge, Smith says it is one from which he never tires—and neither do his listeners. Since its debut in 2005, Smith’s weekly show continues to score high ratings, always falling among the top five most-listened to WHYL shows each week.

“They’ve kept us around because the show is surprisingly popular,” Smith said. “There is nothing in this area like it.”

The same can be said for Washington’s show, which has received attention from laborers in Canada, Australia, England and France.

“The Rick Smith Show” can be heard every Saturday and Sunday from noon to 2 p.m. Eastern Standard Time. More information about The Rich Smith Show can be found at http://ricksmithshow.com/.

“Labor Forum” with Gary Washington can be heard every Tuesday from 4:30 to 5 p.m. Eastern Standard Time. More information about the show can be found at http://wrfg.org/default.asp.

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EDITOR’S NOTE: Article reprinted from the Teamsters Facebook pages.

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