Heralded as one of America’s most celebrated and respected media personalities, Tavis Smiley is a voice that many recognize.
As the first American to have a show on both public television (PBS) and public radio (PRI) and a regular on “The Tom Joyner Morning Show,” Smiley reaches millions.
Additionally, the talk host has authored nine books, including “Keeping the Faith,” “The Covenant with Black America,” and his “On Air” series, of which Smiley recently added his third and final installment in “On Air: The Best of Tavis Smiley on the Tom Joyner Morning Show 2004-2008.”
“For the 12 years that I spent with Tom doing commentary as his resident contributor, there were two books that have come out previously. The first book, called ‘On Air: Volume 1’, covered the first four years of my commentaries, so that book had the best of my work over those first four years. The second book, ‘On Air: Volume 2’, which encompassed some of the best of my work over the second four years. This third iteration is a 4-CD box set. We thought we’d switch it up a little bit and give people the opportunity to hear us in real time in a box set called ‘On Air: The Best of Tavis Smiley on the Tom Joyner Morning Show 2004-2008’.”
Smiley describes this collector’s edition as “some of the best stuff over the past four years” from his work on the “Tom Joyner Show.” Smiley signed off from the hit syndicated radio show under controversial circumstances. Smiley cites that his busy schedule – hosting two talk shows, leading a couple of non-profit foundations, and coordinating and moderating his annual town hall meeting called “The State of Black America” – just to name a few. Joyner, however mentioned the backlash Smiley was getting for his criticism of Democratic Presidential nominee Barack Obama.
Nevertheless, “On Air” for 2004-2008 features Smiley’s thought-provoking, hard-hitting brand of truth and commentary that has enlightened and empowered.
“It really does include some of our best stuff from the last four years, and my, what a four years they were,” Smiley said. “You basically have the second four years of the Bush Administration and what that’s meant for this country and for the world, and for the economy, and for our politics. There are political issues, there are social issues, cultural issues, there are economic issues, there are sports are issues, there are arts and business issues. All the kinds of stuff that I talked about over that four-year period, this really is a snapshot, certainly of black folk, of what it was like to live in America over these tumultuous four years.”
The previous four years, as Smiley insists, certainly have a grand amount of topics and issues. The challenge for the seasoned social pundit was selecting what broadcasts would make it on to the collections and which would not.
“Over the course of my tenure with Tom Joyner, I did about 1200 commentaries – that’s a whole lot of talking – roughly over the course of the 12 years. As is the case in the business we are in, some days there are an abundance of riches. Some days there are all kinds of things in the news that you want to talk about and you have to make the difficult choice of which one is going to get on the air; which one are you going to spend your time talking about,” Smiley said.
Smiley said that he has learned in his career that you can’t attempt to run with three, four, or five ideas in one commentary.
“You want to have a singular focus that they can stay attached and attuned to,” he said. “Here’s what I’ve discovered, my decision about what to talk about had a lot to do with what I thought this massive audience was least likely to hear if I didn’t talk about it. My point of view was trying to share something with the audience that they had no idea about was going on in the world. My thing was, of all the things I have in front of me, what is the thing that they are most likely not to hear, if they don’t hear it from me. Other stuff they’re going to get a thousand other places, so I tried to be picky, particular, and peculiar about giving them stuff that they were not going to get anywhere else. That basically, was the overarching reason I chose most of the topics I chose that are represented on this box set.”
Smiley admitted that, in addition to sometimes having to weed through a plethora of topics and issues before going on air, most of the time he stepped to the microphone with very little scripted information. Smiley attributes his ability to host a show or speak intelligently on a subject to his years of practice and experience.
“I have never operated best from a script,” he said. “I will stand up and give a lecture from 40 minutes to an hour without a single note. With out a single note I like to be organic, that is to say, I want to be present in that moment. I want to give the audience whatever is on my mind, whatever is on my heart, whatever is happening in the world on that particular day. I’ve been doing this for a lot of years, so I’m well trained at it, I’m well-versed in it. After doing it so long and knowing what’s on your heart and knowing how to express yourself and as much reading I do, and research I do, I can pretty much stand up and you can give me the subject matter and I’ll have something to say that I hope is empowering to the audience.”
Smiley told EUR’s Lee Bailey that he has always been opinionated. His career in policy and advocacy began when he was an aide to Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley. In the early ’90s, Smiley made an unsuccessful bid for LA City Council, but when one door closed, another opened and he took to the Los Angles airwaves with one-minute daily radio segments. But in addition to being opinionated, Smiley added that within his career, as well as everyone’s, it’s important to be prepared.
“If you have been blessed with a skill, you start with your ability. Then if you prepare yourself, you’d be amazed what you can pull off,” he said modestly explaining how he needs no script. “Because I’ve practiced and prepared myself, I came to the studio with something to say. Once the microphone came on, it just came together.”
Smiley’s talent on the mic is hardly his proudest accomplishment, however. The talk show host said that he is most proud of the accomplishments of his listeners.
“Probably one of the proudest accomplishments and achievements of being on ‘Tom’ for all that time – was all the work we got done. This was not just about me coming on the radio and running my mouth. My commentary was me trying to make a difference.”
Smiley mentioned his lead in the drive to get Rosa Parks honored with a Congressional Gold Medal, to his work in moving slave items from a Christies’ auction to an African American museum just to name a few.
“The commentaries that mean the most are commentaries that got people involved and engaged,” he said. “There’s a lot of good that was done. It was not just about talking the talk, but walking the walk. I had the audience of millions of people to thank for that. This 4-CD box set is not just a celebration of my words, but of their work.”
“On Air: The Best of Tavis Smiley on the Tom Joyner Morning Show 2004-2008” is in stores now. For more on Tavis Smiley and “The Tavis Smiley Show,” visit www.tavistalks.com or www.pbs.org.
“On Air” retails for $23.95. Smiley is currently on a promotional through Walmart stores around the country. Dates and locations are listed below:
Thursday, October 23, 2008
4545 Lafayette Rd.
Indianapolis, IN 46254
Friday, October 24, 2008
9350 Cortana Pl.
Baton Rouge, LA 70818
Saturday, October 25, 2008
4800 US 287 Highway
Fort Worth, TX 76011
Sunday, October 26, 2008
621 Uptown Blvd 75104