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Rod Smith's 'Big Ol' Fish' story

Rod Smith's 'Big Ol' Fish' story

September 24th, 2018 by Joe Gamm in News

Rod Smith is seen on the job for KRCG-TV in this September 2018 photo. Starting as a weather man, Smith soon became a favorite in the community with his "Big Ol' Fish" segment.

Photo by News Tribune /News Tribune.

For most people, getting fired would be a tragedy that is difficult to overcome.

Professionally speaking, being laid off was the best thing that ever happened to Rod Smith, he said.

The longtime face of KRCG-TV 13 sports, Smith had been with the station about 23 years in 2008, when management laid him off.

"It was really an amazing thing. I lost my job, and it was the best thing that ever happened to me professionally," Smith said. "I had a community that came together here and supported me and my family. Not just me, but local sports."

Smith's connection to sports has much to do with his quick return to the station.

He became a fan of sports as a child in Chicago and grew up playing baseball, basketball, football and hockey. His father took him to Cubs, Bulls, Bears and Blackhawks games.

"So I actually played all those sports," Smith said. "My dad actually built a hockey rink in our backyard."

And yes, he grew up attending ball games at Wrigley Field and is a Cubs fan.

"You can take the boy out of the city, but you can't take the city out of the boy," Smith said. "So I'll always be a Cubs fan, but I'm one of those unique people in that I really like the Cardinals. And I like the Royals."

When those teams do well, fans are happy and the team at KRCG gets to cover playoff runs. Smith has been assigned to seven World Series.

His fervor for sports extends to local schools.

He's one of the few people in Jefferson City who supports multiple schools. Smith appreciates the athletic programs at Jefferson City, Helias Catholic, Blair Oaks and every other Mid-Missouri school.

"A lot of people have their special allegiances — most people do. I like them all," Smith said. "And I like them all to do well. I have friends at each one of these schools and organizations."

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Smith has become so familiar as a sports reporter, it's hard to remember he was hired as a weekend weather man. His responsibility was to fill three minutes a night on Saturday and Sunday.

"I didn't know a thing about weather," Smith admitted. "So I just kind of read it off the old AP wire."

He made up a cartoon character named Debbie the Weather Duck, who advised viewers on whether it was going to be a two-blanket night or three.

Over time, he convinced management there should be sports coverage over the weekend, and he ended up doing weather and sports for about four years. Each day, Smith spent about 15 minutes preparing his weather report and about nine hours preparing for sports. He eventually was given a full-time gig doing sports.

"Some of the greatest compliments I get sometimes may come from an older woman who says, 'I don't like sports, but I like watching you,'" Smith said.

We live in a generation where children are growing up watching cable sports stations and think television reporters should know every statistic, he added.

"I think, in our local television, it's about relationships and it's about doing things that people are interested in," Smith said.

A general manager approached him in 1991 with an idea for a segment called "Rod's Big Ol' Fish."

Every Wednesday night, the station was to show a couple of photos of people with their fishing successes on the 6 p.m. and 10 p.m. broadcasts.

"My original thought was 'This is crazy. It's never going to work,'" he said. "I started it that week."

Over the past 27 years, thousands of people have been featured on the segment. No more than a day or two goes by when someone approaches Smith and says they were once featured on Rod's Big Ol' Fish.

Not everybody is passionate about the University of Missouri Tigers, but almost everybody has a child, grandchild or cousin who fishes, Smith said.

A lot of things have grown out of his sportscasting — including service to multiple charitable organizations.

"That has really tied me into this community," he said. "That's really why I came back from that firing, too."

He was ingrained in the Heart Association, the American Cancer Association, Samaritan Center, YMCA and other organizations.

Folks at the Naught Naught Insurance Agency wouldn't let him move away and look for work elsewhere. They wanted Smith, his wife and his three daughters to remain in the community.

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"After you get fired, you don't expect to come back. I figured I might come back at a different TV station," Smith said. "God gave me all these different opportunities to do other things. But this community wanted me to do what I'd been doing."

People made it a priority for Smith to return to the air. They bombarded the station with emails and created a petition — which quickly received more than 2,600 signatures — calling for his return. Within a week, the station realized its mistake and began negotiations for his return. He was back on the air in about five weeks.

"It just doesn't happen in this business. But it did happen," he said. "I am forever indebted to those who fought for me. Because I didn't really fight for myself. I just let the Lord take it from there and see what direction he was going to have me go."

Smith's access to the airwaves helps the causes he supports. He said he has a passion for helping people who help people.

In October, he'll wear pink every day as part of the Real Men Wear Pink campaign to raise awareness and money for the American Cancer Society.

Smith has participated since the campaign first started three years ago. He used his passion for golf to infuse his personality into his fundraising effort. Smith goes to area businesses and offices and puts on a Golf Putting Challenge, in which participants set up a golf hole on the carpet or a wood floor of the business and they take turns trying to make the put. Everybody in the business wears pink that day.

"I put them on TV. We have a champion for the night," Smith said. "Then they give a donation to the American Cancer Society for Real Men Wear Pink."

So many people don't stay up to watch the late news, he said, but they are aware that he helps with so many organizations. And they connect him with those efforts.

"That connects us with different viewers in different ways," he said.