Jason Smith has progressed from sitting on the baseline at basketball games with his sports journalist father to taking over one of the most popular broadcast slots in local sports radio.
If there’s anyone in town who was seemingly predestined to be a prominent figure in Memphis sports-media, it’s Jason Smith.
After all, his father is Les Smith, the revered local TV and print reporter who recently retired after more than three decades covering news, sports, and politics in the Bluff City. Throughout his own professional journey, Les Smith shared his dedication to Memphis sports with his son Jason.
The Smith family moved to Memphis from Florida in the early 1980s when Les Smith took a job as a sportscaster for WMC-TV Channel 5.
“So I grew up going to Tigers games at the Mid-South Coliseum and the Liberty Bowl, exploring every inch of old Tim McCarver Stadium during Memphis Chicks games and sitting cross-legged next to the photographers on the baseline for basketball games at the Pyramid,” Jason Smith said.
“Back then, the powers that be didn't mind local media guys bringing their kids to the games they were covering.”
It was through these experiences Jason Smith first developed his passion for sports.
Now, Jason Smith, alongside his on-air partner John Martin, is filling the shoes of one of Memphis’ most popular voices on sports-talk radio, Chris Vernon, on Memphis’ most highly rated sports station, 92.9 FM.
But long before that, Jason Smith’s star had been on the rise for some time.
“I spent 13 years at the Commercial Appeal and I'm super-grateful to the newspaper for giving me that opportunity,” he said.
"I literally went from cooking burgers for rich white kids on the golf course patio grill behind the Memphis Country Club to interviewing some of those same rich white kids on area golf courses as a preps sports writer.”
In 2010, after seven years of service covering high school sports, Jason Smith was promoted to a top position as the University of Memphis Tigers’ basketball beat writer. The promotion elevated his profile even further and also allowed him to enjoy certain fringe benefits.
“I mean, I was blessed to go to Hawaii and the Bahamas and all over the country to cover the Tigers in tournaments and road games,” he says. “Who wouldn't love that?”
But when the opportunity to switch to radio came up this September of this year, Jason Smith didn’t hesitate, despite the potential awkwardness of replacing his predecessor and radio mentor, Vernon, who after much speculation left the station to join the Grizzlies’ new in-house operation Grind City Media.
Smith is the only primetime African-American voice at 92.9 FM and one of a handful of local African-American sports journalists.
“Chris Vernon was the guy who taught me it was OK to be me on the radio,” says Jason Smith. “Everybody knows John and I are replacing a Memphis radio icon, an absolute monster in the game.”
So far, the reviews and ratings for the “Jason and John Show” have been overwhelmingly positive, and the duo has been able to book many high-profile guests, from current Grizzly Vince Carte to the legendary Turner Sports’ NBA broadcaster Craig Sager, to the famous comedian and actor Sinbad. And according to their station colleague Gary Parrish, the duo has more than exceeded expectations so far.
"It's important to remember that neither Jason nor John have ever hosted a show or worked together until now,” says Parrish, whose 4 to 6 p.m. show on 92.9 is the top rated sports-talk show in Memphis, according to Nielson ratings. “But already, I believe, their enthusiasm is coming through...So I think they're doing well under the tough circumstances that come with replacing somebody people mostly liked.”
As the new “Jason and John Show” grows in confidence and popularity, don’t look for Jason Smith to look to jump ship to a bigger market any time soon, even if the opportunity should present itself. Smith is firmly invested in Memphis.
“This is where I want to be – Memphis,” he says. “I don't want to be anywhere else.”