Where Are They Now?

Hugh Smith

Hugh arrived in Tampa on Labor Day, 1963 and it didn't take him long to become one of the most familiar faces in Tampa Bay journalism as Channel 13's Pulse News anchor.

In 1968, he became main news anchor and news director when Ray Dantzler was promoted to program director. It was under Smith's leadership that Pulse News soared in the ratings and became the number one news program in the Tampa-St. Petersburg market for most of his some 20 remaining years on the show.

One night, not long after he started at the station, his car wouldn't start as he was leaving for his Town 'n Country home after the 11p.m. broadcast. He started walking, hoping somebody would stop and give him a lift. Just after 2:30 a.m., a very tired newsman was safe at home...a distance of about ten miles.

Although Smith seemed cold and distant to some staff members, he had a warm side and was one of the hardest working people in the newsroom. He did his news director chores each day until 2p.m. and then entered the newsroom to help prepare the 6p.m. show. He expected the best out of his reporters and helped exact that if they somehow fell short on a story. He was always more a part of the team and less the boss-type outsiders speculated he was.

As news director, Smith took greatest advantage of new technology by replacing the used of film with videotaped news stories; live, from-the-scene coverage of breaking news; and super fast live aerial news coverage from a helicopter.

Smith thrived on exclusive reports. His involvement in street reporting resulted in dozens of scoops over the years, particularly involving the school system, Tampa General Hospital and various interviews. He scored big with an exclusive interview with President Jimmy Carter in 1980 and a live, on-air interview with the former President Gerald Ford.

In 1983, Smith turned over news director duties to Ray Blush to give full attention to the evening program.

Not long after, he was suspended from his anchor duties for one week after pleading guilty to a misdemeanor morals charge in Hillsborough County court. A few years later, station management moved him to the noon program and gave the station's news a different image.

In the early 90's Smith found himself in court once again, this time forced to resign from WTVT after 27 years of service. He soon found work at a popular Pinellas County radio station.

Update: Dec 17, 2007

Tampa Bay news legend Hugh Smith, who spent 28 years on the top rated Channel 13 News program, died on Sunday, December 17. He was 73.

Hugh came to the Tampa market in 1963, a street reporter during the week and anchoring the weekends. After that he was managing editor and news director. He did it all at the same time until the early 80's when he managed to give his other duties away and concentrate on his on-air work.

He was a true professional and demanded that facts be presented correctly in a way that could be easily understood. He was not good at small talk. If you did your job the best you could, he was pleased. He mentored many news people and a number of them went on to much bigger jobs on the networks.

A workaholic, he often came in on his days off to review his mail, send out memos, review audition tapes, conduct interviews and perform whatever else he didn't have time for during the week. He defined quality broadcast journalism in the Tampa market for almost three decades.

He was especially interested in education and followed that beat closely and personally. His passion was to see that the children of this area received the best schools and teacher's possible.

Hugh came into television at a time when it was still being defined and followed its evolution from black and white to color, video tape to live, on scene reports and more. He did the first live news broadcast from a helicopter back in the 80's. He did things that had not yet been done before in television.

Sadly, not many knew Hugh really well because he seldom let his wall down but he was a sensitive man with a keen sense of humor and a willingness to work with the system and people who tried hard at the news profession.

He made a few mistakes toward the end but those didn't define him as a person or as a newsman. Hugh was a fallible human being, though many expect a lot more from the people they see on TV. Until the day he died, he regretted those mistakes and they haunted him.

In his last years, he lived in an apartment in St. Petersburg, spending most of his time reading, watching television, walking and playing with his grandchildren. He will be missed.