#MasonCOMM’s Rodger Smith is the “Face” of WGMU Radio

by Catherine Wright

#MasonCOMM’s Rodger Smith is the “Face” of WGMU Radio

Rodger Smith started his career at George Mason University 27 years ago.  Since then, he’s seen a lot of changes, met and mentored thousands of students, and maintained an award-winning student-run radio station, WGMU.  This week, we will get to learn more about this dedicated Department of Communication faculty member.

When you get to know Rodger, one of the things you’ll learn is that he is a very proud graduate of James Madison University, where he earned a BS in Communication Arts.  He follows their sports closely and hangs his purple and yellow JMU flag in his office.  He is very proud of the Women’s softball team who was in this month’s Women’s College World Series!  A couple of years after he graduated from JMU, he earned his MBA in Accounting from Shenandoah University because he thought he might make a career change.  Luckily for us, his love for radio won out, although Smith said, “As it turns out, the [MBA] degree has helped me in my present job at Mason.”

While in high school, Smith started as a weekend on-air personality, which he continued while attending JMU.  Radio was his first choice for a career, and he has never looked back.  He currently is the Faculty Advisor for WGMU through Student Media.  Each July he leads the successful WGMU Summer Podcasting/Radio camp for middle and high school students who have an interest in radio broadcasting.  During the season, Smith serves “as executive producer for the George Mason basketball coverage on WGMU.”  In these roles, he has inspired numerous students to attend Mason and participate in Student Media, specifically radio.

One of his favorite departmental activities is his role as the Student and Alumni Awards Committee Chair.  Working with the Registrar’s office, Smith is able to determine “which graduating seniors earn academic honors through the department.”  This committee also “considers nominees for alumni of the year for bachelor’s, master’s, and PhD degrees in Communication.”  These activities keep him busy, but he loves the involvement with current and past students.

When not mentoring radio enthusiasts, Smith teaches several classes related to radio, journalism, and the media.  His two radio workshop classes allow students from all majors the opportunity to learn how to become a DJ, while mastering skills needed to record podcasts.  These skills can be further finessed in his 3-credit class, Podcasting and Radio Production, which is a very popular class.  He also teaches journalism writing, Sports and the Media, and one of his favorites, Media Management. 

Smith commented that the Media Management course is so much fun because it “teaches you how to be a leader in a media environment. We cover content creation, hiring, financial responsibilities, marketing, social media and more. These are areas most people in general do not realize about media management.”  He goes on to say, “I cover why sitcom writing for The Big Bang Theory (filmed in front of a studio audience) must be shorter than a sitcom like The Office (no studio audience). Both sitcoms must be 22 minutes in length, but Big Bang is more shortly written to accommodate the audience laughing at the very funny moments of the show.”

The President of the GMU, Greg Washington, uses the WGMU studios in the Johnson Center to produce his podcast, Access to Excellence.  Additionally, several faculty over the years have taken one of Smith’s radio workshops to improve their skills.  As long as someone has the interest in learning, Smith is happy to help them reach their goals. 

When asked why he loves teaching at Mason, Smith replied that he is fortunate to teach subjects about which he is truly passionate.  He loves introducing students to unfamiliar concepts in news writing, podcast production, media management, and watching students’ academic and personal growth as they grapple with these concepts.   Smith goes on to say,

“I’ve had the privilege to teach many students who have gone on to great things. Jorge Andres is the play-by-play voice for Sunday Night Football on Telemundo. He will call Super Bowl LVI next February. Kitty Gambel, this year’s Outstanding Comm Undergraduate of the Year, is a senior vice president for unscripted television at MGM. Theresa Werner was the first part-time reporter to become president of the National Press Club. Annie Yu is the morning anchor on Get Up DC on WUSA-9 locally. Bill Rohland is the voice of George Mason Patriots men’s basketball.”  What makes this so immensely satisfying for Smith is that he maintains relationships with each and these talented alumni have gladly come to speak to his current students, showing #MasonCOMM students they can “lead successful communication-related careers.”

One of the biggest challenges Smith faced, like many, was taking a face-to-face synchronous class and converting it into an asynchronous, online-only course.  He said, “It took nine months, but I created it.”  He now teaches one to two asynchronous classes per year in addition to his face-to-face courses.

While Smith is busy at work, he does find time to relax.  He loves reading, listening to podcasts on a variety of subjects, exercising, and attending the Koinonia Sunday School class at Braddock Street United Methodist in Winchester, VA. 

Always putting students first, Smith has this advice for graduating students: 

Have at least one (preferably two) internships and/or communication-related jobs while as an undergrad. Employers want to see career related experience on your resume. Be patient with the job and career search. It takes up to five years to achieve stability in a career starting off. And above all else, Do What You Love. The Money Will Follow. Better to pursue an avocation you are passionate about than something you are in just to make money. Find your passion and pursue it with enthusiasm.  

There is no doubt Smith is a dedicated faculty and colleague.  His willingness to volunteer is noteworthy, as he is willing to do what needs to be done to ensure students are successful.  Smith also helps faculty and administration with their career needs and has guided many to recording success.  His love of radio and sports are legendary and he is willing to chat for hours about all things James Madison and George Mason sports. When Smith first arrived at Mason, he was shocked by all the parking lots!  Now, there are buildings where they used to be and parking garage structures have popped up.  Smith says, “Mason is a special place.  I have great colleagues; I have terrific students.  I am so lucky.”