Paul W. Smith: Meeting Mr. Rogers

Paul W. Smith
Tom Hanks in "A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood."

“Outta’ my mind on a Monday moanin’”

People often ask me who I most enjoyed interviewing over these past 50 years of broadcasting, in a career that started in Monroe while I was in high school. One of these days I’ll put the list together that will include every sitting president since Gerald Ford; Michigan astronaut Jerry Linenger, on his birthday, live from the Mir space station; famous doctors like Jonas Salk (polio vaccine) and Linus Pauling (vitamin C advocate). There have been thousands of fascinating people, some famous, some infamous, some completely unknown until the interview.

Lately, I’m thinking a lot about an opportunity I had many years ago while working on my daily radio show and my daily morning television show in Toledo. Management at the television station stopped by my office and said, “We need you to fly to Pittsburgh and go to the public television station and interview a guy who does a very big children’s television show.” To this day I don’t know why they picked me; I didn’t have children, and I never saw the show.

Off to Pittsburgh.

As I taxied to the PBS building after my quick flight, I honestly didn’t know what to expect.

As I was sitting in the reception area, a gentle man walked up to me wearing a sweater and, I think, sneakers and extended his hand with, “Are you Paul W.?”  I said yes. “Would you like to come into the neighborhood?” His two questions were asked in such an unusual voice and gentleness, I thought initially, he might be putting me on. I quickly learned this was the very real, most gentle man I would ever meet. 

Mr. Fred Rogers.

Much more next week.

Paul W. Smith is the host of "The Paul W. Smith Show" on WJR-AM (760) from 5:30-9 a.m. Monday-Friday