Few people know that during the ’70s Tucson was a regular stop for many of history’s greatest musicians including James Brown, Little Richard, Ray Charles even Jimi Hendrix.
During this time, T. Richard Smith was the host of the IMPAK soul radio program and a key player of the cultural music scene that once thrived in our sunny city. Now IMPAK is back and the 56-year-old Smith is working to resurrect a small piece of the funk and style that Tucson has lost along the way.
“Back in my day, man, you had to know how to rhyme on time, to get it going down, make somebody’s liver quiver, make their back snap and make them get ready to rhyme with the rhythm. You had to have personality,” Smith says exhibiting no shortage of his disc jockey “personality.”
Smith was exposed to soul and rhythm and blues by his family at a very early age and carried an intense passion for the music as he grew older. At the age of 11, Smith recalls selling newspapers outside of the KTKT-AM radio station in downtown Tucson and deciding that he would someday make a career out of his love for music.
“I remember I was looking through the plexiglass, looking at the disc jockey and I said, “God, I want to do that when I get older,” Smith says. “Then this white guy comes out and he asked me what I was doing. I said, ‘I’m looking at the disc jockey because I want to be like him,’ and he said, ‘Don’t dream that, son, because there are no colored disc jockeys.”
Thirteen years later in 1974, Smith was hosting and producing the IMPAK radio show on KTKT, dedicated to spreading a genre of music that rarely received the airtime it deserved.
“The original explanation of IMPAK was to bring a sound that has impacted music around the world, which is rhythm and blues, soul and funk,” says Smith.
In 1984 management changed at KTKT and IMPAK was disbanded. Twenty-four years later, in 2007, Smith met with KXCI-FM’s rhythm and blues radio host Jason Hastings and the idea of resurrecting the IMPAK radio program came up.
“My show was the only one on the air that was playing any soul or funk,” remembers Hastings. “In terms of diversity of genres represented by the station, I think it is important to have more shows that feature soul and funk music.”
In April of 2008, IMPAK was back on KXCI-FM (93.1) every Saturday night from 11 p.m. to 2 a.m. Sunday, Smith now plays classic soul music and gospel as well as rhythm and blues artists from around the state. According to Smith, IMPAK is a refreshing departure from the commercialized radio shows of today.
“Now you have radio that is so corporate. They have so many stations that they don’t give a damn about the community where they have the stations,” Smith says. “Mr. T’s flavor is different. I was the original ‘T’ in Tucson on the air. My flavor is different because I’ve lived those rhythm and blues. I’ve lived in a community where basically that’s all there was.”
Although Hastings’ KXCI show, “The Connection,” plays a similar genre of music as Smith’s, he has no problem acknowledging Smith as a local soul legend.
“T. Richard has a personality that’s larger than life. He has a wealth of experience in the industry. He’s been around to actually witness a lot of these acts and a lot of these musicians as they came up and became famous.”
Not only does IMPAK pump a wide array of classic soul tunes but it also gives listeners a glimpse into a time when Tucson was funky and disc jockeys were more than talking heads, Smith says.
“You listen to me, I’m going to take you on a history ride.”
IF YOU LISTEN
What: IMPAK, a radio show spotlighting classic soul, gospel and R&B music from around the state
When: 11 p.m. Saturday to 2 a.m. Sunday
Where: KXCI-FM (91.3)
Info: 623-1000, www.kxci.org