When veteran journalist and self-described talk radio junkie Rick Smith is in northern Michigan, Interlochen Public Radio provides the fix he needs to keep him connected to the world beyond Leelanau County. Whether listening to “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me" or “Car Talk” or one of the many news programs on public radio, Rick is a fan and a committed IPR supporter.
“The great virtue of public radio is that it offers a home for thoughtful, civilized, beyond-the-sound-byte discussions of events,” Rick says. “Now that doesn’t mean that everyone who listens to public radio agrees with everything that they might hear, but it’s always presented in a thoughtful way that invites discussion and debate.”
Rick’s passion for the news is understandable: he spent 37 years covering news around the world for “Newsweek,” including 23 as editor-in-chief. During his tenure, “Newsweek” received numerous national magazine awards, and Rick was honored with the Henry Johnson Fisher Award for Lifetime Achievement by the Magazine Publishers of America. He knows the news and has seen how the world of news reporting has changed.
“I think one of the great tragedies of the news business these days is that there is less and less original independent reporting,” Rick observes. “The fact of the modern news business is that reporting is very expensive and opinion is very cheap. And so, opinion tends to crowd out deep reporting efforts.” Rick understands that his financial commitment to IPR is part of what keeps this kind of news coverage on the air today. “I know what it costs to keep a correspondent in Baghdad or Afghanistan or many other difficult places around the world, and there are not a lot of news organizations that either have the resources or are willing to make that financial commitment to covering the world. Fortunately, public radio does make that commitment.”
Like many IPR listeners, Rick’s experience with Interlochen goes beyond the radio dial. Both Rick and his wife, Dr. Soon-Young Yoon, grew up in Michigan, and family vacations often took them to northern Michigan. When they were looking for a camp experience for their youngest daughter, they turned to Interlochen. “We were so impressed with the creative, energetic atmosphere at the camp that we thought it would be a wonderful experience for her,” Rick says, “and it exceeded all expectations.” Their daughter, Song-Mee Yoon-Smith (IAC 97-03, IAC Staff 05), arrived as a junior girl and spent eight summers at Interlochen, studying piano and harp and even returning as a counselor.
Also like many who live or vacation in northern Michigan, they’ve had the opportunity to stroll through camp on a summer afternoon when the stone practice huts are full of campers and their instruments. “On your right, there’s an intermediate string quartet practicing. On your left, fifty yards down, there’s somebody else playing the violin. You go a little farther and there’s a jazz combo doing its thing. I almost get tears in my eyes when I take that kind of walk because I think this is such a great experience for these young people.”
The connection between that “creative, energetic atmosphere” on campus and the role that Interlochen Public Radio plays in the community is a special one. “Something wonderful starts in the Michigan woods,” Rick says. “In the same way that Interlochen nourishes the mind and soul of its students and campers, IPR’s commitment to spectacular music and quality news and information programming nourishes its listeners. It never ceases to amaze me how these institutions create ripples around the region and the world.”
Now retired from “Newsweek,” Rick serves on several boards and as president of the Pinkerton Foundation, which supports community-based organizations serving economically-disadvantaged young people in New York City. He lives in Hoboken, New Jersey, with his wife, Soon-Young, a medical anthropologist who works with the World Health Organization and other agencies. Giving back is part of their family’s way of life, and Rick challenges others to consider their own role in giving back to their communities:
“A lot of people in this society have been blessed by great success—and whether it has come from family or friends, publicly or privately financed schools or even indirectly as a result of living in a system that rewards individual effort, they have all had some help along the way. I think those who have been successful have an obligation to give back in one way or another. By contributing to institutions like Interlochen or to organizations like Interlochen Public Radio, they are providing an opportunity for others to share in that success and improve their own lives. I consider it a privilege to be in a position to support those efforts that help an upcoming generation develop its full potential.”