Article ©Jacob Katel
DJ Milton “Butterball” Smith was a pioneering broadcaster of epic proportions who got his start on Florida radio in 1952. He was one of America’s first R&B DJ’s, and he played independent music from around the country. Butterball was a strong influence on record sales, and helped propel regional hits into popular music. Over decades, his community service also endeared him to generations of Miamians.
It all started in the early days of R&B, when the Magic City staked its claim as the nation’s premier forecast region for the selling power of uptempo dance music. Butterball was on the front lines of this social sonic revolution.
Throughout World War II, the raw “shellac” materials used for pressing records were in short supply. But after 1945, shipping routes came back to life, 78rpm pressing plants sprang up, and independent blues, R&B, and gospel records issued by small labels all over the U.S. exploded onto the AM dial and landed in the jukeboxes that dominated the music buying landscape. As the styles proliferated across the “clear channel” broadcast power of stations like WLAC in Nashville, they kickstarted other indie stations that communicated the music for free across the U.S. and even the Caribbean. A handful of DJ’s and independent distributors controlled the logistics of airplay, and Butterball was one of the first.
DJ Jack The Rapper, for whom the Atlanta music convention is named, gave many speeches on the “13 Original Black DJs,” always recognizing Smith. Butterball was friends with Martin Luther King Jr. He was pals with James Brown, Sam Cooke, and Wynonie Harris. Legend has it that he shadowboxed Muhammad Ali; drank whiskey with Big Mama Thornton; and Sugar Ray Robinson rode out in his pink Cadillac with the top down through Overtown listening to WMBM. Milton Butterball Smith was close with the everyday people all over South Florida and The Bahamas. So in tribute to this great man and pioneer DJ, who worked and partied with Henry Stone for decades, here are some of the essential facts that you must know about DJ Milton “Butterball” Smith.
– Butterball was born in Richmond, VA, and received a B.S. from Tennessee State College, served in the Korean War for the U.S. Marines, and moved to Florida in 1952.
– He started out on WFEC, a South Florida AM radio station which was one of the earliest stations in the area to play rhythm & blues. They combined this format with gospel, news, jazz, and foreign language programming.
– He worked at WFEC under the name “Fat Daddy.”
– He was hired away from WFEC by WMBM, a tiny AM station on the south side of Miami Beach.
– When he moved to WMBM he changed his name to “Butterball” because WFEC claimed ownership over the name “Fat Daddy.”
– He worked out of a street facing sub-station in the heart of Overtown in front of a big window. Everybody passing by could see and hear Butterball through the window and a speaker that was set up and he could see them too.
– Butterball broke all the hot independent records.
– Butterball was known for his signature catch phrases, slogans, and specific ways he started and ended show. He would say things like, “This is Mrs. Smith’s 300 pound boy.”
– Milton Smith was such a popular DJ that he would go to the Bahamas and play for 10,000 people. He was one of the world’s original superstar DJ’s.
– He was great friends with Steve Alaimo and even appeared with him in a few locally shot films directed by William Grefe that are considered cult classics such as “The Hooked Generation,” “Stanley,” and “Mako: Jaws of Death”
– Smith was known for community programs, including giveaways, and cash donations, parties, loans, promotion, playing records, showing up, doing it right, and being the best.
– When he retired from the radio, he worked with TK Records.
– He was recognized for his BBQ skills and special babyback ribs, which he cooked everywhere from the Tone Distributors compound, to the lobby of a hotel on Miami Beach during a record convention.
– The radio DJ and personality King Coleman was also hired away from WFEC by WMBM and they became a powerful duo breaking records on a nationwide basis based on their clout in the southeast.
– Was great friends with Clarence “Blowfly” Reid, with whom he recorded the earliest version of “Rapp Dirty” in 1962.
– Butterball passed away in 1990. Milton “Butterball” Smith, rest in peace.
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