Sports Xtra Spotlight: IU Radio's Joe Smith battles back to the mic

Posted: 11:46 PM, Feb 28, 2019
Updated: 2019-03-05 20:58:32-05

BLOOMINGTON — Indiana University with a much needed win the other night. All the better for the guys calling the radio.

Pregame and halftime host, Joe Smith, a longtime voice whose own comeback is the stuff of legend.

How perseverance pays.

It was game day in Bloomington. And as he's been for 37 years, Joe Smith was on the Indiana University Radio Network.

Joe Smith: I still have a passion for what I do. This game day, I'm a little bit more pumped up. Because Fish relies on me... to do my job.

Fish is the legendary voice of the Hoosiers - Don Fischer. Who encouraged him to join the crew nearly four decades ago.

DF: "When I think of Joe, it's as old school as ya get, right?"

Don Fischer: "Right. And irreverent. And all those kinds of things."

DF: "You wouldn't have it any other way."

Fischer: "No. Of course. One of the reasons we had this relationship all these years is because he entertains me."

DF: "That's the best kind of friend to have, right? Especially on a broadcast."

Fischer: "Exactly."

But, a year ago all of those qualities were missed in a bad way after a very bad accident at Smith's Bloomington home. Smith remembers every detail.

Smith: "It was misting that night. I had 14 stairs up to my place. I was on the 12th, and I fell backwards. All the way back down the stairs."

Smith broke his neck in the accident. Severing his sixth and seventh vertebrae. And at Bloomington hospital, doctors and neurosurgeon, Zach Dot, rushed to his aid.

Smith: "And he said, 'I'm not going to pull any punches. This is bad.' And I said, 'I'm in radio. If there's any possible way of - ya know - saving my vocal chord?' He said, 'we've already got a plan for that, we're going to come in from the side.'"

Surgery opened up his neck to insert a rod, screws and a plate - his life - a certainly his voice. All saved.

Smith: "The Lord saved my life. I had a great support group. And a heck of a neurosurgeon."

Fischer: "The scary part of it was, we just didn't know how this thing was going to come out. Because literally he was 'that far' from being dead, or crippled for life."

Smith's daughter, Jamie, and his son, Jeff, stood by during an additional surgery for pain in his arm. Rehab was beyond grueling, Little tasks like shaving became a team effort. But Fischer promised that Smith would have a job once it was all done.

Today, a cane accompanies his IU ring.

Fischer: "And I think that incentive helped him immensely. And he stuck with his rehab and he busted his butt on it. He had a lot of support, but for the standpoint of Joe Smith, he was the guy that persevered through this whole thing."

After a year away, Smith is back on the air.

And this fall?

The start of his 50th year in local radio.

DF: "You've stood the test of time, ya know?"

Smith: "I gotta consider myself, kind of a dinosaur. Did I enjoy coming to the yard? Yeah!"

DF: "Beats working for a living."

Smith: "Yeah, it does. We get paid watching kids play games."

DF: "Not a bad gig."

Smith: "No, it's not. I'm very fortunate."

50 years in the making. Smith got into play-by-play back in 1970, after the sales manager at the station he was at didn't want to do it anymore.

The rest - is history.