Photos by Collin Richie

The Creatives: Radio DJ Leah Smith makes connections through music


Hometown: New Iberia
Age: 41
Artistry: Radio DJ, WBRH 90.3 FM, and WHYR 96.9 FM; English teacher, Baton Rouge Magnet High School

The mosaic behind her is formed by the intersection of two high walls of CDs, their colorful spines shining teases of innumerable tales sung and played and powerful. With the afternoon light streaming in, deejay Leah Smith almost recedes into the eye-popping background. The red “On Air” light is dark inside the plush radio station at the renovated Baton Rouge Magnet High School where Smith graduated from and has taught now for 12 years. Smith leans back in her seat and contemplates what it was that made her such an ardent acolyte of the sound and fury.

“Hearing music, you’ve got storytelling, you’ve got poetry and lyricism all coming through, and the wonderful sound supporting that and setting a mood,” she explains.

Smith hosts popular shows on WBRH 90.3 FM—she worked at the radio station as a student, too—and WHYR 96.9 FM.

“Life is difficult, so finding something that makes you happy and that you connect to makes life easier,” Smith says. “It can be just what you need.”

Smith’s father spun records at weddings when she was growing up, and as soon as she was old enough to work a turntable, she began accompanying him to gigs.

She loves live deejaying, too, playing vinyl Friday nights, LSU football gamedays and Sunday brunches every other weekend at The Overpass Merchant.

“It’s about underlying connections that you don’t expect, but when you find them, it makes you so much happier to know there’s a commonality in songs that may at first seem very different,” Smith says, in a near-enough analogy to the connections made among people of all walks of life. “As long as people aren’t glaring, you’re good.”

Smith’s creative outlet is sewing and woodwork—she fashioned her own record and CD shelving system—but says her real passion is sharing the rich musical history of south Louisiana.

“If more people recognized the history of music here, they would be surprised, and view their city in a new, deeper way. You can’t separate community from these songs.”

Smith’s advice for creatives is the same instruction she gives her more enterprising writing students, and the same response she would say to music listeners who are stuck in a rut with their tired old standards.

“It’s about finding what makes you happy,” Smith says. “But you have to develop a certain comfort level with delving into the unknown.”