WZPL Radio Personality & Westfield Resident, Dave Smiley, is Loving Life on the Airwaves
Writer: Christy Heitger-Ewing
Photographer: Jamie Sangar
Ever since he was a little boy, Dave Smiley was fascinated by radio. Raised in Pella, Iowa, his father was a pastor and owner of two Christian radio stations.
“I spent a ton of time at the radio stations around the turntables and cassette tapes and often fantasized about hosting my own show,” says Smiley, who as a boy got himself a microphone and a Radio Shack mixer and started interviewing the neighbors.
“I’d ask normal questions but then take their audio out of context to make it funny,” says Smiley, who admits to being the class clown, always trying to get a laugh from his peers. He later gained on-air experience by volunteering at his high school’s radio station. His dad also let him work a few hours a week at his Christian stations. Then fresh out of high school, he landed a job in New York City at Z100, working as a promotions assistant during the evenings and playing a character called “Bubba the Love Sponge” on the morning show.
For eight months, Smiley worked crazy long hours. Burning the candle at both ends, however, proved to be exhausting, so at age 19 he returned home and worked at an oldies station in Des Moines during the weekdays and a station in Omaha on the weekends. When a colleague offered him a job at a station in San Diego, he jumped at the chance, then quickly progressed through the ranks — doing overnights, then nights, then afternoons until he landed the coveted morning slot.
Dave remained in San Diego for eight years until ratings started to slide and he was let go. But since he also worked weekend shifts in Los Angeles at Kiss FM, a connection there invited him to relocate to a station in Phoenix.
“Nine months into my contract, they fired me and put Howard Stern on when he was on Terrestrial radio,” says Smiley, who remained in the area for another year, mostly to soak in the Scottsdale party scene. One day he was hiking Camelback Mountain when he got a job offer from WZPL in Indianapolis. He moved back to the Midwest in May 2002 with low expectations.
“I honestly didn’t think this was going to be my home,” admits Smiley, who approached the Smiley Morning Show with a new mindset. “I used to get so uptight when something went bad on the show. I couldn’t snap out of it. I decided in Indy I wasn’t going to stress so much.”
His laid-back, goofy attitude proved to be the golden formula for success as he’s now been in Indy for 15 years.
“Listeners seem to appreciate my weirdness,” Smiley says with a chuckle.
Though the show gives him a platform in which to entertain, he also uses it to help others. For instance, in late November or early December, the Smiley Morning Show participates in the Make-A-Wish Request-A-Thon where Dave and his team (Toni DeKeyser, Nikki Reed, and Will Pfaffenberger) remain on air for 36 straight hours, accepting donations for the Make-A-Wish Foundation, which grants wishes to children with life-threatening medical conditions.
Other annual events include Smiley’s Pumpkin Drop in which they drop a gigantic pumpkin from the roof at the Shops at Perry Crossing, and the Smiley Prom, held in April, a wildly popular party that always sells out. (This year’s prom will take place on April 14.) In addition, the station hosts the Jingle Jam and the ZPL Birthday Bash.
In 2012, Smiley shed his bachelor lifestyle and embraced matrimony with Sarah Brown. Two years later, the couple welcomed their first son, Noah. The trio moved to Westfield in 2016, and Austin joined the family in July 2017.
“We bought a golf cart and in the summertime, especially, we drive our golf cart around to different restaurants or go to parks with the kids,” Smiley says of Westfield. “We also love the nice walking trails around here. In nice weather, we get the wagon out and pull Noah and Austin around.”
He also loves his house in Westfield.
“We fell in love with it when we saw it,” says Smiley, who built a karaoke stage in his basement. “That’s cool. We have a lot of fun down there.”
Certainly, the most challenging aspect of Smiley’s job is the brutal sleep schedule, which requires him to rise weekdays at 3:30 a.m. (even more painful when one of his boys wakes him up in the middle of the night). He generally conks out for a two-hour nap in the afternoon and is in bed by 10 p.m.
When he’s awake, however, he enjoys riffing with listeners — both on air and in person. The show does a segment called “Whatcha Doing at the Courthouse?” where Smiley stands in front of the downtown Indianapolis courthouse asking those who are leaving what brought them there. The public’s brutal honesty, coupled with Smiley’s quick wit, makes for great comedy.
Smiley and his colleagues also share comments that listeners post to Twitter in a segment called “Mean Tweets.” These sometimes clever, often cruel tweets are directed at members of the Smiley Morning Show, but the crew laughs their way through them.
“I do it because I do love our listeners and it’s a way of connecting with them,” Smiley says. “It’s also fun to see who will say it back because guys, in particular, are caught off guard.”
Connecting with listeners is Smiley’s favorite part of the job and one reason he’s thrilled the show isn’t syndicated.
“If this was a generic, cookie-cutter show, I wouldn’t be able to talk about the people, the places and the things going on in the city,” Smiley says. “That’s our appeal. People want to know what’s going on around town because they’re passionate about this city and so am I.”