The man behind the 2021 CITY’s Best TV Personality award.
Story By Amanda Long
One of Mid-Missouri’s most prominent TV personalities, KRCG-TV 13’s Rod Smith, has been covering local sports and “Rod’s Big Ol’ Fish” in Mid-Missouri for 35 years. Loved by his viewers, Rod has been named the 2021 CITY’s Best TV Personality for the second year in a row.
Rod grew up near Chicago in Naperville, Illinois, and graduated from Oral Roberts University, in Tulsa, in 1985. He moved to Jefferson City for his first job after college with KRCG, where he began covering the weekend weather and news reporting.
“I even swept the floors. I did a little bit of everything,” Rod says.
After a while, he finally settled into sports coverage, what he refers to as his “true love.” In 1990, Rod had just become sports director when his general manager called him into his office to share his great idea — a weekly news segment to highlight local fishing success photos.
“Initially, I thought it was a silly idea and would never work,” he admits.
Airing every Wednesday night for 30 years, “Rod’s Big Ol’ Fish” has showcased more than 10,000 fish photographs from across Mid-Missouri.
“I can tell you that the Lake of the Ozarks and grandpa’s pond are the two most popular places to fish,” Rod laughs. “Hardly a day or two goes by that I don’t get asked if I remember someone who was once featured on the segment!”
Rod says, during the pandemic, “Rod’s Big Ol’ Fish” was also a lifesaver because people had more time to fish, as it was a safe outdoor activity.
“We were flooded with pictures,” he recalls. “We received more in three months than in the last five years combined. So we did the segment every night over the summer.”
For Rod, his passion lies not only in sports but in helping local charitable organizations. He’s served as the master of ceremonies for several area fundraisers, including the Mid-Missouri Heart Association’s Heart Ball, the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life, and United Cerebral Palsy’s Wing Ding and Deal or No Deal events.
“Tom and Sharon Naught and the Naught family have been a great inspiration to me in giving back to our community,” Rod says. “Starting with the Easter Seals Telethons in the 1990s, we’ve continued to work together to help so many great local charities. I love this community. I love how we come together to support so many good causes. For me, it’s a way of putting my faith in action. Loving your neighbor as yourself.”
Rod has also worked with the YMCA and Samaritan Center benefit auctions, as well as the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. In October, Rod wears pink every day as part of the Real Men Wear Pink campaign to raise awareness and money for the American Cancer Society.
“It’s incredibly rewarding to help out the cancer society — and now I’ve got a closet full of pink ties and shirts,” he comments.
His career highlights include interviews with legendary golfers Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer at the Osage National Golf Resort at Lake of the Ozarks, a course designed by Palmer. He also got a chance to interview his boyhood idol, former Chicago Bears running back Walter Payton. Covering Mid-Missouri sports also meant covering a lot of Mizzou events, which led to Rod playing golf with longtime Mizzou football coach Don Faurot on his 90th birthday.
“He was an incredible man,” Rod says. “And of course, getting to know [former basketball coach] Norm Stewart, the best coach and storyteller in Mizzou history.”
Rod has covered multiple Super Bowls and World Series wins, including the 2011 World Series for the St. Louis Cardinals and the Kansas City Chiefs’ Super Bowl in 2020. In 2019, Rod was inducted into the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame.
Married to his wife, Lana, for 32 years, Rod has three daughters, Brittany, Brooke, and Paige, as well as two grand-dogs.
“I’m so glad I came to Jefferson City,” Rod says. “I love the community. It’s been a great ride, and I’m so thankful and blessed.”
While Rod didn’t grow up in Jefferson City, he calls it home, and the community certainly loves having him here. During the tough economic times of the 2008 recession, KRCG ownership needed to make some difficult cuts.
“I was one of many who lost their job, but I happened to be fairly visible,” he says. “I am a man of faith, and I believe God lets things happen for a reason, even if we don’t understand at the time.”
Rod’s termination led him to discover several new opportunities with different businesses and organizations that he was able to pass on to others who had lost their jobs.
“I’m actually proud of that time — it was incredibly rewarding to be able to find the positive in the negative.”
Through a petition drive with thousands of signatures, the Jefferson City community brought back Rod Smith to KRCG.
“To go back to a place that fired you was unheard of, but after the multitude of comments and emails, they offered me my job back,” he says.
Rod wonders sometimes how easily life could have gone if he had chosen a different direction, but he’s thankful he was able to come back to a supportive, tight-knit community.
“I didn’t realize the incredible relationships I had built over the years — with local schools, coaches, players, and families in Mid-Missouri,” Rod says. “I have always thought I work for the best community.”