View Full Version : Former DJ China Smith Dead

08-24-2005, 11:09 PM
DJ China Smith and Chief Engineer Bob Kanner Die
(August 24, 2005) China Smith, one of the big L.A. voices for three decades, died Monday afternoon, following a heart attack in his apartment. China was 61 and been in failing health with heart disease and the need to replace both knees. He continued to smoke until his death. (Photo from his last radio job at Arrow 93)
Once you heard China’ voice, you never forgot it. It shook the speakers.
Thomas Wayne Rorabacher was born in Grand Rapids in 1943. He used the name Wayne Thomas for his first four years in Michigan radio. In 1969, at KCBQ-San Diego, pd Gary Allyn gave him the name China. The name Smith was picked to give an ethnic balance of exotic and American. Bob Wilson brought China to the Southland to work AOR KDAY from KING-Seattle.
After KMET, China had the urge to go back home to Michigan. "I was at the old KROQ with Jimmy Rabbit and Lee Simms, and I left with the station owing me $12,000. So I went home to fish, water ski and get back near family." He worked for stations in Lansing and W4-Detroit. "I hated Detroit so much that I drove 90 miles each way each day to avoid living there." (China art was sent to friends and this poster appears to represent his time at KTWV. Thanks to Manon Hennesy who sent this artwork as well as the other photos of China)
In the 1980s, he was the voice on tv's Solid Gold syndicated show. He was most proud of a syndicated program called "Fusion 40," which was heard on four continents. China described the program as "a combination Quiet Storm, jazz/NAC and World Beat." He did the show for almost five years. He was involved with the Academy Award-nominated music from Young Guns II and was thrilled to attend the awards ceremony. China hosted the afternoon and midday slot on KACD, "CD 103" until a format change to ¬ďGroove Radio¬Ē when he returned to Grand Rapids.
China worked at: KDAY, 1971-72; KRLA, 1972-73; KROQ, 1973-74; KMET, 1974-75; KLOS, 1979; KWST, 1980-81; KMGG, 1983-84; KUTE, 1984-87; KTWV, 1989-91; KAJZ/KACD, 1992-96; KCBS, 1999-2000. China was also an accomplished artist, using his computer to produce fabulous digital pieces. (Photo of China from KWST in 1980)
In the Spring of 2003, China fell on hard times and LARadio wrote the following story:
This is a difficult story to write. The subject is a nice guy. But his circumstances are uncomfortable. No one wants to write this kind of a story, especially the subject of this story.
Ten years ago when I naively started researching the first edition of Los Angeles Radio People, I thought of the project as a fun look for some of our early radio people and to learn about their journey. It turned tragic rather quickly. One of the brightest Top 40 stars in L.A. radio was living in a box at Vermont and Hollywood Boulevard. Others had taken their lives or because of a hard lifestyle, life had taken them early. Many had just disappeared.
It seemed that success came early to our radio people and then circumstances, and now consolidation, have made employment difficult. Many were just not prepared for the eventuality when the microphone would be turned off. Somehow many thought the swirling red light would remain on outside the studio until retirement.
I found the thrill of those who made it to be exhilarating. I gravitated to those who made lemonade out of lemons. A young David Hall had dreams. Still in his twenties, David was driving his Volkswagen when a drunken truck driver with two loads of cement crashed into his car, and the gas tank exploded trapping him in his car. He lost both legs and within six months was walking on artificial legs. David was given an opportunity at KNX/fm. He loved acting and soon found himself in the role of a double amputee in Gene Hackman¬ís Class Action (written by LARP Chris Ames), Judge Swaybill in L.A. Law and a ton of cartoon voice work. David is now the coroner in the hugely successful CSI tv series. ¬ďLife could be a dream¬ÖSh-Boom.¬Ē
The purpose of this story is a cry for help. One of our own is hurting. He’s a breath away from being homeless. It would be easy to dissect his past and lament at some of the left and right turns he took with his decisions. We could talk about some of his medical setbacks, but this is not about the past. This is about now and very real. He’s ready to go. He’s in the starting block and needs an opportunity to begin the race. He’s been with some incredible stations, yet can’t get a job.
His name is China Smith and he needs a job or an assignment. China doesn’t want your pity; all he wants to do is pay the rent this month before he gets thrown out on the street. He's already received a notice to vacate and no place to go. Perhaps you can help. He’s not begging. I am. Radio in 2003 is different and there is a new generation. If you have any compassion for those who have gone before you, this is the time for you to reach into your arsenal and help. We all know that times are tough. We all know that jobs are tough to come by. For those who care about the L.A. radio community and the fraternity of 4,000 voices during the past half-century, this is your turn to make an investment.
And so many of you did help and you made a difference. He was very grateful for the outpouring of love and support. China is survived by an aunt.
I just got the word and do not know the exact cause yet, but he was friend of mine and i will miss him and all of the on air and behind the scene stuff that went on wwhen i was a runner at KWST waaaay back when. Great and fun times for sure.
Great and awesome DJ and a good friend too.
RIP China.