BRIAN LAMB, HOST: Tavis Smiley, author of "Doing What's Right," you have, in the back of your book, a case study. Why a case study, and what is it?
Mr. TAVIS SMILEY, AUTHOR, "DOING WHAT'S RIGHT": It's a case study about CompUSA, the country's largest computer retailer. And we did a case study, Brian, because we have been asked--if I had a dime for every time I've been asked a question about how I got involved in this CompUSA mess, I'd be independently wealthy.
I'm a part of a radio program, as you know, "The Tom Joyner Morning Show," and we engage from time to time in what I call air advocacy campaign. To make a long story short, we went after CompUSA because, last year, African-Americans spent $1.3 billion on computers and other related equipment. CompUSA, being the nation's largest computer retailer, quite honestly, was not spending any--any money, really, to market and promote their product to the African-American consumer. I thought it was, quite frankly, an issue of economic exploitation, and CompUSA was--certainly is not the only company that engages in what many people call NUD, no urban dictate, whereby a company tells its ad agency, `Don't buy advertising on black or Hispanic media outlets.'
CompUSA maintains today they were not doing that, but the result was the same. They weren't spending any money, and yet with this digital divide, African-Americans are catching up faster than anybody else. CompUSA's spending no money on black media outlets: no black radio, no black print, no black television. And so we went after CompUSA. And after a 10-week air advocacy campaign, we finally got CompUSA to the table. They hired a black ad agency. They hired a Hispanic agency. They sent coupons to every person who--who I had asked to send a copy of their receipt from CompUSA back to the company to show them that people of color did spend money at CompUSA.
And so the case study is written because, one, it, in one chapter, incorporates all of the seven strategies that we lay out in the book, that we embraced and used vis-a-vis the CompUSA campaign. So here's--at the closing of the book, here's a case study of where we used these strategies and it worked. That's number one. And, number two, for all those persons who kept asking questions, `What happened when ABC threatened to take you off the air, and what really happened when you and Jim Halperin, the chairman and CEO, got in that meeting?'--all those kinds of questions I thought I could answer best by doing the case study.
Time magazine covered it. News magazine--Newsweek and Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal, but nobody who was involved in the process had had a chance to sound off on it and all the details, and that's why we wrote the chapter.
LAMB: When did the CompUSA event take place?
Mr. SMILEY: It took place last year, 1999. It came to a head, as I recall, around September or October, when everything finally got worked out. It had to be around October because we agreed to have a three-month meeting after we closed the deal with CompUSA to make sure that they, in fact, did follow up and did do the things that they had promised us they were going to do. We had that meeting a couple weeks ago, and CompUSA ironically--not ironically, CompUSA did, in fact, do all the things that they said they were going to do.
But here's where the ironic part comes in. Here we went after CompUSA for not--three or four months ago, went after CompUSA, as I said, for not advertising on black or Hispanic outlets. And when we sit down for our three-month meeting--which, actually, about three and a half months--we sat down for the meeting, we come to find out that CompUSA has just been bought. You know who bought them? A Mexican firm. So here they were not going after Hispanic or Latino audi--consumers, black consumers, and we finally get back to check on their progress, they've been bought now by a Mexican firm. So Jim Halperin, my dear friend at CompUSA, he's now reporting to somebody who speaks Spanish.
So the irony is that you've got to be careful--we say th--in—in Ebonics, in the black community, there's a phrase, Brian, we use—I know you don't know this stuff, but there's a phrase we use called player-hate, and that means to disrespect someone. So you've got to be careful who you player-hate on today because they may buy you tomorrow. And that was interesting, you know, we sat back down with him, you know, that now he's reporting to a guy who speaks Spanish. Kind of funny.
LAMB: Who's Tom Joyner?
Mr. SMILEY: Tom Joyner--he's one of my dearest friends and, quite frankly and honestly, is the person on radio who's heard by more African-Americans every day. He has a program called "The Tom Joyner Morning Show." You know some of his story; the background is very fascinating. His nickname is called--they--his nickname is `the fly jock.'
When you listen to the program, he says, `This is the fly jock, Tom Joyner.' And he got the nickname `the fly jock' because, for seven years, he flew between Chicago and Dallas every day, five days a week, to do two radio shows. He did morning radio in Dallas and an afternoon show in Chicago for seven years. He picked up seven million Frequent Flier Miles. But it took him seven years to convince somebody in this country that a black man can do a syndicated radio show, like a Howard Stern, like a Rush Limbaugh. You know, our show is not similar to theirs, but we--we play music and we do commentary.
It's a program that, we say, is about entertainment and empowerment. He's the entertainment component. I'm the empowerment component. Seven million listeners, 100 markets, the most-listened-to black man in America on radio every day, but it took him seven years to convince someone that he could do a radio show in a syndicated way and that it would work. ABC Radio Network finally bought into that. ABC put himon the radio. He makes more money for ABC Radio now because he owns urban radio in this country.
And so Tom and I came together about four years ago, having been introduced to each other at the White House by Bill Clinton. I knew who Tom was; Tom knew who I was. We never actually met. We were at a reception at the White House. And the president, very casually, says, `Tom, do you know Tavis? Tavis, do you know Tom?' That's how we met. Tom read one of my books, said, `Come on the radio show, talk about this issue.' I went on one time. It turned into a regular commentary. Now here we are, four years later, still together.
We were honored just a few weeks ago to receive the NAACP's highest award. At the Image Awards, Tom and I received the president's award for the advocacy work that we've done over the last four years. We were quite humbled by that, and we laughed about how we met, how we came together. Now, four years later, here we are winning awards for the work that we're doing, which humbles m--both of us and makes us look good about our efforts.
LAMB: How old is Tom Joyner?
Mr. SMILEY: Oh, Lord, I can't tell you that on the air, Brian.We--this is--this is on television? I--you know what's funny about it? I don't know how old Tom is. I think Tom is probably 50ish, but I don't know. And what's re--what's deceiving about his age--sorry, Tom--what's deceiving about his age is that he--we have an adult contemporary show, but his demographic is rather broad in terms of the folk who listen because he is syndicated around the country. And a lot of the smaller markets, a lot--what I call the B and C markets in this country, they don't have the best radio outlets. And so here comes this guy with this nationally syndicated show, and he's bringing you all the big names in black America, from the entertainment community, arts and sports--'cause every--every day, we have different guests on the show--but here's this guy bringing you this big show to your little, small town. And so we have huge ratings, of course, in a lot of the B and C markets because black radio is non-existent or at least non-competitive in those markets.
And so he appeals to a broad audience, and so his--his—his demographic profile belies his age. He's just a very hip guy, even though he's not the--he ain't no spring chicken.
LAMB: How old are you?
Mr. SMILEY: I'm 35 this year, 35 in--in the year 2000, and catching up with Tom faster and faster.
LAMB: Go back to the program. What hours of the day is it heard?
Mr. SMILEY: It is heard--it's--it's syndicated, so on the—on Eastern standard time, we're heard 6 to 10; Central time, we're heard 5 to 9; and on the West Coast, in places like Los Angeles and San Francisco, the show repeats, but--and then they can run it at either 5 or 6, depending on when they want to air it, because it's syndicated.
LAMB: And where do you live?
Mr. SMILEY: I live in Los Angeles, but people get confused by that because I live in LA, but as you know, the show that I host on Black Entertainment Television is based here--BET headquarter here in Washington. So I literally fly every week, for four years now, between LA and DC every week to do the show. I love Los Angeles. I love Indiana, where both you and I grew up. I love Indiana, but I've lived in LA since I finished college. I went to college at Indiana University; went to LA to work for Tom Bradley when he was the mayor. So I've lived in LA since '85, I guess, '86. And when I got the opportunity to host the TV show on BET, I wasn't quite ready to move from LA to Washington, so for four years, I've flown back and forth every week.
So Tom teases me about that because he flew between Chicago and Dallas for seven years. And I say, `Tom, there's no way I can do this for seven years. Chicago and Dallas every day, five days a week.' And Tom says to me, `There's no way I could do what you have done for four years,' because Tom never changed time zones. He did that five days a week, but the same time zone. I have to go through three different time zones every Monday and every Friday. And Tom picked up seven million miles in--in seven years; I've done that in--almost that in four years.
Now a funny story about that, though. Tom flew on the same American Air--you know, American Airlines' headquartered is in Dallas, DFW Airport--and Tom flew on the same plane, of course, every morning and every afternoon. And when he finally retired from doing that and his show became syndicated, American Airlines pulled up those two seats out of those planes, those two first-class seats. And when you walk in Tom's studio, if you're sitting there to be a guest on the show or whatever, the two seats that are available for you to sit in are those two American Airlines chairs. And he gets asked all the time, `Why do you have American Airlines--these air--you know, these airline first-class seats in the hall? What--what is this?' And so he had to put a plaque on the wall for those who did not know `the fly jock' story to explain why those American Airlines chairs are sitting in his hallway.
LAMB: How o--many minutes are you on every morning?
Mr. SMILEY: That's the--that's the remarkable thing about--about our advocacy work. I am only on the program two days a week. Tom's on four hours, as I said, Monday through Friday. I'm only on Tuesday and Thursday mornings, primarily because of my own choosing. On Mondays, I fly to DC. Monday's a travel day. Friday is a travel day. My TV show is 11 to midnight. I gotta have one morning a week to sleep in, so I choose to sleep in on Wednesday mornings. So Tuesday and Thursday mornings are, really, the only days that I can do it and—and in--and stay halfway awake.
So I do it only on Tuesday and Thursday mornings. And my commentary is similar to Paul Harvey, if you've ever heard Paul Harvey. My commentary's no longer than Paul Harvey. My issues are different. I have much more cutting edge. I'm humorous at times. But I really deal with issues that are--issue that--social issues, political issues, economic issues. But I do all that in a--less than a 10-minute format, again, similar to what Paul Harvey does, but with a lot more edge. And that's how--that's what I do.
But the remarkable thing is that, only being on two days a week for a small amount of time, the impact that our efforts have doesn't even compare to the--the little--comparatively speaking, the little amount of time that we actually spend on the air. But it's a remarkable thing, which I think goes to show not how great Tavis Smiley is, that he can have this impact with, you know, less than 20 minutes a week on a radio show; what it shows is that people want to be empowered.
While there is a lot of apathy in our community--in this country, Brian, there are a lot of folk out there who want to make a difference. They just don't know how to make a difference; they don't know what to do when they decide that they really want to do something. But I believe that information is power, knowledge is power. And once you put that information out there, you put that knowledge out there, folk know what to do with it. They embrace it, and they'll use it for their betterment.
LAMB: Do you have a family?
Mr. SMILEY: Not--not married, no kids as yet. Been dating someone for a little while, and I'm starting to feel the squeeze. So I think I've been given--I think--I think the other day I was actually given an ultimatum. I'm not exactly sure...
LAMB: Is she...
Mr. SMILEY: ...if that was an ultimatum or not.
LAMB: Is she West Coast or East Coast?
Mr. SMILEY: She's East Coast. And it kind of felt like an ultimatum. But, no, I'm not married, no kids. I am from a large family, as you know; I have nine brothers and sisters. I grew up in north-central Indiana. And so I--I have more than enough family, in an extended sort of way, to have kept me from starting my own at--at--at the time. I look forward to--you know, to being married and having some kids. But as I said earlier, this flying thing between LA and DC makes it really, really tough to do anything that you really want to do, including dating. And anyone I've had a chance to--to go out with or to date is--it takes a lot to--to deal with me because I'm just--I'm in the air so much between LA and DC.
LAMB: Why do you think you write books? Why do you think you host a television show on BET? Why are you--why are you an advocate on "The"--Time--"Tom Joyner Show"?
Mr. SMILEY: I--that's a good question, Brian. I think I am because I think that's what God wants me to do. And I don't mean to be sacrilegious about that. What I mean to suggest by that is that every one of us has a role in life to play. I believe, and I--I write in this book, as you know--there's a parable in the Bible called The Parable of the Talents. And I draw--I--I g--I gave a speech about that once, and I put--I took some of the tenets of that speech and put it in this book.
The point basically is that all of us come into this world resident in our spirit, in our bodies with a talent and a gift from God to make a contribution. All of us has a role to play. There's a difference that we can make on something that matters to us. And I believe that the talent and the gift that I've been given is one to empower people, to try to what I call the three E's: to try to enlighten people, to try to encourage people, to try to empower people.
I had no idea, as a student at Indiana University, that I'd ever be involved in the media. I was a political science student. I thought I'd spend the rest of my life in public service, either working for an elected official, perhaps being one myself, but somehow I'd be working in the public sector. And then, out of the--not out of the blue, but then comes this opportunity to do radio and to do television and to do print, to have written now my fourth book, things I had never planned to do. I never took a telecom class, and yet I'm on TV and radio. I never studied journalism, and I've written four books.
I believe that--as the parable points out, that if you use the gift, use the talent God has given you, your talent will make room for itself. That means that--that suggests that when you perfect the one thing you're good at, the one gift that God has given you, it opens up doors for you to do other things. And I had no idea that the doors would be open to do the radio and the TV and write the books, but the doors have opened. I've never asked for a radio job; Tom Joyner found me. I didn't ask or I didn't audition to be on BET; BET called me.
LAMB: For what reason?
Mr. SMILEY: Because Bob Johnson and the network decided they wanted to do a live, nightly talk show. They'd seen me on everybody else's show as a guest and thought, `This guy might make a decent host.' They gave me the opportunity, and that's how it happened. I didn't submit a proposal to write a book. A book company, one of the big ones in New York, contacted me and asked me if I'd ever thought about writing a book. I said, `No.' They said, `Well, we've got $1/4 million for you.' I said, `You know what? I got an idea. I think I can do something with this.'
So I've been fortunate, you know, to have had opportunities to come to me, and I think, again, that that has happened because my role is to try to make a difference. And these opportunities have opened themselves up for me to do just that.
LAMB: Have you made a lot of money already?
Mr. SMILEY: I've been very fortunate. I had no idea ever that I'd make the kind of money that I'm making. I've b--I've been very blessed and very fortunate. And, you know, my friends tease me all the time; I get asked all the time, `Do you--are you ever going to run for office? Do you ever see yourself as an elected official?' And if any of my dear friends are a--around, th--they would--they'd jump in right quick and say, `No, not anytime soon at least, 'cause as long as the money's rolling in, we've got to take the money, save it'--it's funny, but it's also serious.
I believe that many of the elected officials--and I be--let me back up. I believe that public service is still a noble profession, despite there--you know, there's a great deal of evidence to the contrary. But I believe that public service is still very noble. I believe, though, that if you have the chance in your life—I understand these rich guys, Brian. I'm starting to get this. If you have the chance to make some money first and to save some money and invest some money and to make yourself financially sound, later in your life, when you want to be of service, you want--when you consider public service, you don't feel the financial pressure.
I mean, these congresspersons make--What?--$150,000, $170,000 a year. I know now, having done this for four years, how expensive it is to travel back and forth every week. I live in a hotel here in DC four days a week. And, again, the company picks up a lot of these expenses, but I'm just--I'm just talking about if I didn't have a company doing that, like these members of Congress do not, the temptation for graft and greed becomes greater. And, after all, we are not human and divine. We're just human. But I think that having some money makes it easier to be a public servant later on, and so right now I'm going to ride the wave and stockpile as much as I can. And maybe somewhere down the road, if public service offers me an opportunity that I think I can be empowering in that venue, then I would consider it.
LAMB: But you were on top at Kokomo High School, weren't you? I mean, you were the president of the student...
Mr. SMILEY: Well, yeah, I was...
LAMB: ...student council.
Mr. SMILEY: Yeah. In--in high school, I was president of my class and president--I went to a school called Maconaquah right outside of Kokomo, and I was president of my class and on the student council and voted most likely to succeed. And all of that was wonderful, and I talked fondly about that some in this book, but I think more in one of my previous books called "Hard Left." I talk about that experience growing up in--in Indiana.
And the remarkable thing about it for me, I look now, for example, at all the race issues that we have in this country. Racism, I believe, is the most intractable, the most egregious, the most divisive issue in this country. I look back to my own experience as a kid, and I never really had any experience with racism. I went and--and the remarkable thing is growing up in the corn fields of north-central Indiana, as you well know, wasn't a lot of black folk hanging around. So I was like--there--there were--there were, for example, 1,200 kids in my high school; of the 1,200, only 26 were black. And keep in mind, there are 10 kids in my family, you know. So we made up the majority of those black kids in the school.
And yet every year, these white kids--every year--voted me class president. These white kids voted me most likely to succeed. These white kids, you know, lifted me up as the guy who best represents us. And here I am, you know, black, they're white, and it never became an issue. To this day, I have many of my friends from high school who still keep in touch with me, or they see me on television. I can—I can guarantee you somebody right now from Maconaquah High School is watching this program, and I'll get a letter next week or a phone call from one of my former classmates, `Saw you with Brian Lamb.' You know, it happens all the time. And this relationship still exists.
The point I--the reason I shared that story is because I don't believe that racism is intractable. I said it's one of--it--it's certainly--it's divisive, it's egregious. I would put it on the list of the most intractable, the most difficult issues. But I--and I shouldn't--perhaps should not have used that word 'cause it's--it's misleading. I don't believe there are any intractable issues. I believe that, on everything, we can make progress. I figure if it ain't God, we can fix it. If it ain't God, we ain't got to be afraid of it. If it ain't God, we can actually do something about it through advocacy.
But I look back on those high school days in north-central Indiana very, very fondly, and I--it always encourages me, reminds me that as difficult as these race matters are, I know that we can make a difference on these issues.
LAMB: Where are all your brothers and sisters?
Mr. SMILEY: Ooh.
LAMB: How old--what's the age? Where do you fit?
Mr. SMILEY: Pam is--there's Pam, who is now 37, 38--there's Pam, there's Phyllis, Tavis, Garney, Paul, Patrick, Maury, Dube, Scooter and Dion. So there are 10 of us. And everybody is in--everybody is in Indiana except for myself, of course, one brother who went to Morehouse, fine college in Atlanta--liked it in Atlanta, decided to stay there; one sister whose husband plays professional basketball overseas. So she's in Europe part of the year, back in the States part of the year. One sister in Tennessee. And everybody else, the others--I guess there are--What?--five of us outside. It's even now: five outside of Indiana and five still back in Indiana.
LAMB: Where's Mom and Dad?
Mr. SMILEY: Mom and Dad's still back in Kokomo, Indiana.
LAMB: Now you say they're divorced?
Mr. SMILEY: They--they're divorced. And don't ask me why after all those kids and--and all those years of being married, they got divorced, which you--you asked me earlier, on a personal note, about my own--my own personal situation, whether or not I was married and have kids. That kind of backed me up a little bit. After all of my--after all those years and all those kids, I saw my parents get divorced. It made me--it backed me up a little bit and kind of made really think harder about my choice, when I decide to get married and have kids.
Divorce is a traumatic thing, and I hate to see kids dragged through that. I know what it did. I, at the time of my parents' divorce, was just finishing up college. But I have--you know, as I said, I have seven younger brothers and a few of them, it really challenged them, I think, emotionally. And I really would hate to see my own kids one day dragged through that situation. So it's kind of made me much more--much more--ma--made me think a lot more about the choice I want to make.
LAMB: Wh--where do you think you get this ability to lead, the ability to be visible?
Mr. SMILEY: I don't know--I don't know if it is an ability to lead.
LAMB: Or be a public person.
Mr. SMILEY: Yeah. I--I--I like talking. I like running my mouth. When I was...
LAMB: Where'd you get it?
Mr. SMILEY: I don't know.
LAMB: When'd you start it?
Mr. SMILEY: My mother runs her mouth all the time. Maybe I got it from my mother. I remember as a kid, I must have been four or five years of age, and one of my aunts or cousins--somebody--was around. I forgot who it was exactly. But I was just running--running off at the mouth, and one of my--one of these older--one--adult--one of these adults said to me, `Boy, do you ever shut up? Why--why do you talk so much?' And I just shot right back, `Cause I got a lot to say.'
And I guess I run my mouth so much because I've got a lot to say, and I guess God figured if--if I'm going to run my mouth as much as I do, `I might as well let this--if this boy ain't going to shut up, I might as put his--put his verbiage to good use, try to empower people.'
I--I believe that--that--again, that information is power. I believe I'm a conduit to put the information out there. And as you well know, being in media, when you put that information out there, and particularly, when you do what I do, you make a call to action, a call to arms. You say, `You know what? This isn't right. We are the ones who ought to do something about this.'
When you make those calls and people start to listen to you—when Tavis Smiley says something on the radio and seven million black folks start writing and start calling and start faxing and start e-mailing, then you're on TV every night and that whole strange thing of how folk respond to you, of how people respond to you when they see you on television and--and then see you walking through an airport--I know—I know you get this all the time--it--it--it kind of puts you out front as a leader, as a spokesperson. Even though that's not necessarily what your mission was. You end up taking on that responsibility. And so I--I--I take it on seriously, and I try to act responsibly with it.
LAMB: Go back to CompUSA and "The Tom Joyner Show." When was the first moment that you thought you ought to do something about CompUSA?
Mr. SMILEY: The moment I heard about it. From the moment I heard about it to the moment we actually did something was almost a year, and it--and it's a funny story. Well, not a funny story, but an interesting story, I guess. There was a year gap in between there because what originally happened was there was a memo written at a company called Katz Media, the Katz Media Group, that became--had a lot of national publicity on this memo.
Somebody at this Katz Media Group, one of the largest, you know, b--largest ad firms, basically, in the company--the country, rather--someobdy in that company, someone higher up, had written a memo instructing the staff at Katz Media to tell their clientele, these corporate advertisers, not to buy black or Hispanic radio. And they wrote on this memo a lot of reasons why you should not buy black or Hispanic radio. One of the most egregious and ridiculous reasons was because `when you buy black or Hispanic radio,' the memo said, `you want prospects, not suspects. You can get the black or Hispanic audience without actually advertising to them. Black folk aren't loyal viewers. Hispanics don't eat mayonnaise.'
I mean, just a racist and stupid diatribe. It went on and on and on, this--this--this ridiculous memo. I said at the time whoever wrote this memo is a racial arsonist. But this memo got leaked to the press. I got a copy of it, and I broke this thing on radio all across the country, and then we broke it on national television on our TV show.
We went after Katz with a vengeance, and we made--just like I went after CompUSA--I went after Katz a year prior to going after CompUSA. We made Katz do a number of things, and they got their act together and they turned that company around. We made them--we made them, on paper, increase the number of African-Americans in their ad department by 400 percent and a list of things we made them do, and they agreed to those things. And they did those things, and we followed up on that.
But at the time of the Katz memo, we asked them for a list of the worst offenders. `You know, you guys are--were--were stupid to have told these folk in a memo not to buy black or Hispanic radio. But now that you've done it, I'm just curious, who are the worst offenders out there? Give me a list of the folk who really practice this no-urban dictate, folk who tell their ad agencies, `I don't want to buy black. I don't want to buy Hispanic. Tell me who these folk are.' CompUSA's name originally surfaced on this list that we asked for of people who were not really doing a lot to reach out to black or Hispanic consumers.
LAMB: Why would they give you those names?
Mr. SMILEY: Because at that time, I was their mortal enemy. And I'm the guy on radio every day, I'm the guy on TV every day talking to all these people with the power to just continue to berate them and to dog them if I wanted to every single day. I think they were feeling some--some pressure, and they were in a mode to be much more cooperative then than they might otherwise be.
LAMB: And did you talk to Katz in person before you did it on the radio, or did you just go after them on the radio first?
Mr. SMILEY: We went after them immediately. We verified that the memo was written by an executive at Katz. We verified that it was a Katz memo. At that point, you know, we went after them. There was no need, at that point--and--and originally--let me--let me just say this. When I--when I say I went after them, I didn't go--when I first became aware of the memo, we broke the story on radio and on television. And just breaking the story in and of itself got people riled up. So I want to just backtrack and--and say that. It wasn't even necessary for me to go after them, so to speak. When I say I went after them, we put the word out there.
Now CompUSA was different. CompUSA we went after them, which we really did do. We went after them. They put their head in the sand. And for 10 weeks--every day on the radio for 10 weeks, I was riding CompUSA every day: `How could you guys not advertise in black media? What did you spend last fiscal year? What are you going to spend next fiscal year? Can you please call us and answer that question?' No phone calls, no faxes, no e-mail, no communication from Katz—from CompUSA for 10 weeks--every day you have a radio campaign.
Katz didn't have that problem. When we went after them, they got back to us pretty quickly, and we got them on the right track. But CompUSA, for some reason--I learned later on, as I said, in the case study--Jim Halperin, the chairman of the company, told me it was—it was fear. They did not know exactly what to do. They were frozen. They said, `We obviously got to do something about this.' But they originally thought, `If we don't acknowledge this campaign by this little black kid on the radio, this thing will eventually go away. It'll eventually dry up.' And that didn't happen.
LAMB: How did they know that you were having an impact?
Mr. SMILEY: The mail, the fax, the phone call--phone calls, the e-mail, the receipts. We, at one point, three or four weeks into the campaign, not getting a response from CompUSA, asked our audience, `If you've ever shopped at CompUSA, and you have a CompUSA receipt, don't send me the receipt. I want you to keep it because you may need to take something back to CompUSA one day, but send me a copy of that receipt.' We collected boxes and boxes and boxes full of thou--we—we collected just, you know, an inordinate number of--I don't know the exact number 'cause I never counted them, but there were a bunch of them.
And we patched--we packaged those receipts up and sent those receipts to CompUSA to let them know that black folk do spend money at CompUSA--people of color do spent money at CompUSA. So it was basically the correspondence they were receiving v--via phone, fax and e-mail that made them know that something was going down. And then, after a few weeks of doing this, they started getting media calls: `Is it true that you guys aren't doing this?' You know. And then when the mainstream media started calling, they knew then that it was—it was getting out of hand.
LAMB: Now Tom Joyner's syndicated on ABC.
Mr. SMILEY: The--the ABC Radio Network.
LAMB: Have they weighed in at any point in this process saying, `We don't like this'?
Mr. SMILEY: They weighed in at one point, and it wa--it--it go ugly. And what really got CompUSA to the table was something rather ridiculous, to be blunt about it, that ABC Radio Network did. And I always feel uncomfortable talking about this because I--I still work for ABC Radio Network, but so be it.
In the ninth week of this 10-week campaign, CompUSA called the ABC Radio Network and it's unclear as to what exactly was said. But basically the conversation was this. The guy from CompUSA called the head guy at ABC and says, `You need to get these guys off my back every morning.' You know, `We don't like this.' You know, `We're a good company and you guys are letting these--you're letting this--basically this Tavis guy--you're letting this guy go on the radio and--and--and go after us every single day. Why are you letting him do this? Get this guy off our back.'
Somebody at ABC--and I'm paraphrasing to you now--this is basically how the conversation went. Some higher up--some higher up, some suit at ABC Radio Network said, `We'll take care of it. We'll get these guys off your back.' And they'd been hearing it for nine weeks, too. I'm sure they were sick and tired of it--they were sick and tired of hearing it as well. I was sick and tired of talking about it.
Indeed, at one point I was afraid that after all the campaigns we had done that were successful, I was afraid that I wasn't going to—that we were not going to be victorious on this CompUSA campaign. And I--as I write in the book, I confess I was actually, at one point, thinking about looking for an exit strategy because I was afraid—I was like, `Tavis, this just--man, this isn't working. You've got to get out of this.' And I was afraid.
But CompUSA called ABC, said, `Get this guy off our back.' ABC apparently said, `We will do that.' ABC called Tom Joyner and me late one night and basically, to make a long story short, told us to shut up. They said, `Either you guys pull up off of CompUSA or we'll pull the plug on this show.' Talk about getting your attention. That's our livelihood here.
Tom and I caucused about it and, again, just to hasten the story, we told ABC that we were going to go on the air the next morning and that we would see what would happen. But that we were not inclined to just automatically drop this campaign for no reason. We asked them, `Why are you threatening to take us off the air? What did CompUSA say to you that is--that's got you guys so upset?'
And they told us--we were told by this executive that, `CompUSA has threatened a lawsuit against ABC and you guys.' We said, `A lawsuit for what?' They said, `For defamation.' `Defamation of what?' You know, we have a constitutionally guaranteed protect—constitutionally protected right to free speech to go on the radio and to talk about anybody who we think is disrespecting the black consumer, and particularly since our audience is a black audience. It's an urban show of seven million people. That's what we do every day.'
And we couldn't understand where the "defamation" came in, you know. Anyway, it scared ABC and they threatened to pull us off the air, you know, if we didn't shut up. The next morning we went on the air. Tom arrived at the studio in Dallas. There were ABC suits lined up in the hallway. They had already called the engineer of Tom's show at home the night before to ask him where the kill switch was. They also asked him to get pre--to get prepared a tape, "The Best of the Tom Joyner Morning Show." If they pulled the plug, they wanted immediately to stick a tape in so that it--it wouldn't be dead airspace. They wanted a repeat of the radio show.
They had everything set in place to move on us if we mentioned CompUSA that next morning. Talk about high noon, talk about high drama, Mexican stand-off. Tom is in the studio in Dallas, I'm in the studio here--my studio here in Washington and Tom--I'm on in the third hour of the show--the first two hours Tom Joyner said repeatedly, `Coming up this morning'--you know, `it's Tuesday--it's Thursday, rather, Tavis is on today. It may be his last commentary. You'll want to hear this commentary.' Just really--you know, he's a marketing guy so he really plays this thing up.
And Tom doesn't even know what I'm going to say. I went to bed at 2:00, 3:00 in the morning, getting back up three hours later not knowing what I was going to say. I came in the studio, went on the air and I said, `Tom, as you know, we got a phone call last night from our bosses at ABC and we were told not to mention the name CompUSA this morning.' I paused. I said, `Are we still on the air, Tom?' Tom checked all the gauges. He checked--he said--he--Tom was talking live on the air. He actually said, you know, `Ross, are we still on the air?' Ross talks back live on the air, `Yeah, we still--we still got the--the knobs saying we're still on the air.' The suits were in the hallway looking frightened I'm sure.
So Tom said, `No, we're still on. Go ahead.' I said, `OK. We were told not to mention CompUSA. Now I've done that twice and we're still on the air so maybe I can go ahead.' And what I did was--rather than berate CompUSA, I went after ABC, which was stupid because here I am being syndicated by ABC. And I'm on the air going after ABC because they now have threatened us and I didn't like that. And I thought that was a violation of our First Amendment right to free speech.
And so I told the story. And I learned again in that--in that moment that truth is always better than anything else. Sometimes the truth hurts, but truth always, in the end, wins. And so I told the true story of what happened that night before. And, Brian, when I got through with that commentary, you could not belive the re--I could just--I could feel all across America, these seven million listeners, the angst and the anger that they felt with this company threatening us with ending this program.
They loved this program. They listened to it every morning and they were threatening to take their morning show off of the air while we were trying to do some good, trying to make a difference, trying to do something noble about this issue of no urban dictator. And the audience that day had had enough. I've said many times that black people have a high threshold for pain. I don't know why. We take too much stuff for too long. But eventually, even black folk get to a point where they sound like Popeye, the cartoon character. `I done stoods all I can stands and I can't stands no more.' And that's what happened that morning.
And they got on those phones and those faxes and those e-mails. They shut down ABC's phone system that day in New York. They shut down CompUSA's phone system that day in Dallas, and that day was the moment of truth. CompUSA and ABC heard an earful--and not to mention, as I said, they couldn't get any business done because their phone systems were jammed. And that day was the moment of truth.
And so it was really ABC, with this threat, that got CompUSA to say, `We give up.' CompUSA called, said, `Let's sit down and have a meeting,' and the next week--in the 10th week--we sat down and the rest, as they say, is history.
LAMB: You mentioned the word `cynicism' in your book.
Mr. SMILEY: Mm-hmm.
LAMB: What do you think of cynicism?
Mr. SMILEY: I think that cynicism is overrated, but I think that cynicism with regard to the political process certainly is legitimate. There is some legitimate cynicism in our country, but the point I try to make in the book is that cynicism too often freezes us in our tracks. Complacency keeps us from doing the things we know we ought to be doing to make our community and our country a better place to live and work. Fear keeps many of us from embracing the causes and speaking out on the things that we know we are passionate about. But if we can get beyond our cynicism and our complacency and our fear, we can make a difference.
LAMB: A cynic would say that all three of you made out like a bandit on this deal.
Mr. SMILEY: Mm-hmm.
LAMB: CompUSA caved, gave you what you wanted...
Mr. SMILEY: Right.
LAMB: ...people went back and shopped with them probably.
Mr. SMILEY: Right.
LAMB: You got what you wanted because your ratings went up and people were excited and you were really making a difference in the community. And ABC, in the end, got the benefit of a larger audience.
Mr. SMILEY: They did.
LAMB: What would you say to all that?
Mr. SMILEY: I'd say--I'd tell you all that's true. But I don't apologize for any of that. I'd say it's all true, perhaps. But the truest thing--what matters most is that a difference was made on that issue. When you hire an African-American ad agency--here's--here's a company that would not even advertise for black folk. And now it's not just that they're advertising to black and Hispanic people, they want--they've hired black and Hispanic ad agencies. So there's money going from CompUSA now to these agencies owned by people of color.
Now these agencies of color are going to get CompUSA's message in black and Hispanic media. So those media outlets that service black and Hispanic people are going to get money. And then the consumer is going to feel important and then the consumer will go now, as you said, and no doubt spend more money with CompUSA. But that's the way it ought to be. If people spend money in your operation, you ought to respect the consumer. If people watch C-SPAN, C-SPAN ought to respect the viewer. That's what makes the world go round. You respect me, I respect you. There's nothing cynical about that. That's the way it ought to ha--ought to have been.
The cynical part was what was going on initially, a company that thought that it could make money off of a consumer and disrespect that consumer and none of us--forget color for the moment. I've said 1,000 times, Brian, on the road and everywhere I go that half of the mess that we deal with today is not about black and white, it's about wrong and right. People want to cast everything as a--as a black-and-white thing. It ain't about black and white. It's about wrong and right and what CompUSA was doing was wrong.
If you want to respect your--if you want the consumer to buy your product, you respect the consumer. And without regard to race, you and I--every one of us, we boycott people every day. There's certain things you buy, certain things you do that you say, `I'll never do that again. I'll never buy that product again. I'll never go to that place again. I'll never fly that airline again. I'll never stay in that hotel chain again.' We do that all the time, and that's exactly what we were doing. We do it in our individual lives. It just gets peoples' attention in a different way when it's done as a campaign in a collective massive sort of way.
LAMB: What was it like when you met with the CompUSA people first time?
Mr. SMILEY: A little tense. Little tense. I mean, Jim Halpin and I are--are--are friends now. I mean, I--I think he's a nice guy.
LAMB: How old a guy is he?
Mr. SMILEY: Halpin may be early 50s, mid-50s. A very sharp guy. Sharp guy. It was a little tense. He was afraid that--that—the interesting thing that always comes back to my mind is--and I don't--I--I'm not bragging about this and I--I felt bad--I felt bad and I apologized to him profusely. But he received, as a result of our commentary, especially that last commentary where we talked about ABC threatening to take us off the air and canceling our show, Halpin received a number of death threats from people. It got really, really ugly. Excuse me--and a number of death threats, and he ended up hiring--ended up having to hire bodyguards.
So the first thing I remember--we walked in this meeting room—were these big, huge bodyguards. And I didn't know what they were there for. The mayor of Dallas, Ron Kirk, w--is Halpin's attorney. So Halpin did not know Tom or me but he did know, of course, the mayor of Dallas, Ron Kirk. So he called the mayor and asked the mayor, `Do you know Tavis Smiley and Tom Joyner?' He said, `Of course, I know both of them.' He said, `Can you set this meeting up between us?' So, Ron Kirk, the mayor of Dallas, you know--this is an interesting story--Kirk ends up setting the meeting up...
LAMB: And he's an African-American.
Mr. SMILEY: He's African-American. And he's also a lawyer in Dallas in--in--in--in a firm. So we met not on--not on Halpin's territory, not on our territory, we met in Ron Kirk's law office. So when I walked in, I saw these big, huge bodyguards. I thought they were the mayor's bodyguards. And they turned out to be Halpin's bodyguards. He told me had to hire bodyguards because of the death threats he received and I felt really, really bad about that before the meeting ever started.
It was a tense meeting. I talk in the book about how Halpin was very, very nervous. His hands--when he was talking--he spoke first—he asked to speak first because he said, `I want to go first in this meeting because I believe if I speak first, I may address many of the concerns you and Tom have. And I've already put together a plan for how we're going to deal with this and I want you guys to hear me out.' We said, `Sure. Go ahead and speak.' But he--as he spoke, his hands are, like, shaking on the table like this. And I looked down at my hands and my hands on--on--all of a sudden, they're shaking. I'm not even nervous, but the--the tension was so great in the room, Halpin's shaking--and--the shakes on his hands, jumped into my hands and it was really kind of funny as I look back on it now. But it was a very tense meeting initially. But by the end of it, it wa--it was good.
LAMB: What'd you get?
Mr. SMILEY: The--the--hiring of the ad--black ad agency, hiring of the Hispanic agency, a multimillion-dollar commitment to advertise in the black and Hispanic media markets, 10 percent coupons just in time for Christmas, before--before anybody who had sent in a copy of their receipt. So there were a lot of people who went in to buy those computers who got a nice piece of change off of the purchase price of the computer, thanks to the people at CompUSA.
Halpin came on the radio program. He apologized to our audience. And he made a clarion call--which is very important--clarion call to other CEOs to not underestimate the power and the value of consumers of color. That sent a ver--it sent a message out that a lot of CEOs heard. And again, because this campaign had gotten so much publicity and Newsweek and Time and The Wall Street Journal and everybody else was writing about this campaign in print and on television, indeed. You know, Tom and I were--we couldn't keep up with the interview requests from people who wanted to talk to us about this campaign. Particularly when we--when he came on to apologize and announce the deal that we had worked out.
It sent--it--it re--it sent reverb--it sent shock waves and a ripple effect throughout the corporate--throughout corporate America. And there were other companies a week later who didn't want to admit they had anything to do with us. But a week later, companies started calling press conferences announcing that they were hiring black-owned and Hispanic-owned ad agencies. American Airlines comes to mind, since I mentioned American earlier.
They announced--literally one week later that, `We're hiring a black-owned ad agency.' They were asked by the media, `Does this have anything to do with--with Tom Joyner and Tavis?' And they said, `Oh, no, no, no. We were already planning to do this.' But there are a number of companies that stepped up and announced that they were going to reach out to consumers of color. So it--it--it had the desired result.
LAMB: What does it do to you and Tom Joyner? I mean, you're in a position now that if you get another one of these deals, everybody sees you coming...
Mr. SMILEY: Yeah.
LAMB: ...how do you decide?
Mr. SMILEY: Well, we--Tom and I use a sports metaphor all the time and we say all the time, `Let the game come to you.' We let the game come to us. If you've ever played basketball, you go out on a court and you start trying to force your shot, you're trying to force your plays. It doesn't work. But when you run the play that the coach has designed--and everybody picks a role, and everybody gets to their spot, you get open and the point guard will find you. All you've got to do is get open and I'll get the ball to you. You--you let the game come to you. And that's what we do. We let the game come to us. We don't go out looking for people to beat up on. We don't go out looking for folks to cuss out on the radio.
That's not what our mission is. Every day--as--as a matter of fact, as I point out in the book, we do relatively--relatively speaking, we do very few of these on-air campaigns. I've been on the--the show for four years now and I've had maybe six air advocacy campaigns. The majority of what I do every day, as I say in a Paul Harvey comparative style, is to do my--my commentary, my thoughts on all kinds of issues that don't necessarily require a campaign every day of telling folks to fax and e-mail. Plus you can't get away with doing that every single day.
If you're going to ask seven million folks to write and fax and e-mail and try to make a difference on something, it had better be a very, very serious and egregious issue that they will understand the need for them to get involved. Otherwise, you do this every week--nobody's going to call and write and fax every single week. So that's not even the majority of what I do. But every now and then something so—so blatant and so wrong happens that we feel that we have to do a campaign around this issue on air to make a difference on this particular issue. But it's not what I do every day.
LAMB: If someone buys your book, it's not a large book, 143 pages, I think.
Mr. SMILEY: Mm-hmm.
LAMB: Do they get the--the blueprint in here on how to...
Mr. SMILEY: Abso...
LAMB: ...what you've done?
Mr. SMILEY: Absolutely. I note that a few weeks ago you had my friend Cornel West on for his book, "The Cornel West Reader," here on BOOKNOTES. And I love Cornel but I--I tell people all the time, my books are not like Cornel West's books. I tease Cornel all the time. When you read a Cornel West book, you've got to put the book in your lap and keep both of your hands free 'cause you need a thesaurus in one hand and a dictionary in the other hand to understand what Cornel's saying half the time 'cause he's so deep like that. And I love being challenged by Cornel's work. My book, though, is exact opposite, the antithesis of--of a--of a Cornel West book. It is a book that is--that is straightforward, to the point. I'm one of those persons who writes in his own voice, so to speak. If you have ever heard me on radio or you watched me on television, the way I speak is the exact way that I write. And so it's simple, straightforward, easy reading. And that's--that's the way I like to write.
LAMB: Here's your dedication: For Tom Bradley, "Big George"...
Mr. SMILEY: Hughley.
Mr. SMILEY: Mm-hmm.
LAMB: ...& Daisy M. "Big Mama" Robinson. Start with Big Mama. Who is that?
Mr. SMILEY: Big Mama was my maternal grandmother who 90 year—passed away at 90, last year. And I dedicate the book to her. As you know, I close the book with a quote from her. She said to me all the time, "Tavis, once a task you have first begun, never finish until it is done. Be the labor, great or small, do it well or not at all." And I use that quote all the time from Big Mama to remind people that if you ever decide you want to make a difference, once you start the task, you've got to see it through.
And so I use that quote all the time but there's so many things she tells me. She tells me--told me all the time that there's--`There's some fights, Tavis, that ain't worth fighting even if you win. There are other fights that you have to engage in even if you lose.' And all of us have grandmothers and grandfathers and grandparents and great-grandparents who impart--who have imparted wisdom to us and I try to share as much of that as I can with pe--people from the mouth of my--my Big Mama who I miss so dearly.
LAMB: Where did she live?
Mr. SMILEY: She was bo--was born and raised in the--in the—in Mississippi, the daughter of a sharecropper. In her older age, she moved to Indiana to live with us so that my mother could take care of her and she lived with us in Indiana for the last, I guess, 20 years of her life. And she, again, passed away in Indiana last year and my mother--we took her body back to Mississippi to intern her in her beloved state of Mississippi.
LAMB: How did your parents get to Indiana?
Mr. SMILEY: My father was in the Air Force at--stationed at a base--a place called Keesler Air Force Base down in Biloxi, and was transferred from Keesler up to a place called Grissom Air Force Base in north central Indiana, a place called Bunker Hill, Indiana. Like the Battle of Bunker Hill. So that's where I was basically raised in Bunker Hill, Indiana. And there came to be so many kids--I said there were 10 of us. We first moved to Indiana, there were two of us and, you know, years later there were 10 kids and it would have be—it would have been an economic hardship to move around--to move around that many kids from one Air Force base to another, so we did not have the experience that many Air Force brats, as they like--as--as they're often called--we didn't have the experience of many Air Force kids of moving around the country and moving around the world because there were so many of us. Again, it would have been such an economic hardship.
And I look back on that fondly and not so fondly. I--I loved that fact that I got a chance to grow up in a community and make friends in that community and go to one high school and graduate from that high school. A lot of Air Force kids don't have that. You know, they get tired of being moved around all the time, making new friends different places. But as I've gotten older and gotten a chance to travel, I like the idea of moving around and learning things and meeting people and living different places. So I don't know which was better. In the end I suspect that being able to stay stationary probably was better for me, but that's how we got to Indiana.
LAMB: How did you get to meet Senator Birch Bayh?
Mr. SMILEY: I was a 13-year-old kid. There was a guy in my church named Doug Hogan, who was a local city councilman in Kokomo, Indiana, but he was also the superintendent of our Sunday school department. And I got a chance to learn firsthand how noble public service really is by hanging out with this guy who was a councilman in our city, as I said, but also a member of my church. And Doug Hogan was friends with Birch Bayh. Birch Bayh came to town in 1980 on a campaign stop. He was being--up for re-election, running against a guy you may have heard of named Dan Quayle. And he came to Indiana--Ko--came to Kokomo, rather, on a campaign stop and the councilman said, `I want you to meet Birch Bayh tonight.'
And I went to meet Birch Bayh and that night, when I met Bayh--and I had a chance for an hour to sit between Birch Bayh and Councilman Hogan and listen to these guys talk about things they were working on, I--I go--I jus--I got bit by the political bug that night. But that's how I met him.
LAMB: What'd you do with it?
Mr. SMILEY: I gave up my dream--at the age of 13, I gave up my dream of being a first baseman for the Cincinnati Reds. I was a big Reds fan. The Big Red Machine because they had won two World Series in a row and should have won a third one then with Johnny Bench and Joe Morgan and Dave Concepcion and Tony Perez and that--Pete Rose and all that great lineup. Big--big Cincinnati fan, wanted to be a first baseman for the Cincinnati Reds. But that night I realized that these guys have a lot of power. They have a lot of clout. And these guys are good guys and they're making a difference in people's lives.
They're empowering people. So at the age of 13, I gave up baseball. I really stopped playing baseball, literally stopped playing baseball. Stopped playing Little League and started dedicating all of my energy and effort toward my books and my studies and got involved in a bunch of extracurricular activities at school and joined the speech team and joined the debate team and ran for student council. Started doing all those things and that's when the political bug--the advocacy bug really bit me.
I re--I--and I never really got a chance to know Birch Bayh. I only met the guy one time and I've only met him once since then. But, ironically, his son, as you know, has been on C-SPAN many times, Evan Bayh, went on to be the governor of Indiana and, of course, now is one of the two senators from the state of Indiana. He avenged that loss on the same seat his father had that he lost to Dan Quayle. Evan came back years later to win that seat and Evan and I happen to be good friends. And so it's funny how that thing came full circle.
LAMB: How did you get to LA and how'd you work for Mayor Tom Bradley?
Mr. SMILEY: I was in my senior year at Indiana University, I decided that I wanted to do an internship. What really happened was--that was when I mentioned earlier my parents in my senior year were going through this rather bitter divorce and it really affected me, not as it did my younger brothers, but it kind of set me back a little bit. And I decided that at that moment, I really needed to get out of school. And I'd originally thought, to be honest with you, about dropping out of college. I was that close to finishing but, you know, I said, `I'm--I'm sick of this. I'm burnt out. I'm tired. I'm depressed about my parents. I'm just going to drop out of--drop out of school.'
And somebody encouraged me. `You don't want to drop out. If you've got to get away for a semester to clear your head, nothing wrong that. But you're so close to graduating, just go do an internship somewhere. Go do an intern--internship doing something that you enjoy doing. You can get matriculation credit for it that counts toward your degree, you know, so you're away from campus learning, growing and getting credit. Why--why drop out? Go do that?' I said, `You know, that's not a bad idea.'
The problem was they didn't tell me that it was going to take me nine months of writing a letter every day, of calling every day, of using my scholarship money to fly to LA three times to sit in the hallway begging to see this guy named Tom Bradley, who nobody would let me in to see because they thought I was some crazy kid from Indiana. I wasn't a UCLA grad, I wasn't a USC student. I'm from Indiana, someplace they've never heard of at a college called Indiana University begging for an internship with Tom Bradley.
Now I wanted to work with Tom Bradley because at the time Tom Bradley was the greatest mayor in the country. He had done the '84 Olympics, taught the world how to really put on a great Olympic show, had made money for the city, ba--the Olympics had bankrupt, you'll recall, the city of Montreal. But Tom Bradley had a $200 million surplus when he got done with the Olympics. This guy named Peter Ueberroth ran the Olympics, went on to be the baseball commissioner--Tom Bradley showed the world how to host an Olympic Games.
And not to mention this guy was a fraternity brother of mine. I'm a member of a fraternity--a fraternity called Kappa Alpha Psi. Tom Bradley is not just a member but was, indeed, at one point the national president of our fraternity. And so I thought, `Here's a guy who I really want to work with.' And again, it took me nine months, from January of '85 to September of '85, I wrote and called his office every single day, flew out there three times, begged to see this guy. They blew me off. Never dot--never did get a chance to see him. And one day, after nine months of begging for an internship--a free internship by the way--after nine months of begging, I got a letter from them--from somebody in the office, some bureaucrat, saying, `We have received your letters but at this time we have no internship positions. They've already been filled.' I was, `What do you mean been filled? Nine months I've been writing and calling. I flew out here three times, nobody would talk to me and now you tell me that the spots are filled? Oh no, we're not going to have that.'
I didn't know what to do because I'm back in Indiana. I get this letter and I'm just in tears when I'm reading this letter. So I had--had been writing Tom Bradley all these letters, you know—God re--God rest his soul--had been writing all these letters as any student would do professionally. I typed them, made sure there were no errors, I typed my envelope. And I did everything I--like I was supposed to do and mailed these letters off. I had said this day--something told me, `Forget the formal stuff, you just need to write Tom Bradley a letter.'
And I sat and wrote him a letter and told him how disappointed I was, that I had done everything I could have done, I'd written and called, and I flew out there to see him, they wouldn't let me talk to him or meet the guy. I was stalking Tom Bradley and they wouldn't let me see him. I wrote a letter in my own handwriting. I recall it was in blue ink. While I'm writing the letter, I'm so overwhelmed and so upset and so overcome, I started crying while I'm writing this letter. And my tears fall on the page, the ink starts running on the page. And I finish the letter anyway, kind of sopped it up, dried it off, put it in the mail and sent that letter to LA.
That was the one letter, after all of the professional stuff I had sent, which got nobody's attention, the one handwritten letter got Tom Bradley's attention. It got on his desk. He got that letter. He called me personally. My roommate said, `Tavis, you're not going to believe this but there's a guy named Tom Bradley on the phone.' I ran to the phone and I'm just, like, speechless. It's the mayor apologizing for the bureaucracy that kept this thing going, telling me that he was going to have one of his aides call me that same day about the internship.
His aide called me--and again, this guy still didn't get it--the aide calls me later that day and says, `Well, our internship positions are filled, but the next time you're in LA, you come by and you see us and we'll try to get you hooked up on internship somewhere down the road.' I said, `The next time I'm in LA?' He said, `Yeah, the next time you're in LA, you come see me.' I borrowed some money, I was in LA within 48 hours sitting in that guy's office waiting to see him.
And he came out and was flabbergasted to have seen me that quick. And he sat down and talked to me. He marched me downstairs, I met Tom Bradley and that day we put together an internship program. I went back to Indiana, loaded up my little 280Z, my little Datsun, which I still have in LA, and I drove out by myself to California. And for one semester, I interned for Tom Bradley and it was that internship with Tom Bradley that opened up all the doors for all the the stuff that I'm doing now.
LAMB: Well, you say in the book that the Smiley Report that you write goes to three million people, circulation.
Mr. SMILEY: I have a newsletter that comes out every quarter that we pass out on the road everywhere I go. It's free of charge. The people still want more. Again, there's a lot of apathy, but people want to make a difference. They want to be in power. I try to do that through books, I try to do it through television, I try to do it through radio. But now I have a newsletter that we send out every quarter and I pass it out on all of my appearances on the road for free, but you can also get it free by coming online. If you come online and order it, we'll mail it to you every quarter. And so, we send out copies all over the place of the newsletter in addition to the books and the speeches and everything else we do.
LAMB: What? Are you in advertising? How do you make money on that?
Mr. SMILEY: It's funny you should ask that. Originally, I was eating the cost. It was a good marketing tool. It cost me some money. But the marketing promotion of it offset the cost out of my pocket to do the newsletter. But I'm--I'm pleased to say now—and I've not even said it publicly because it hasn't happened yet--but we just signed up with the Ford Motor Company to sponsor the newsletter. And on the next issue coming out here shortly, Ford Motor Company now, for the next year, has committed to doing that newsletter as it—as its chief sponsor. And again, I always was a quality piece of work, it was just a matter of time before I could convince somebody else. `Hey, I'm passing this thing out to a whole lot of people. It makes sense for you to get in a venture with me to promote your product to these people.' And so that's finally happening.
LAMB: Just a couple of minutes. What are your--what are your big dreams?
Mr. SMILEY: To keep trying to make a difference. I--I feel passionate about trying to empower people. And I believe, again, that all of us have the capacity to make a difference. I say all the time that `Service is the price we pay for the space that we occupy. To whom much is given, much is required.' We have a lot of access, a lot of opportunity in our country these days, but there's still a lot to be done. I don't know anybody who lives in a state of utopia. All of us would love to see something in our community--something in our community made better. And that's what advocacy is all about.
LAMB: Is there one thing though you'd like to do specifically that you haven't done?
Mr. SMILEY: Not particularly.
LAMB: Run for office?
Mr. SMILEY: Not particularly. Just keep--you know, I--I believe...
LAMB: Have a higher profile in some way?
Mr. SMILEY: Not particularly. I--I--I--I--I go to bed every night feeling pretty well and sleeping quite good. If I feel like during that day--as I said earlier--I did something to enlighten, something to empower people, something to encourage people. And every day I get a chance to do that, I feel OK.
LAMB: People can see you Monday through Thursday on Black Entertainment Television.
Mr. SMILEY: That's right.
LAMB: They can listen to you on Monday and Tuesday on "The Tom Joyner Show."
Mr. SMILEY: That's right.
LAMB: They can get the Smiley Report by--and you couldn't even get your own Web site, tavissmiley.com.
Mr. SMILEY: Not fast enough for somebody--some lady--some lady stole my name, Tavis Smiley. So my Web site's called tavistalks.com because this lady has my name and she won't release it. She's registered my name in advance of me, tavissmiley.net.org.com and she's offering to sell it back to me--imagine that--for $70,000 per domain. I said, `You keep my name. I'll just do tavistalks' and that's how my Web site got to be called tavistalks.
LAMB: So if they want your newsletter, they can go on to tavistalks.com.
Mr. SMILEY: That's right, they can get it.
LAMB: Here is the book, "Doing What's Right," by Tavis Smiley, our guest. Thank you very much.
Mr. SMILEY: Brian, thank you.
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