NewsWest 9 Sits Down With Radio Legend Tumbleweed Smith

by Anayeli Ruiz
NewsWest 9

He's been the voice of Texas for more than 40 years. Tumbleweed Smith is a radio legend across Texas and NewsWest 9 sat down with him to get to know him a little better.

Bob Lewis, also known as Tumbleweed Smith, was born in 1935 in Waco, Texas. He grew up in Fort Worth and later graduated from Baylor University with a major in English. A radio career was something he never thought of until he joined the Army and was sent off to Europe.

"The guys were listening to their radios, they listened to a commercial and they applauded after the commercial was over. We never heard a commercial in two years. In Europe, they don't do commercials," Lewis said.

That commercial would change Tumbleweed's life for ever.

"That commercial was right in the middle of a newscast. News and Advertising, the most American thing there is, and I said 'that's for me" it was my epiphany on that ship," Lewis said.

But after the army and college, he still had no idea how he would pursue his dream. Everyone had a job and he didn't know what to do next. Until he got a call from his best friend in Big Spring telling him they were looking for a salesman at the radio station.

In 1960, he joined KBST.

"So I come out here, got the job, fell in love with Big Spring, Texas. It was exactly what I was looking for without even knowing it," Lewis said.

And not only did Tumbleweed fall in love with Big Spring, he also fell in love with his wife, Susan.

"I've always said there are three things that are important to your life: something to do, someone to do it with and a place to do it. I found all those things right here in Big Spring, it's a wonderful place to live. I have enjoyed it," Lewis said.

After working in the radio industry for several years in Big Spring and Houston, he decided to go back to school and get his Masters in journalism. He went to the University of Missouri and got his Masters in journalism. He then became a freelancer for Radio Monitor for NBC for six years.

"I just wondered if Texas would enjoy hearing about themselves on a daily basis. I was working at a radio station in Big Spring doing news and I said 'I'll try that' and I quit my job of all things. I quit my job to start my radio program, which was a dream of mine that I had always wanted to do, something independent," Lewis said.

So in 1969, Tumbleweed followed his dream and created his own syndicated radio program called "The Sound of Texas."

"I started driving all over Texas going to all these radio stations, I put 100,000 miles a year on my car for the first two years," Lewis said.

He remembers it being a lot of hard work at the beginning and he didn't know if people would want his radio show.

"I walked in totally unannounced, totally unknown, and said 'I got a radio program, I want you to listen to it, doesn't cost much money, but it might make you some money and gain you some audience,'" Lewis said.

But it wasn't easy starting out, he wasn't much of a salesman but he sold enough to get the program up and running.

"Pretty soon, I had 5 stations, then 10 stations and then 20 and 40 on and on," Lewis said.

Now after 40 years, "The Sound of Texas" is still on radio stations across Texas.

"I think probably what makes his program endure and the fact that everyone enjoys listening to it is, Tumbleweed smith is a very good storyteller and any good story teller knows that everybody has a story to tell," KBST News Director, Mike Henry, said.

This storyteller has the largest private collection of oral history in the United States and he also has the longest syndicated radio program in Texas.

"Texas is the most interesting, has the most interesting people, and besides that there's not much history here. Everything is new and to me that makes this place attractive," Lewis said.

Most of his stuff comes from small towns, Tumbleweed says everyone has a story and Texans love to listen to them.

"Every program many of them bring a chuckle, sometimes they'll bring a tear. The response we get and that's why we continue to air it, because people just love Tumbleweed Smith," Henry said.

Tumbleweed doesn't plan on slowing down any time soon.

"You're going to stop having all this fun driving around Texas talking to people and hearing their stories? Come on, why stop doing that?" Lewis said.