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Radio Legend Dick 'The Derby' Smith Dies

This article is more than 12 years old.

The Worcester radio DJ credited by many with introducing The Beatles to American listeners died this week.

Dick "The Derby" Smith was music director at WORC-AM, a central Massachusetts radio station, through the 1950s, '60s and '70s.

"He's a legend in this area, really," said Smith's longtime friend and colleague David Muise. "There was nobody who had an ear for music and an idea that this person would make it like Dick Smith did."

Muise explained how WORC was an influential radio station for decades. It acted as a springboard for record companies that would try out certain songs there to see how they floated in the mid-sized market. Smith helped launched musicians' careers by playing their songs. He also, perhaps, helped launch The Beatles here in the United States.

"It was a controversial subject for a while whether Dick had really discovered the Beatles here in America and was the first to play a Beatles record," Muise recalled. "Similar to 'Mary had a Little Lamb' there's still controversy whether the lamb came from Sterling, Mass., or somewhere in New Hampshire, but most people now will give credit to Dick Smith."

"We may never know," said Donna Halper, a broadcast historian and professor at Lesley University. "But what we do know is that in Massachusetts and in New England the name of Dick Smith was very, very well known, and I gotta tell you I'm sorry to hear that he died."

Smith died on Wednesday. He was 84 years old and had been in declining health. He last signed off WORC in 1984 after 30 years at the radio station.

This program aired on May 20, 2011.

Andrea Shea Senior Arts Reporter
Andrea Shea is WBUR's arts reporter.



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