Early life and radio careerEdit
Smith was born in Durant, Oklahoma, on March 29, 1930. He and his family relocated to Tranquility, California, just outside of Fresno in 1935 after escaping the dust bowl. He began singing on KMJ-AM Radio in Fresno with Gene Autry at age 9. After moving to Modesto in 1942, he found his way into the radio broadcasting business with several stations in the central California valley starting with KTRB-AM at age 12 and remaining there for 16 years. He dropped out of high school and started his own program on January 3, 1947. His life was immortalized in song with the catchy tune "The Ballad of Chester Smith", which he wrote and performed. On October 17, 1963, his first owned radio station KLOC-AM 920 hit the air in Ceres, California.
He started his television career at Sacramento television station KOVR. He hosted a music variety show that aired for thirteen weeks and featured local artists, a gospel quartet and a relatively unknown singer by the name of Merle Haggard. He also featured several celebrity guests before starting KLOC-AM. On August 26, 1966, Smith started his own television station KLOC-TV in Modesto with his first wife Naomi. It was the first 5,000,000-watt television UHF station in California and broadcast Spanish-language programming. In 1981, he launched a second Spanish-language station KCBA (now a FOX affiliate) in Salinas, California. He also started the first Spanish-language television station in Sacramento, KCSO, which has been an affiliate of Telemundo since it hit the air in 1999.
He is the founder of the broadcast company Sainte Partners II, L.P. (also known as Sainte Television Group) and began the largest privately-owned broadcast company with stations spanning from Bakersfield, California to Medford, Oregon. Sainte sold off all of its stations as of 2014, six years after his passing.
In 2002, Smith teamed up with legendary country star Merle Haggard to collaborate on a special CD project called California Blend. The CD featured classic country, western and gospel tunes recorded by several artists. A music video of the song "Wreck on the Highway" filmed and produced in Chico, California, by local station KCVU, a FOX affiliate and would air on a local TV program. The video portrays the aftermath of a drunk driving accident which injures an woman and kills her boyfriend. Merle enters the scene on his tour bus and Chester pulls up in his Rolls Royce car. The video has since been seen on YouTube.
Three years later in 2005, Smith and his second wife Ann Lesley Smith, teamed up on a new CD project called Captured By Love. Just prior to the CD's release, the couple appeared on the locally-produced music program [Real]Music to perform song from the upcoming release and be interviewed by program host Chadd Shotwell.
On August 8, 2008, Chester Smith died of heart failure after a routine trip to Stanford University Medical Center in Palo Alto, California. He is survived by his wife Naomi Smith and three daughters by his first marriage, Laura, Lorna and Roxanne and 11 grandchildren. He was buried at Lakewood Memorial Park Cemetery in Hughson, California. Several years after his death, Sainte Partners sold off all of their assets and shuts down operations for good.
- Chester Smith, Hillbilly-Music.com
- Chester Smith succumbs at 78 Page 2, Modesto Radio Museum, August 8, 2008
- KLOC 920 KHz Ceres, CA History, Chester Smith, Modesto Music Museum
- Local Television Innovator's Dream Becoming A Reality (story from June 11, 1978), Modesto Radio Museum, August 8, 2008
- Wreck On The Highway - Chester Smith & Merle Haggard, YouTube
- [Real]Music with Chester & Ann Smith, YouTube
- TV station owner Chester Smith dies (Chico Enterprise Record: August 11, 2008)
- Chester Smith succumbs at 78, Modesto Radio Museum, August 8, 2008