Through the lens: Sam Smith recalls time as WALB’s first news photographer

Through the Lens: Sam Smith

ALBANY, GA (WALB) - WALB’s legacy of visual storytelling started with one man who picked up the first news camera for the station.

Sam Smith — a historic station icon — was the first photographer for WALB over five decades ago.

Smith was there in the very beginning in the journey of WALB’s news department.

“The stories we covered, the people that we covered and the places that we went," Smith said. "Yes, I would do it all over again.”

The memorabilia that lay on Smith’s bed is years worth of memories, and now, he looks down on them reminiscing on his 55 years at WALB.

“No TV background," Smith recalled. “It was real complicated. I just went out there and applied for a job and got it.”

Just needing a job at the time, Smith applied to be a camera operator in the production department in 1960 — the rest was history.

“Back then, just about every show was live," Smith said. "We didn’t have video tape, and the news was just somebody would rip a wire copy off a UPI machine.”

Sam Smith was WALB first news photographer (Source: WALB)
Sam Smith was WALB first news photographer (Source: WALB)

Literally making history as the first news photographer of a newly created newsroom. A station that once only had an announcer who would sit on a flat with a stool reading state, national, and international news.

“A year or two later, we had some 16mm film cameras and I volunteered for that to go out and shoot,” Smith recalled. "We started covering news stories. "

That’s when the evolution of the newsroom began.

“The Civil Right Movement in the 60′s was the first big long story that lasted a couple of years," Smith said.

From the Civil Rights Movement, to Ku Klux Klan rallies, to the floods of ’94 and ’98, there was a mixture of chaos and good news, but Smith’s hidden eye was always behind the lens capturing it all.

Even for three months out of the year, Smith would go back and forth to Atlanta to cover the General Assembly while fighting with time, to get film back to the station for the next newscast.

“We would cover whatever was the important story of the day and shoot it and try to get it out to the airport and get it shipped home so the people here could edit and process the film and edit it,” Smith said.

Because of his legacy and hard work, his name now hangs in the photographer den at WALB.

Smith, who randomly filled out a job application, is grateful his journey led him here.

“Getting to go different places, meeting different people that probably people wouldn’t go to or meet people. From presidents on down,” Smith said.

And South Georgia experienced this too, thanks to a man who gave them that experience while holding the first news camera behind the walls of WALB.

“Thank you for the opportunity of letting me work there and help make the station what it is today,” Smith said.

Still living in Albany, Smith traded in his camera gear and now enjoys picking up golf clubs several times a week after retiring from WALB in 2015.

Copyright 2019 WALB. All rights reserved.