Del Mar Heights resident thriving as longtime NBC sports journalist

Dave Smith covers the 2007 Major League Baseball Hall of Fame induction ceremony for Tony Gwynn and Cal Ripken Jr.
Dave Smith covers the 2007 Major League Baseball Hall of Fame induction ceremony for Tony Gwynn and Cal Ripken Jr.

By Rob LeDonne

It’s Monday night, and Dave Smith has just returned from an on-location assignment. “I was with our consumer reporter Bob Hansen, who we call Consumer Bob, and shot a story about surf shops in Clairemont,” explained Smith, a Del Mar Heights resident who has been working as a news and sports photojournalist for NBC 7 San Diego since 1975. “I’ve been reporting on a little bit of everything.”

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Dave Smith at the wheel of the yacht America in San Diego with the America’s Cup itself.

Smith isn’t kidding. With NBC, he has had a front-row seat to some of the biggest news and sports stories in San Diego for over three decades, rubbing shoulders with sport luminaries and cultivating a renowned career.

“It’s funny because when I start attending UCSD, I had intended to study law,” he said. However, while taking a required course, a young professor named Dr. Herb Schiller piqued Smith’s interest in the communications field. “He was a fabulous teacher. Not long after that, I discovered internships. I applied for one at NBC and got hired, which is rare because San Diego is such a big market.”

Oddly enough, Smith was hired to do camerawork, something he had never really done.

“They gave me a trial run to see how I fared, and it turns out I have a natural affinity for it.”

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Dave Smith and Jim Laslavic, NBC 7 sports director, cover an event in the 1980s.

Starting out, Smith originally reported on hard news, something he never really took to.

“For my first 10 years, I had bullets whizzing by me during SWAT action, and inmates break loose and chase me. I was interviewing people at the worst time in their lives.”

One of Smith’s hardest assignments was the tragic crash of PSA Flight 182, which fell to the ground after colliding with a Cessna airplane in North Park, “which was hard, because there were people I knew on the plane.”

Another notable assignment ended with Smith getting roughed up by then-U.S. Ambassador to Mexico John Gavin during the infamous Tuna Wars.

“Ronald Reagan had just appointed him and I don’t think he was expecting to see me; he charged and hit me over the head with his briefcase.”

The melee became an international incident, in which Smith received calls about it from around the world. Gavin later apologized.

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Dave Smith at Qualcomm Stadium prior to a Chargers game in 2012.

After the array of hardcore news stories, Smith transitioned into sports journalism where he’s attended and shot footage at virtually every notable sporting event in San Diego — from Chargers and Padres games to everything in between — getting to know each and every player and vicariously enjoying every championship and celebration. One of Smith’s most exciting moments occurred on assignment in Pittsburgh at Three River Stadium, when the Chargers were squaring off with the Steelers for a spot to go to Super Bowl ‘95.

“The Steelers were the favorite, but it came down to the last play and the Chargers wound up winning,” remembers Smith. “The crowd was shocked; for a few seconds there was no noise, just deafening silence. The incredible part was that I had the privilege of coming back to San Diego on the Charger plane with the team celebrating, and then going to a rally at the stadium straight from the airport where 50,000 fans had gathered to congratulate the team. It was incredibly emotional; when I talk about it now I still get goosebumps.”

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