10 Questions with ... Ken Matthews
June 3, 2014
BRIEF CAREER SYNOPSIS:
WRFR/Franklin, NC, 1981; WRAL and WKNC/Raleigh, 1883-85; WERI/Providence, 1985-87; WTIC-F/Hartford, 1987; WZOU/Boston, 1987; WWGT/Portland, ME, 1987-89; WSSX/Charleston, SC, 1989; WGRR/Cincinnatii, 1990; WAEB-F/Allentown, 1991-2006; fill-in at WKXW (New Jersey 101.5)/Trenton, 2009-10; fill-in at WPHT/Philadelphia, 2013-present; WHP, 2013-present (also WLAN-A/Lancaster and weekends at WAEB-A/Allentown)
1. First, all the way to the beginning: How did you get your start in radio, and why did you decide on radio as a career?
During my college orientation at NC State, I visited the campus radio station, WKNC-FM. That was August, 1980. Within a month, I was doing an overnight show spinning classical hits from Bach to Debussy... then a Jazz show... then Rock mornings. At the time the plan was pre-law and then UNC Law School. Didn't happen. But I did get a BA in Political Science from North Carolina State University.
2. You were a music morning show host at several stations over the years, most prominently at B104 in Allentown, before moving over to talk, first as a fill-in and then replacing Bob Durgin after he retired. Since that's a transition a lot of music station hosts want to make, how did that happen for you? Was it always the plan to ultimately move into talk radio?
I did CHR mornings in Portland,ME, Oldies in Cincinnati, CHR in Charleston, SC... but my most successful run was the 15 years on B104 in Allentown (CHR). After they asked me to leave in 2006, I explored other options, including teaching, speaking, real estate, marketing, traffic, organized crime, and TV... while doing the Facebook and Twitter thing. One day, PD Eric Johnson from New Jersey 101.5 contacted me and said he thought I had a talk show in me based on my Facebook content, and invited me to audition. He asked me to fill in for The Jersey Guys and Dennis and Judy. New Jersey 101.5 is a Talk Topic machine. That was a great first job in Talk. I looked for any opportunity to fill-in anywhere on earth. Leaving AC/CHR for Talk was like starting all over in radio. Thanks to EJ, I had NJ101.5 airchecks and feedback. I sent demos to Andy Bloom at 1210 WPHT, where I now guest host, and to RJ Harris, who had me fill in for Bob Durgin in 2011-2012 and then hired me full-time last year.
3. Speaking of your morning show experience, how much has that informed what you do in talk radio? How much do you infuse pop culture and lifestyle material into your show, and how much resistance from the core audience do you feel when you do that? How do you gauge how much you can veer from politics towards the non-political? (And did your fill-in experience on New Jersey 101.5 give you a handle on that kind of balance?)
Most program directors gave me the freedom doing mornings to develop a style around the music. I'm a slave to prep and really enjoy phones. Brian Check was my PD at B104 for more than a decade, and he built B104 into an uber brand with adult numbers and CHR energy. He always supported my forays beyond the :27 music intros. I could cover a lot of different topics at B104, because we had strong service elements in the morning... there were few content limits as long as I didn't piss off women 25-54. That's when the Talk bug bit me. I enjoy great conversation and what callers bring to the show.
4. How do you do show prep? What's the process of getting your show together?
I start prepping the minute I get up in the morning. Everything is show prep. A trip to the doctor, the magazines in the waiting room, the traffic on the way there. Online, newspapers, callers, local news, emails, and of course the Drudge Report. We always start LOCAL... and see what might interest the audience and be entertaining . Harrisburg is the State Capitol, so all things Pennsylvania cross our plate. My producer Art Selby knows the market, has a quick wit, and is a good sounding board. If there is something HUGE going on nationally, I try to hit it from a fresh angle because I'm on after Rush Limbaugh. I look for People, Politics and Pop Culture that would impact our Harrisburg audience first. I have to be excited about topics or I don't think the listeners will care. I've gone entire shows without politics, but we also know our listeners are plugged in to a lot of what goes on in the capital and we have great newscasts at the top and bottom of every hour. Our listeners are smart, and because of their age have a rich set of experiences to share and relate to. We have a great audience.
5. How, if at all, do you use social media and the Internet in general? Are you using Facebook, Twitter, and/or Google Plus, and do you see them having a role in talk radio?
Yes, I'm using Facebook and Twitter. Facebook is a great way to follow our listeners, their lives, and what they think is important, funny, and conversational. It's also a great test market for topics and bits. Facebook is a great way to interact with the people who listen but don't or can't call.
6. Who have been your mentors and influences, in the business and in life?
This is one of those questions where I know I'll forget people. My parents taught me the value of learning. Neither of them went to college, but they're two of the most well-read, well-informed people I know. For as long as I can remember, they always were reading books, magazines, and newspapers. I've been a read-a-holic for years. That really helps with doing a LIVE TALK show. I have not met Glenn Beck, but have followed his career and really admire his approach to marketing, business, and media. Pete Cosenza, now a record mogul, was the PD that hired me in Allentown; Brian Check was the PD that didn't fire me in Allentown. Harry Nelson, also now a record mogul, hired me for my first morning show. Andy Bloom, RJ Harris, and most recently Jared Hart all returned my calls and hired me from my airchecks.
7. What would you say is the most memorable moment of your career thus far?
Getting the afternoon job at WHP580/Harrisburg. Durgin hosted the show for 24 years. It's a heritage station with a great team, and it's what I enjoy doing.
8. Of what are you most proud?
I'm most proud of our two sons. They are 9 and 12 years old. We're doing our best raising them to love God and America and respect everyone. So far, so good. We are blessed.
9. Fill in the blank: I can't make it through the day without _________.
10. What's the most valuable lesson you've learned in life and in radio thus far in your life?
Listen more. Talk less. And in the words of newsman Tom Donovan, "Try not to suck."