Saturday, January 10, 2009

Kevin Matthews

Kevin Matthews is the morning host and Director of Development for WLAV Radio in Grand Rapids. Before going to Grand Rapids he had a long and successful radio career in Chicago with the Loop, AM 1000, CD-94.7, and WCKG.

Rick: What is the update on your health? (Kevin recently announced he has been diagnosed with MS.)

Kevin: The news is actually pretty good. I’m undergoing treatment right now, which is really working. They tell me I should lead a somewhat normal life.

Rick: Did you know very much about MS before you were diagnosed?

Kevin: No, not at all, but I’m educating myself. MS attacks the nervous system, sometimes in the spine, and sometimes the brain, or sometimes the optic nerve. Depending where it is, it affects different things, and has different severity. It can be treated though. For me, the treatment has really reduced the mass. It’s been working out pretty well. You wouldn’t believe the number of people that have contacted me, who are going through the same thing. It’s really been great from that point of view—it humbles you.

Rick: What kind of treatment is it?

Kevin: At first it’s a heavy duty steroid treatment, but now it’s a standard treatment to prevent relapses. I’m working on regaining anything that may have been lost.

Rick: What kind of symptoms were you having that made you worry?

Kevin: Now that I look back, I was getting dizzy spells for awhile, but I thought I was just buying the wrong kind of glasses at Walgreens. Then, one time I was on the air, and my foot and my hand went numb. That scared me, so I saw my cardiologist, who told me to get an MRI. That’s when they found a mass in my brain. It was a long seven days waiting to find out what it was.

Rick: So you were worried that it could have been worse?

Kevin: Oh yeah. I was actually relieved by this diagnosis. It could have been much worse.

Rick: Is this going to affect your ability to do a radio show?

Kevin: No, it shouldn’t. They tell me it probably won’t. Lots of people have this and they lead normal lives. Plus, I’m taking much better care of myself. I’ve been watching my diet, getting my sleep, and exercising for the last six weeks, concentrating on living a healthier lifestyle. I should probably warn the people in St. Louis about this. Budweiser’s going to go bankrupt without me.

Rick: It was great hearing you on the air in Chicago again a few weeks ago at WLS. How did that come about?

Kevin: I love filling in for Roe. He’s been a real good friend for a long time. We both work for the same company now, we’re sister stations, so it’s a natural to do this. I loved it. There are so many people in Chicago that listen to my show on the internet (at, but I don’t get to talk them. Being on WLS—I got that chance.

Rick: Do you still have a home here?

Kevin: Yeah. Debbie and I have always kept a home in Chicago, and I have a place in Michigan too. Everyone in the family is doing real well. Trev’s 2nd album is coming out, Teague’s in school, Debbie’s business is doing well, and I’m really loving it in Michigan. If the kids were younger we never would have done this, but it’s working out great now.

Rick: What is it about Michigan that you love so much?

Kevin: This job. I really like Matt Hanlon, who’s our regional manager. Matt and I had been talking about my coming back for about three years before I did. This is where I got my start, so it’s always been a special place for me. And I’ve had a great time rebuilding the morning show—which is back up to #1.

Rick: I was on your show a few times this past summer and got to hear long stretches of it. I think it’s really sounding good. For your fans in Chicago who haven’t heard your show in awhile, how it is the same and different from what is was here?

Kevin: I would say that all the characters are all back. Jim Shorts, Devon, all the characters you know. There are some new ones too. Ricky and Rocky are new. I have a guy named D-dog, who grew up in Detroit, who is on the show. I also have a producer named Splatz who is really talented. He reminds me a lot of a young Matt Bisbee (photo), he’s really got the ear for it. He could be Matt’s protégé. The phone calls are back too.

Ed Buchanan is my news guy, and it’s so great to work with him again. He was a broadcast teacher of mine in college, and the guy who gave me my first job. Ed was the guy that started up WLAV, which is one of the classic rock stations in America. He broke everybody (musically) in those days. From Aerosmith to Genesis, he was the first guy to play ‘em. It was the first FM underground station, and it’s turned into a powerhouse.

This is the station he started, and the station I started on, so I really think that’s why so many people have connected to the morning show. It’s part of this community—especially thanks to Ed. They feel a connection to him. Plus, it’s a fun show. That’s all I want to do on the air these day. Just have fun. When you start thinking about your funeral, things have a way of getting into perspective quickly.

Rick: So is it going to stay in Grand Rapids?

Kevin: Yes. I would like to see the radio show grow, but I’d like to stay in Michigan, and if we pick up other markets, I’d like to keep it to the Midwest. I like the Midwest, that’s really who I am, and who I connect to, people from this area.

Rick: Tell me about your other job there, director of development.

Kevin: I put a radio station on the air, the Outlaw, which is doing really well. That’s a format I’ve thought about since Jimmy de Castro sold AM 1000, and Matt is letting me do it. I think it’s a beautiful radio station, it’s all hand groomed. When you listen to it, it feels like you’re in Austin Texas. This is how I describe it: music that makes you want to get a trailer in Austin and just get drunk. Artists that aren’t being played anywhere: Dwight Yoakim, Steve Earle, Merle Haggard. I’ve always loved that music. Legends and young guns. Lucinda Williams to Snow Patrol to Phish to the Grateful Dead to George Jones. It’s a carefully crafted music station. And it’s really growing.

We have no personalities on the air. The music does the talking. It’s just a really innovative direction that radio can be going. If people want to listen to it, they can go to People out of Nashville are really into it—I hear from them all the time. It’s being listened to all over the world.

Rick: And this is your baby.

Kevin: Yup. Matt threw me the keys about a year ago, and I think forgot he gave me the keys for awhile, but he really likes what I’ve done with it. Matt reminds me a lot of Larry Wert (photo--Kev's former boss at the Loop). He hires people to lets ‘em go. He’s a street-wise guy from Jersey.

Rick: Your market hasn’t gotten PPM yet, has it?

No, not yet.

Rick: I’m curious to see if that changes anything there, because it sure has here. That, and the economy, which is hurting every business. I don’t know how closely you follow the radio business in Chicago, but in the last few months some of the biggest names in personality radio have lost their gigs here: Steve Dahl, Eddie & Jobo, Mike North. Do you think personality radio is in danger of disappearing altogether? After all, when budgets start getting slashed, it doesn’t take a genius to see who is making the most money, and whammo...

Kevin: I really don’t think so. I think managers are in more danger, which is good. They are the ones on the firing line, and they should be. There are some great managers, but there are also some people who have been ducking bullets for years. As for personalities, this probably is a wake up call for all of us. Anyone who isn’t working hard at constantly reinventing themselves is going to be in trouble. Say what you will, but it’s natural. People sometimes get tired or complacent. I’m not saying that’s the case with Dahl (photo), North, or Eddie & Jobo, because I haven’t been listening to them, but talent is talent. Once you’ve got it, you’ve got it. It’s whether you utilize it or not. That’s the thing. And let’s not forget this job takes hard work. Ask David Lee Roth. Ask Whoopie Goldberg. This ain’t easy. You can never slack off, and you have to constantly reinvent yourself.

Rick: I’ve known you for more than 20 years, but I don’t think I’ve ever heard you talk about your radio influences growing up. Is there anybody out there that helped shape your approach to doing radio?

Kevin: Honestly, I listened to my brother’s 8-tracks in his Torino, and didn’t really listen to radio that much. It wasn’t until I saw American Graffiti and saw Wolfman Jack that I got a feel for what radio could be. The Wolfman—he was wild! I started at a college station and we were wild too. Our advisor dropped acid and would do two days shows—I swear that station was like the Manson Ranch. But it was so much fun. I learned about music there—everything from John Coltrane to the Sex Pistols. My roommate and I did a show we called the Dos Equis hour. We brought in a case of Dos Equis, drank it live on the air, and played Spanish songs. It was so much fun—probably too much fun. We lost our license when we said that President Lubbers (the President of the University) had been mutilated and killed. They came in like Animal House, took away the license, and turned it into a hair salon. That’s where it started for me. My first station--and we lost our license.

Rick: And someone’s letting you run a radio station now?

Kevin: (laughs) I know people are worried about the business, but I see this as an opportunity to recommit to what radio can be. You can be all doom and gloom, or you can really work at it. My advertisers have all become really good friends. We create marketing together. We’re not just playing commercials. If you’ve got something people want to hear, they’ll listen. I think maybe one of the reasons we’re handling this so well up here is that we’ve been in this economy now for over two years. People will still advertise. People will still buy every day products. You just have to hustle. Look at the opportunity instead of the doom and gloom. We’re going survive this.