GVM: What's it like being back in Grand Rapids?
MATTHEWS: It's been good. It's definitely come full-circle. At times, it's so bizarre, because I'm running into people who I went to school with and who I haven't seen in so long. This is definitely home, and it's not bad.
GVM: How does working in one of the biggest media markets in the country compare to working in a medium-sized market like Grand Rapids?
MATTHEWS: One of the reasons I came back here is, at one time, Chicago was a great radio city. My old company Infinity is run by idiots, and all the great people I use to work with have left. Radio in L.A. and Chicago are in horrid shape. The Loop and AM 1000, years ago were unreal, we reinvented talk radio. What we did, the rest of country is trying to do today. So to me, honestly, there's more competitive radio in Grand Rapids right now than there is in Chicago.
GVM: You grew up in Rochester, Michigan. Who were your favorite jocks growing up?
MATTHEWS: I didn't really listen to radio. I listened to my brother's 8-tracks in his Torino. When I did start to hear the radio, it was Arthur Penhallow, Karen Savelly, a little bit. And then I came to Grand Rapids, and I - literally for the first time - really started to listen to LAV. It was very underground back then. You had Aris [Hampers], you had Doc Donovan, you had Tony [Gates], Ed [Buchanan], Patty Hayes. It was theater of the mind, man. It was like these hippies with deep voices just smoking pot and playing Genesis, or Gentle Giant or Pink Floyd, you know what I mean? They were pretty cool. This station started it all.
GVM: What brought you to Grand Valley?
MATTHEWS: A girl - a really hot girl. I worked at a drugstore with her and she came up, and I decided, I'll tag along. She dusted me like a beanfield. So I'm up here, and within a week I started meeting people who became my roommates. This is where I met Debby, my wife.
GVM: What was your major at Grand Valley?
MATTHEWS: Partying. Actually, it was education. Then it went more into advertising, creative advertising, and then I just, you know, got involved in the radio station. I still need a few credits for my diploma.
GVM: Have you ever thought about going back?
MATTHEWS: Yeah, I'd like to teach a class out there, to tell you the truth. I ran into President Lubbers when I first got here; he's a sweet man. I said, "Everybody should be proud of that school." I'm really proud of Grand Valley. I'd love to teach. It doesn't necessarily have to be a broadcast class, it could be like a medical class.
GVM: You got your start in radio at the student-run WSRX. What was that scene like?
MATTHEWS: That was so great. [Editor's note: Matthews then shared some wild tales that, while hilarious, decorum prevents us from printing here.] We'd play Miles Davis or the Sex Pistols, British imports. We had a wild time. We played the Stones' "Satisfaction" in Spanish. That's where we learned to be creative, because you didn't do that stuff in radio. That caught on, and that's how come I listen to so many people on the radio today - the shock jocks today, and all these stupid zookeepers and stuff like that - and say "did it, done it."
GVM: Do you remember any of your early bits when you thought, "Wow, this is something that I could actually make into a career?"
MATTHEWS: I had a helicopter reporter character early on. I was getting sick of doing the voice, so I had his helicopter crash, and he was killed doing a report. I thought, "OK, that's pretty cool. I can move on now." And this pinhead operations director made me go on the air and say that it was a bit. That's when I really said, "I'm going to question authority now."
GVM: Is it true that you're the guy who invented yelling "Freebird" at concerts?
MATTHEWS: Yeah. The Wall Street Journal did a real big piece on that about a year ago. It made the front page. Florence Henderson was doing this dinner theater a long time ago when I had just gotten to Chicago. I think a guy had to go with his wife. I said, "Just yell 'Freebird!' See what happens." And he did, and it kind of interrupted the show. And then Jim Nabors was coming - it was for the really bad acts that would come in. Then it just started getting yelled at everyone. Billy Corgan hates me because of it. Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, it's on live tracks on his CDs. It's totally great. And it's so uncalled for.
GVM:Is that the bit of yours that's had the most reach?
MATTHEWS: Well, I think it'd be good on my tombstone, because it still keeps going. It'll never go away.
GVM:You talk so much about the music that you were playing in the early days, and how vibrant all of that was. How has your relationship to music as a DJ changed over the years?
MATTHEWS: I still have a big relationship with artists, and part of my job here is director of [program] development. You've got to sow the seeds, you really do. New music is really important, but you've got to know where to find it. Shame on the radio industry, because they're desperate right now. And again, that's how come I said I came here to work for Citadel. These people really care about the community. They really care about the audience.
GVM: One of the things that hit me listening to your show is you were just playing The Cars. And I remember you playing their records ...
MATTHEWS:...when they were brand-new. Yeah, you're right.
GVM: The question is who are the next Cars, and how can you pull them into the format?
MATTHEWS: Well, you know what? You have to. And that's part of the challenge. I want to do that. I want to do that. That's a good call. I mean, that's you, the audience, asking a really good question, and we've got to come up with the answer on that.
Page last modified July 20, 2011