John Matthews, WMAL News Director, on the benefits – all of these years – getting up and being at work by 4:30 in the morning at the latest~
“I don’t know what morning drive traffic is like and I don’t know what afternoon drive traffic is like and I consider that a blessing. I love the hours that I work. And that’s when decisions are made. The decisions except for breaking news, the decisions on stories that you’re hearing at 6:00 at night were made at 5:00 in the morning.”
Andy Ockershausen: This is Our Town, Andy Ockershausen with a special guest who’s really not special. He’s a big part of the woodwork here at WMAL, he’s a big part of the station and it’s success, a big part of my life because I’ve known him since he was a kid, and I hired him at WMAL, it’s maybe one of the biggest mistakes I ever made, but I lived with it for years and all of a sudden John Matthews became a star. John, welcome to Our Town.
John Matthews: Oh my goodness. You are really blowing it up this morning.
Andy Ockershausen: Your skirt, blows your skirt up. Whatever blows your- John, what a great thing though that you came here as a kid, a young man out of school. Why did you pick Syracuse to go to school?
Education – Syracuse University
John Matthews: Well there’s a couple of reasons. Number one they had a great broadcast program, but number two my sister went there before I did.
Andy Ockershausen: Your talented sister.
John Matthews: My talented sister, Julie. She was there before I went and being she’s a couple of years older than me, I really hadn’t toured a lot of college campuses, so when she went there, one of the only college campuses I’d ever seen was in Syracuse, New York, Syracuse University, so I ended up going there and they had a great broadcast program too.
Andy Ockershausen: Where did you grow up, in Washington or Frederick?
On Growing Up in Our Town
John Matthews: I grew up in Silver Spring, Maryland.
Andy Ockershausen: Oh you did? Right here?
John Matthews: Oh yeah. Absolutely.
Andy Ockershausen: Your dad was a builder and lived here.
John Matthews: My dad was a builder. He built the first house that he ever owned, he built in Silver Spring. And I grew up-
Andy Ockershausen: What was your relationship to Frederick? Your grandma-
John Matthews: My grandparents lived in Frederick.
Andy Ockershausen: That’s what I thought.
John Matthews: Lived in Frederick, Maryland. And my dad grew up in Gallipolis, Ohio. And-
Andy Ockershausen: I know it well.
John Matthews: Yeah. He grew up in Gallipolis, Ohio, and moved his family here, moved us here.
Andy Ockershausen: Were you born in Ohio?
John Matthews: No. I was born in Richmond, Virginia. I was born in the-
Andy Ockershausen: That’s on the way to Ohio, of course.
John Matthews: He had a construction job down there. And he was a builder and he had construction work down there. He had my two sisters and I and shortly after I was born, I was less than a year old, we moved up here to the D.C. area and we lived in Langley Park and Takoma Park in apartments. We moved to a house near downtown Silver Spring and then my dad built a house in the White Oak, Hillandale area of Silver Spring and that’s where I grew up.
Andy Ockershausen: John, that’s great to hear you, think I’ve known your dad for 40, 50 years, I didn’t realize all these things. I knew he was a local guy, and I consider Frederick Our Town because we had more listeners in Frederick than Frederick stations had at one time.
John Matthews: Sure.
Andy Ockershausen: There was a reason for that, our signal. But John, you’ve had a great experience in Our Town. The moves, obviously you learn things, you knew things, and did you try any other school before Syracuse?
John Matthews’ WMAL Internship
John Matthews: Not for college. I went to Springbrook High School and then I went to Syracuse and then I got my internship at WMAL. I was interviewed by the producer of the Harden and Weaver program, that would be Janice Iacona who basically you said, “Interview this kid and then give him an internship,” she did and she did. And my first job was putting away records in the music library.
Janice Iacona Ockershausen: Lots of those.
John Matthews: Lots and lots of records in the music library.
Andy Ockershausen: You were on the inside John.
John Matthews: Absolutely.
Andy Ockershausen: A big thing now looking back.
John Matthews: You know, yeah. That’s exactly right. And the interesting thing was I ended up in news and I started out, the reason I started in the programming department was a lot of young men in college, I wanted to work in sports and that was to me, you had the Redskins, you had Maryland. . .
Andy Ockershausen: A stepping stone.
Matthews Participation in News Event at Washington Monument Puts Him on News Department Radar Screen
John Matthews: Sure it was a stepping stone. So I went into the programming department, got a couple of months into my internship and they had an incident down at the Washington Monument. There was a guy who had backed a step van up to the foot of the Washington Monument, said it was full of explosives and it was gonna blow up the Washington Monument. The news department at the time sent Ed Meyer and Larry Matthews down to the Washington Monument and several other reporters during the course of the day. And at one point, given the technology of the day, they were getting their broadcasts back and forth with two way radios, essentially walkie-talkies.
Andy Ockershausen: That’s the way it was.
John Matthews: And it was the way it was. During the course of the day, ’cause this went on from morning until well into the evening, the batteries were dying on these things. So they needed somebody to go down and the-
Andy Ockershausen: Put yourself in harm’s way.
John Matthews: The schoolmarm in charge of the news room, Dorothy Jones, had to make sure that they got sent lunch, so she sent down lunch and she sent me down with some fresh batteries for their radios. And I went down there and basically helped out for a couple of hours as it finally ended. I think there were snipers who shot the guy in the van, there were no explosives in the van, nothing was going to blow up. But I assisted there and it kind of put me on the radar screen of the news department.
Andy Ockershausen: I see.
John Matthews: And after my internship was over-
Andy Ockershausen: Were you on the switchboard at the time?
From WMAL Intern to WMAL Receptionist and Hoping for Position in News Department
John Matthews: Well not yet, but after my internship ended in the programming department, I wanted a job and a job opened up at the front desk and I became a receptionist. I was a receptionist out there for two years.
Andy Ockershausen: But it may have been the number one job in the building, ’cause you knew everything in the building. You knew everybody coming through that door, correct?
John Matthews: Yep. Absolutely. And meanwhile, I was on the radar screen of the news department. They knew I was out there. I produced Ken Beatrice’s “Sports Call”-
Andy Ockershausen: Oh yeah.
John Matthews: That was another side job that I had. And eventually-
Andy Ockershausen: What an experience though.
John Matthews: Yeah.
Andy Ockershausen: One of the things you mentioned, John, naming these name and Ed Meyer, the news people, Bob Gneiser, Bud Steele, these were professional radio voices.
John Matthews: Oh yes. Absolutely.
Andy Ockershausen: What a great opportunity for a young guy like you to be associated with these people.
John Matthews: It was such a training ground and then once I got to the news department, what happened was, I’m gonna tell you another true story. I was desperate to get a job on the other side of the door from the front desk. I wanted to be on the inside. And I sat out there for far too long doing that job, and doing Ken Beatrice and other things on the side. What happened eventually was the other general manager in the building, Ernie Fears came to me and he said, “You’ve been doing this for too long. It’s time for you to move on.” Because he wanted the receptionist job, the front desk was basically a breeding ground for new people to come in-
Andy Ockershausen: Absolutely.
One Door Closes and Another Opens – From WMAL Receptionist to News Assistant
John Matthews: And I had been sitting out there for too long. So I don’t really know who it was directly, but after that word got out that the other general manager said I’d been there too long, suddenly a news assistant job opened up in the news room and that was where my career in news started.
Andy Ockershausen: But what a great opportunity to be working with the talented people and Milagros Ardin. I mean, the females in our department were untouched in this town, nobody could touch them.
Diversity of WMAL News Department – “We were EEOC before EEOC even existed.”
John Matthews: We were EEOC before EEOC even existed. We had a news department that had minority representation, it had Hispanic representation and African American representation and lots of women in there. It was not just an old white guy kind of news operation.
Andy Ockershausen: It never was, John. That’s what made it so great. It was diversity.
John Matthews: We had a-
Andy Ockershausen: But it wasn’t diversity because the government said it, we did it because it was good business.
John Matthews: Sure.
Andy Ockershausen: These reporters, female, got stories that the males couldn’t get.
John Matthews: Well it was a great news culture and it’s been more than 30 years since I started in the news room, but there were things that I learned back in 1984, 1985, 1986 basically news values that we still apply today in 2018 in the WMAL news room.
Andy Ockershausen: Well ’cause of you, John. You were the spark plug to keep this thing alive. Listen to your voice at 6:00 in the morning, which is I have been doing since you’ve been doing it, is an incredible accomplishment. How long you been doing morning radio? 20 years.
From Morning Drive to 9 – 5 News Director – Back to Morning Drive Hours After Two Months
John Matthews: I’ve been, well I’ve been working in morning drive pretty much my entire career.
Andy Ockershausen: Right.
John Matthews: And there was a time after I became the news director, I hired someone, I had been the assistant news director, the managing editor for awhile. And when I became news director, it was like okay it’s time for me to go from working in mornings to working more or less a nine to five job, something like that. And so I hired Scott Wykoff who now works at WBAL in Baltimore, I hired him to be my assistant. He was a great hire. And I put him on to do assignment work in the morning and all of that stuff. And I went to work a nine to five job. And I did that for two months and I hated it. I hated working nine to five. I had become accustomed to working in the mornings and-
Andy Ockershausen: That was your life.
John Matthews: It was my life. And basically because I was news director, I could make these decisions. I said Scott, you’re working nine to five, I’m going back to mornings and I came back to mornings and I’ve worked mornings ever since. And a lot of people when I anchor now, I’m getting up at 2:15 in the morning, people look at me like I have horns coming out of the top of my head and they’re like, “How can you do that?” And I’m like, “If you live in Our Town, and you don’t take advantage of opportunities to miss traffic, then I got to worry about you.”
Andy Ockershausen: You deserve it. You’re right.
John Matthews: If there’s one thing about my lifestyle that I’ve had all of these years getting up and being at work by 4:30 in the morning at the latest, I don’t know what morning drive traffic is like and I don’t know what afternoon drive traffic is like and I consider that a blessing. I love the hours that I work.
Andy Ockershausen: Well you learned from some pretty good leaders too that were early birds, Len Deibert.
John Matthews: Oh yes.
Andy Ockershausen: The people who made this station great were early birds because they cared about the news.
John Matthews: Yep.
Andy Ockershausen: They cared about-
Decisions and Action Made During Early Morning Hours
John Matthews: And that’s when decisions are made. You hear the news whether you use TV as the model, you hear news, the 6:00 news on television. The decisions except for breaking news, the decisions on stories that you’re hearing at 6:00 at night were made at 5:00 in the morning.
Andy Ockershausen: Absolutely.
John Matthews: And 6:00 in the morning. So it is when the action is made.
Andy Ockershausen: Well John, and talking about the people and I want to talk to you about that, but right now we’re gonna take a break. Andy O and Our Town with one of the leaders of Our Town, John Jack Junior Matthews.
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Announcer: You’re listening to Our Town with Andy Ockershausen, brought to you by Best Bark Communications.
Andy Ockershausen: This is Our Town, Andy Ockershausen, I’m talking with the news director of the greatest radio station in the world, WMAL and John Matthews who grew up here after his career, wasted years at Syracuse I tell everybody, ’cause you didn’t learn anything, you learned more here on the switchboard here than you did at anyplace.
Interns Learn on the Job
John Matthews: And I’ve told my interns over the decades, “You’ll learn more from three months of interning here than you will in four years of college.” And that was absolutely true in my case and I think it’s absolutely true in their case.
Andy Ockershausen: I think it’s true. And your opportunity, John, when you look back at those days, the golden years I call them for a lot of reasons because they were gold, we made so much gold it was incredible. But the talented people that you came in contact with, just the lunch bunch, the people that you grew up with. Listening to Bill Trumbull at lunch was worth its weight in gold.
Matthews Catered to WMAL Lunch Bunch and Station Location
John Matthews: I spent a lot of years, I spent a lot of years catering for the lunch bunch. I was walking up and down Jenifer St. wearing out a path in sidewalk to Booeymongers, probably did that, I probably did that four days a week for about five years, getting lunch for Chris Core and Bill Trumbull and Eileen Griffin and Janice Iacona and Dianne Earley and all kinds of people.
Andy Ockershausen: The lottery tickets.
John Matthews: Doing all of that, and I would bet you I did that for five years and I bet you in the 30 years since then, I probably haven’t eaten at Booeymongers five times.
Andy Ockershausen: It was a natural little place to go to for the staff here.
John Matthews: Sure. This is a great, here in Chevy Chase D.C., just one block across the D.C. line, this has just been a wonderful neighborhood to work in. It’s safe, there’s a lot of amenities, it’s right off the Metro, and it’s a wonderful part of town for people to work in. Just down the hall here at 4400 Jenifer St. what used to be the AM sales department is now the home of Westwood One News.
Andy Ockershausen: Yeah.
John Matthews: And they just moved in about a year ago. And into beautiful new facilities that they built here on the same floor as WMAL and when I talk to people there, they’re just glad. They love that they moved here. They were downtown near Capitol Hill.
Andy Ockershausen: Oh. Terrible parking. Terrible, terrible.
John Matthews: Decrepit building which has since been torn down and they were so happy to come up here and join us on Jenifer St.
Andy Ockershausen: And now they’re in a great location for a lot of reasons.
John Matthews: Sure.
Andy Ockershausen: But again, back to these talented people.
John Matthews: Yeah.
Andy Ockershausen: That appear on and off in my life and particularly Frank and Jack in the morning, but I always thought that Tom Gauger is only of the best radio salesmen I ever listened to. He knew how to sell a product and he was so good at it, so enthusiastic, and then it paid off for us because our people on air, John, were all selling product. Not reading commercials, they were selling something.
Best “Sales People” were WMAL Personalities
John Matthews: Absolutely. And they all stood for things. And you knew with just as it happened with Paul Harvey, you knew that these people bought into the products that they were selling. They were not selling something that they didn’t have a personal touch or a personal hand in. And you knew, and that’s what made them such great salesmen, you knew that if they were telling you about it, that it was a product worth owning.
Andy Ockershausen: Absolutely. They were trying to do you a favor. We thought that was a big part of our information as an information station.
John Matthews: Sure.
Andy Ockershausen: Commercials were important to us, John.
Facebook Keeps Us All Connected
John Matthews: You know, you just mentioned Tom Gauger and you were talking about Ed Meyer and the other great titans of WMAL who work here, you know what’s a wonderful thing in the 21st century? And you and I are friends on Facebook and Janice and I are friends on Facebook. Facebook is just the most wonderful thing. You mentioned Tom Gauger and in a previous world 10 years ago, you’d mention somebody who you haven’t seen or anything, wonder whatever happened to him. I see all of these people on Facebook every day and I know what’s happening with all of them and I never see any of them, but at least I know what they’re up to.
Andy Ockershausen: Social media.
John Matthews: Yep, yep. Tom Gauger, I just saw he posted the other day, said he’s 78 years old and he’s very active in his- I know Janice, my eyes popped like that too. But he’s very active in terms of political thought and opinion as we all are.
Andy Ockershausen: Very active.
John Matthews: Whether you like-
Andy Ockershausen: Who could be more active. Unfortunately he’s not here, but Chris Core is now in the political world.
John Matthews: Yeah.
Andy Ockershausen: And standing out there and doing his thing.
John Matthews: Sure.
Andy Ockershausen: And doing it brightly. But it’s the era of change. Because there’ll never be another Trumbull and Core.
John Matthews: Sure. No.
Andy Ockershausen: That was such a unique part of radio. Of course Harden and Weaver they grew up in a different world, but these guys were younger, but they achieved something in the marketplace to me that was unbelievable with a huge audience and afternoon drive.
John Matthews: Yep, absolutely. I loved, I largely worked in mornings, but I loved working-
Andy Ockershausen: Just listening to them.
John Matthews: I loved working with Trumbull and Core.
Andy Ockershausen: Jackie Bill.
John Matthews: Yep, Jackie Bill. When I was a kid, I told you that my entrée into WMAL was to go through sports, and I grew up listening to Maryland football and basketball and the Redskins on WMAL.
Andy Ockershausen: Always.
Matthews First Bill Trumbull Experiences
John Matthews: My first exposure to Bill Trumbull in my life was when I was about 13 years old, the Redskins were going to the Superbowl and he was taking calls on the air one day and I called him, I was 13 years old, I had written a song that I sang to him on the air about the Redskins going to the Superbowl. He was very gracious in having me on and letting me sing it. I became a Bill Trumbull fan that day and it was at least a decade before I’d even met him. So Bill Trumbull was also the guy, my first day.
Janice Iacona Ockershausen: Can you sing a few bars?
John Matthews: No. I’m not going to do that.
Andy Ockershausen: Come on, John.
John Matthews: That song, I didn’t write that song, that was Barney Breskin, but that’s a whole nother story altogether.
Andy Ockershausen: With lyrics by Mrs. George Marshall.
John Matthews: That’s right. And at one point there was some trade involving the Cowboys to get the rights to the song. Well whatever, we’re not gonna go there. But Bill Trumbull, my very first day in this radio station in September of 1982, the very first day I met him, he said, “Hi, I’m Bill Trumbull.” “Hi, I’m John Matthews.” “Radio is terrible, don’t get into it.” That was the very first words out of Bill Trumbull’s mouth he’s like, no he didn’t say radio’s terrible. He said, “There’s no money in radio, don’t get into it.”
Andy Ockershausen: He was right.
The Radio Business, the Good Life and Bill Trumbull
John Matthews: And I didn’t listen. But you know what? He didn’t listen either. And all of this may be right, but a whole lot of people who love this business ended up making a lot, a good living and a good life out of being at WMAL.
Andy Ockershausen: Absolutely.
John Matthews: And I’m one of them.
Andy Ockershausen: And Trumbull was too, remember this. He was always a worrywart.
John Matthews: Oh yes.
Andy Ockershausen: About everything. He was a nervous wreck. He would believe that.
John Matthews: It’s where his energy came from.
Andy Ockershausen: You couldn’t have kept him away. Wild horses couldn’t even keep him away.
John Matthews: No.
Andy Ockershausen: One of the things that I grew up with, John, at WMAL, nobody got rich working here with money, but they got rich with friendship, with market influence, with prestige. They wouldn’t have gotten anywhere else in the world. This is the capital of the world, and the president of the United States, or the vice president is listening to WMAL radio in the morning.
WMAL Opened Doors for Young Matthews – Thanks to Larry Krebs
John Matthews: And I’m still here, I still work at this radio station. But to take it back to that, when I came here in 1982 and told people that I was interning at WMAL, it opened so many doors in terms of what people thought of me. They’re like, “You got into WMAL?” And when I became a news reporter, about five years later.
Andy Ockershausen: A street reporter.
John Matthews: A street reporter, I became, I was the first morning drive street reporter in Washington D.C. and when I got that job, people used to walk up to me and say, “Do you know Larry Krebs?” Because Larry Krebs worked the overnights and I would come on after … the idea was I would come on after Larry Krebs had been up all night with Bill Mayhugh and so Larry actually took me around and introduced me to a whole bunch of police officers and made my early reporting years easier because if I dropped the WMAL call letters, police officers and firefighters who would know otherwise not give me the time of day, they would be like, “Larry’s gonna want me to talk to you, so boom, boom, boom.” And he was very gracious in that way.
Andy Ockershausen: He shared. You know, he worked 24 hours a day for this radio station. Without compensation for the 24 hours. He got paid, but just a union job.
John Matthews: You know why? It’s because like I was saying. The association with WMAL was worth more than money in a lot of cases.
Andy Ockershausen: In his life, it was. It took him all over the metropolitan area. He fed more cops than you can shake a stick at and gave coffee to firefighters all night long in many a fire.
John Matthews: Yep.
Andy Ockershausen: But that was Larry. He couldn’t stop.
John Matthews: I had not heard Larry’s voice in a long, long time and recently of course we lost Bill Mayhugh and on the occasion of his passing, I got a chance to listen to some air checks from Bill Mayhugh’s show and just listening to the rapport that he and Larry Krebs had.
Andy Ockershausen: Was unbelievable.
Bill Mayhugh – Legendary WMAL Overnight Personality
John Matthews: It was amazing and it doesn’t exist in this world anymore. But having an overnight personality, and using those two words together overnight and personality. That just doesn’t exist in this world. Overnight radio-
now is turn on the auto- yeah. Sign off or turn on the automation.
Andy Ockershausen: and sign off. But we stayed on. With a personality and a news guy and a staff to back him up.
John Matthews: There was no other radio station in America, if you wanted to hear the entire soundtrack of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Oklahoma, there was no other place in the world you could hear that at 3:00 in the morning. He’d play one side, go take a nap, have the board op come and wake him up, he’d play a commercial, flip over the record and he’d say, “Here’s the other side of Oklahoma.” And he’d play that and go back to bed. That was Bill Mayhugh.
Janice Iacona Ockershausen: When we were remembering when on Facebook Bill Mayhugh, Marge Kumaki said her first day of meeting Bill Mayhugh, he was sleeping on the floor in the news room-
John Matthews: Yep.
Janice Iacona Ockershausen: And she turned the lights on and woke him up.
John Matthews: You never knew where you were gonna find Bill.
Janice Iacona Ockershausen: No.
John Matthews: We used to have nice long flat coaches out in the lobby and you’d come in at 3:00 or 4:00 in the morning and he’d be there.
Andy Ockershausen: He was able to change his life to meet his job specifications. Instead of sleeping at night, he was working. But then during the day he could play golf, he could be around, he could do things, he went to a lot of events and so forth. He just turned his life and he was able to do it.
John Matthews: Yeah.
Andy Ockershausen: It was a tough beginning, but he did it.
John Matthews: It was wonderful. The personalities that I’ve met and worked with here, I know that recently, and the opportunity to share what I’ve ingested of WMAL with other people who also have an appreciation for the radio station, I know recently you had on Steven Portnoy.
Andy Ockershausen: Oh yeah.
John Matthews: Who is somebody who I hired out of college at Syracuse, by the way.
Andy Ockershausen: Syracuse, another one.
John Matthews: I hired him right out of college and Steven is, I don’t know exactly how old he is, but Steven’s early 40s probably. But he’s got the soul of a 70 year old man. And he had a complete and full appreciation of this radio station and it’s call letters before he ever walked in the door here. And I think-
Andy Ockershausen: I’m sure of it.
John Matthews: I think it’s part of what kept him, and he was actually a New Yorker and he was in Washington, I hired him as he was working in the- he was an intern in Syracuse’s Washington program. They send people down here for semesters. And he was interning at ABC news and looking for some part time work and I hired him right out of there. But he was otherwise a New York kid. He came to WMAL, and he fell in love with us and he fell in love with Washington and he never left.
Andy Ockershausen: There’s so many great stories. One of my stories that I was privy to because I heard it, news guy, Eric Engberg. Eric Engberg was just a reporter with us, he wasn’t a star. But Steve Gilmartin was a broadcaster and a very delightful man and a great broadcaster.
Eric Engberg | Steve Gilmartin
John Matthews: Former voice of the Redskins.
Andy Ockershausen: We’re at a party at the Sheraton Park Hotel celebrating something with the radio TV correspondents. One of the political persons said to Gilmartin in a group, he said, “You’re just an average sports announcer.” And Engberg said, “Yes, but he’s in the top three average broadcasters.” He adlibbed that, Engberg jumped right in there. Eric was a big fan of WMAL. He left and he got that great job, but so many people stay John and it wasn’t the money, it was the chance, they loved the job. In spite of the things that went on in the news room with Deibert and the guys were all part of a team. Deibert was an early morning riser, he was here all the time. Even if he wasn’t here, he was listening.
John Matthews: Sure.
Andy Ockershausen: He made it part of his life. Dorothy Jones, it was her life.
Video of Commercials Featuring Andy Ockershausen Great Time Capsule
John Matthews: You know, part of what made WMAL news department an acclaimed thing was not only the people in the news department, and I’m not diminishing that at all, it was also Andy Ockershausen. The week after I started here, this again September of 1982 and this video exists and I suggest you play some of it. It was the week I started, you guys recorded a whole bunch of commercials, walking through with you, walking through the news room.
Andy Ockershausen: Oh yes.
Old TV Commercial Shows Mike Anders | Pat Anastasi | Lucille Baur | Len Deibert | Larry Krebs | Karen Leggett | Harden and Weaver
John Matthews: And it is such a great time capsule of WMAL during the time because you walked through the news room, not only do we see you, and the news room looks pretty much just the same as it did then.
Andy Ockershausen: Didn’t change a bit.
John Matthews: We put new desks in there, but the layout looks exactly the same. But you walked through the news room and you’re walking past Mike Anders, Pat Anastasi, Lucille Baur, Len Deibert, Larry Krebs was sitting working at a desk which is the stupidest thing ever-
Andy Ockershausen: He never did that.
John Matthews: Because he never did that in real life. Karen Leggett, and all of that is just with you walking through the news room and then the commercials ends with you walking down the main hallway and greeted by Harden and Weaver. And it is such a wonderful, just a wonderful time capsule of what this place was. And the same series of ads, the same year there was an ad with you walking through the main lobby of the Kennedy Center.
Andy Ockershausen: Kennedy Center. With all the talent.
Old Commercial Shows ALL Talent behind Ockershausen at Kennedy Center
John Matthews: With all the talent, all of them wearing shirts so you know exactly who they are. And all the way down to the weekend personalities, Karen Henderson and Diana, and Bill Grant and you made sure you got every single stinking person who worked at that radio station-
Andy Ockershausen: Everybody was in that . . .
John Matthews: Was in there. And I saw a bunch of the outtakes of it and you’re trying to get everybody to walk with you in line and people are not looking into the camera.
Andy Ockershausen: It was terrible.
John Matthews: Ed Walker wasn’t looking into the camera, but you know.
Andy Ockershausen: We had every single talent on the air that morning.
John Matthews: You did. Those were wonderful commercials.
Andy Ockershausen: We were supposed to shoot that outside and the weather was bad, but it was a blessing to be inside.
John Matthews: Yeah. And it worked great. The other commercial is outside of the building here and all of the- and Janice is closing the van door and she- and you see the WMAL station wagon going by and the WMAL van going by and the WMAL sedan going by.
Andy Ockershausen: We had the airplane too.
Ockershausen :: WMAL Pitch Man, PT Barnum
John Matthews: Yeah. You had the airplane with Captain Dan and they had you at RFK stadium with Pete Wysocki and Johnny Holliday and Ken Beatrice running out of the tunnel. It was such a wonderful time. And to get back to my point about you as a pitch man, as a PT Barnum making the radio station not bigger than it was because we were a huge institution at the time when FM radio was really nothing and AM radio was king. We had a presence in this town. Our personalities on radio were as big or bigger than any TV personalities at the time.
Andy Ockershausen: No question about it.
John Matthews: It was WMAL and Willard Scott and that was it. And for a long time, we had Willard Scott as part of WMAL too.
Andy Ockershausen: We got them all in eventually. John you’re such a fountain. I am so delighted you agreed to do this on Our Town because you know as much as any human being about what greatness is and what greatness is. And you were a big part of that greatness, John. Even as a young man, you were part of it. And you helped develop the talent. You know, you made Trumbull better, I don’t know why but you did. ‘Cause he liked to perform.
John Matthews: Sure.
Andy Ockershausen: The people that we had, and as you know how much Janice has done for this broadcast, and I know it. Now Ken and we’re just delighted to be here, John Matthews, and I hope you send our respects to your dad, who’s a very big fan.
John Matthews: Yes.
Andy Ockershausen: Because of you.
John Matthews: I absolutely will. I could sit here and talk-
Andy Ockershausen: I know you could.
John Matthews: About WMAL all day.
Andy Ockershausen: And I love it. I know.
John Matthews: Which is why you had me in.
Andy Ockershausen: That’s what we wanted to talk about.
John Matthews Turns into Bud Steele when He Hasn’t Had His “Snickers Bar”
John Matthews: If you don’t- you know, it’s funny. Because I am of a certain age and there are people I work with in the news room, there’s one woman I’m gonna give her a shout out, just in particular, her name’s Barbara Britt and she was the morning news person over on Q107 for awhile and Mix 107.3 early in the day. Well Barbara works for us as a part time news anchor, and she’s been here for a long time. She was here back in the good old days.
Andy Ockershausen: Janice knew her then.
John Matthews: It’s funny when I started here I was 21 years old, I’ll be honest with you, I am now 57 years old. So I’ve been here for more than half of my life. But Barbara was here long enough to know all of the personalities who we’ve been talking about and when I get grumpy and you know, I now deal with kids in the news department who are the same age I was when I started here and I get grumpy and I’ll say something that I’m not being patient enough with them and I’ll turn to Barbara Brit and I’ll say, “Damn it, Barbara, I’ve become Bud Steele.” Bud Steele was the morning anchor when I got here. Bud Steele was a curmudgeonly- I wouldn’t say old guy, but he’s was a chain smoking unfiltered Chesterfield kind of guy.
Andy Ockershausen: An old type news man was what he was.
John Matthews: Old time news man. And Bud, it’s funny what goes around. That whole circle of life thing, what goes around comes around. I have become Bud Steele. And I kind of take some comfort in that. I take comfort in it.
Andy Ockershausen: Yeah. Well John, don’t take comfort. You’re a good man and thank you for doing this John Matthews.
John Matthews: My pleasure.
Andy Ockershausen: You’re a great addition to WMAL. And you’ll be here for awhile. You’re 57, you’ve got a good 40 years left.
John Matthews: Oh great. I don’t know what Mrs. Matthews will say about that.
Andy Ockershausen: You’ll be here longer than WMAL.
John Matthews: Okay.
Andy Ockershausen: John, it’s been so interesting, but we’re gonna take a break right now and then come back and talk more about my favorite subject, WMAL.
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Announcer: You’re listening to Our Town with Andy Ockershausen.
Andy Ockershausen: This is Andy Ockershausen. Talking with John Matthews and John, having you as part of this radio station’s been great for us and great for you. And I know one of your great, great attractions is Disney. Not the company, but the characters of which you are now one. And I was telling you off the air, I had the pleasure of being at a table with Walt and his brother Roy at a seafood place in San Francisco many, many years ago. I was working for, not working, but I was part of NAB as one of the presidents and so forth. And my admiration for Disney is unbelievable.
The Disney Benefit – Matthews a Long Time Disney Fan
John Matthews: Well, you know, it’s funny. And I’ve been a long time fan of Disney and it has largely focused on the theme parks, but I’ve learned all about the man, learned all about the family, learned all about all of that. But as with most things in my life, would you believe that my attraction to Disney started at WMAL?
Andy Ockershausen: Anything’s possible.
John Matthews: Well here’s the deal. So I became a receptionist here at the radio station.
Andy Ockershausen: Great job, incidentally.
John Matthews: It was a great job, but it was a part time job. Didn’t have any benefits, didn’t have any vacation time. But I did it for long enough that your secretary, Linda McQueenie who was the boss of the receptionists. Linda McQueenie came to me and said, “We’re gonna give you a vacation. We need you to take a week off. We’ll pay you, but you’ve been here a long time, so we need you to take a vacation.” And it had been such a long time, that I was really kind of obsessed with where am I gonna go on vacation. A buddy of mine and I decided to go take a road trip and drive to Florida. At that point, Epcot had been open for less than a year. So I learned, I read everything I could about Disney and everything I could about Disney World ’cause I really wanted to go there. I’d never been there before. And that really started a hobby for me, which only grew huge when Disney ended up buying Capital City’s ABC, which owned WMAL.
Andy Ockershausen: That’s correct.
John Matthews: And once that happened, they started having us cover all the media events because they wanted WMAL to give as much publicity to Disney as possible. And we got big huge company discounts so I was able to stay at the parks cheap and go to the parks for free. And get merchandise for a big discount. That just made everything boom and now I’ve been to Disney World more than 50 times. And I’ve been to Disney Land probably about 30 times.
Andy Ockershausen: And they gave you great benefits too, John.
John Matthews: They gave me great benefits and when Disney sold WMAL and sold us to another company, we all got, those of us who were vested, all got pensions. So some day I’ll have a Disney pension and I appreciate that as well. And hopefully my free pass into the parks will come back when I retire too.
Andy Ockershausen: John, we’ll see, there were so many benefits to Disney besides being a great company. They were great to the people. And those theme parks proved it. And now they’re all over the world with the theme park.
John Matthews: Yep.
Andy Ockershausen: I know the people running the business now and they grew up and they all grew up in the radio and TV business that run the Walt Disney company.
John Matthews: And you know, this is at best a weak connection. But everything that you’ve always said about WMAL, about it being the people, about treating people right and if you treat people right your business is gonna be more successful, it’s the same thing you’ve always said about volunteerism and about working in the community-
Andy Ockershausen: Absolutely.
John Matthews: If you treat people right, they’re gonna treat you right. And it’s gonna be better for your business. That’s the Walt Disney company. They have a corporate policy to be that way.
Andy Ockershausen: They have wonderful, wonderful overseers of the people they take care, people with the pensions, and benefits. It doesn’t exist anymore, John. That’s the thing. You and I are privy to that. And thank God for that. And Janice is too. We’re all Disney people. And it just happened for us, and we’re all so grateful and we’re grateful for you John. For what you’ve done to keep the flame alive at the old WMAL. Even though it’s early in the morning, you keep that flame agoing.
Cole Porter “Anything Goes”
John Matthews: There you go. I understand you and the missus are going to see a show tonight.
Andy Ockershausen: Yes.
John Matthews: What are you seeing?
Andy Ockershausen: Cole Porter’s Anything Goes.
John Matthews: Anything Goes. Tom Gauger would’ve loved that.
Andy Ockershausen: Oh my God, would he.
John Matthews: At 11:45 when he was doing his, “It’s showtime.” In olden days a glimpse of stocking was looked on as something shocking, but now heaven knows, anything goes. Thank you so much.
Andy Ockershausen: That’s John Matthews, the world’s greatest news director of the world’s greatest radio station. John, thank you so much for being with Our Town.
John Matthews: It has been my pleasure.
Andy Ockershausen: And stick with that job. We need you baby.
John Matthews: Okay.
Announcer: You’ve been listening to Our Town, Season 4, presented by GEICO our home town favorite with you host Andy Ockershausen. New Our Town episodes are released each Tuesday and Thursday. Drop us a line with your comments or suggestions. See us on Facebook, or visit our website at ourtowndc.com. Our special thanks to Ken Hunter, our technical director, and WMAL radio in Washington, D.C., and thanks to GEICO. Fifteen minutes can save you 15 percent or more on care insurance.
Dan Lim says
T’was a fascinating look into a radio station which we in the islands are not well aware of. A good picture of a town(city) in the east coast USA. Thank you for allowing me a glimpse into the good ole days.