R.A.P. Interview: Matt Bisbee

JV: And apparently, you didn’t want to leave. You were there for 26 years. What were some of the jobs that you had while you were there?
Matt: I tried everything at The Loop. I tried sales and wasn’t successful at it. They put me in a suit and said, “You can go out during the week if you want to try to make some extra money and cold-call businesses,” and it just wasn’t for me. It was really tough to do, hard duty. I would do part-time shows as far as on the weekend. I would run the board for Dr. Demento, syndicated programming, and I got a chance to learn by watching other jocks, how they did their shows.

At that time I took great interest watching a guy named Sky Daniels who was a young rock jock from Detroit. I think he came in via Pittsburgh. Sky was just such a great rock jock at the time. We were playing stuff like the Romantics and early AC/DC and the Cars and the Pretenders, before these bands were big, and he would be on the board selling these artists on the air like they were his own children, as far as caressing them and loving them and really selling the record. It’s kind of a lost art. I would watch him do that and I’d think, “My God, look at how he’s selling this,” like it’s a brand new TV set that he’s selling to somebody, and he made it so enjoyable to listen to. Every night when I was there doing part-time production, I would look through the glass and go in the studio and watch Sky Boy, and this guy was really, really good. I learned a lot from him.

So they kind of brought me in slowly and taught me things. A guy named Dave Logan, who is now a PD in Seattle, taught me production. He took me under his wing and said, “Okay, this is how you do it. You’ve got to be confident. You can’t go in here and be wimpy. You’ve got to get in here, and when you do a tag, believe it and sell it. And then here’s how you splice,” and he gave me the razor blade and taught me how to do that. I got really good at splicing and they would call me “the Golden Blade.”

But I was always the young kid. At that time they called me Young John and then that kind of transitioned into Matt the Hat. In fact, the very first day I started at The Loop, I was coming over from Columbia College and it was snowing heavy that day. I had a hat on and it was full of snow, and when I walked in the door they called me “Matt the Hat.” So now the early guys like Dave Logan and Sky Daniels and Greg Solk, they all call me Matt the Hat to this day.

JV: So you were doing production and on-air stuff at The Loop while you were still very young.
Matt: Yeah, when I started at The Loop I was 21. The very first thing I did at The Loop was on-air, and I thought that’s kind of what I wanted to do. I did end up being on the air full-time with The Loop mid-days for a while, but you know I really enjoyed the production studio, and I don’t know how I really ended up in there but I just did. I got this great enjoyment out of trying to create commercials, and it was something that just kind of happened, and again, I didn’t even know what production was. It just happened.

JV: You eventually became the Production Director or Creative Director and were doing a lot of commercial production and the promos I’m sure. Then eventually you were just the Imaging Director there, right?
Matt: Yes. I would do stacks and stacks and stacks of commercials every day, and then they gave me some help finally to minimize some of that workload. A guy named Bob Stroud came over from WMET, and Bob was a really good production guy. He would sing a lot of parody songs. I got a chance to watch Bob, and he was kind of intimidating for me. He was a little bit older than me, and he had worked under a guy named Sandman in Cleveland, and this guy was the best production guy in the country. Sandman taught him a lot about singing parody songs and having fun in the production studio and then bringing that fun and putting it on the air. There wasn’t a lot of that going on outside of Dick Orkin back then — doing funny things on the radio that were like out of the ordinary. It was pretty cut and dried. And so when Bob came in, I had a chance to watch him do a lot of these parody songs and it was great.

But Bob had more of a love for being on the air. It was funny because I was on the air full-time when Bob came in, and I would just do occasional production, occasional promos and stuff when I got off the air. It ended up that Bob really wanted to be on the air and I didn’t. I really wanted to go back in the production studio. So we just transitioned. Bob went and took mid-days, and I went back full-time in the production studio and started doing nothing but imaging. We hired a part-time guy that would do the commercials. I would still do occasional commercials for freelance, but mostly I would just do the station promos, and that’s all I did.

Then I got known for that, just doing on-air promos for the Steve and Garry Show on AM 1000 and for Jonathan Brandmeier on The Loop. Kevin Matthews was also in there. We had a lot of great personalities, and I was able to kind of take their personalities and put them into the promos and make them really fun. People would actually call up and would want to hear the promos again, “can you play that again?” like it was a song or something.

JV: Elaborate a little on how you would take their personalities and put them into the promos.
Matt: Well for instance, take Steve Dahl, a very irreverent jock of the Steve and Garry Show — they were very popular and this is probably during the Disco Demolition period. I was still very young and didn’t really want to intrude too much on their show, and again, Steve was kind of an intimidating guy as far as his talent goes, and he would say what he wanted on the air. Well one day in particular he was getting into an on-air fight with his wife Janet over Christmas decorations. I was in the other studio taping it, enjoying it as they were fighting on the air, a husband and wife really going at it because he was too lazy to put up the Christmas decorations, and she was letting him have it full-bore. Here’s this guy who was very macho on the air and yells at people and puts them in their place, here he is like this little kitten being yelled at by his wife. It was very humorous.

So I took that promo and I pretended it was like a Hallmark Christmas card. I was the very mellow announcer on there doing the whole, you know, “Christmas is about love, Christmas is about family. It’s all about being together for the holidays.” I would do that kind of a read over them fighting back and forth with this real syrupy like Manheim Steamroller Silent Night music underneath it. I put it together and brought it in the studio and gave it to Steve, and he put it on the air right away, sight unseen. Not only did he play it, but he played it like every day for the next two weeks, and again, people would be calling for it.

So I would do numerous versions of that, and what I was doing basically, unbeknownst to me really, was I was trying to make these people more human, as opposed to these personalities that you couldn’t talk to. I was trying to bring them down to earth in a way, and it really worked. I would do that kind of thing with all the jocks, with Jonathan Brandmeier, with Kevin Matthews, with Howard Stern, Danny Bonaduce, I would do that with everybody, and they all liked it. They weren’t too big; they were gracious enough to let me do that and have fun with them, and the listeners loved it of course.

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