Broadcasting from Swannanoa, Matt Mittan is back at home on the airwaves
Once the “on air” light turns on at 4 p.m. in a studio in Swannanoa, Matt Mittan is literally and figuratively at home.
“The Matt Mittan Show,” which airs Monday - Friday on Biz Radio 1350 AM, is a return to the airwaves on which the Swannanoa Valley resident became one of the most familiar voices in Western North Carolina.
Drive time listeners all over the mountains have long known Mittan’s voice. He hosted the show “Take A Stand,” which aired on 570 WWNC for seven years before a four-year run on Independent Asheville Radio.
The show emphasized community engagement and discussions about local issues, Mittan said, while remaining nonpartisan in a time when talk radio was continuing to trend in a more political direction.
The result was an atmosphere of community, in which callers felt comfortable expressing and respectfully debating their opinions about current events throughout WNC.
"It was unique," he said of the show. "As a community platform for dialogue, even if I disagreed with something, if that argument wasn't being reflected in the on-air conversation, I would take the other position for the sake of the debate. I think that's healthy and I think it's kind of lost today. If you can't argue the other side of an issue then how are you going to win on that issue?"
Mittan developed a simple philosophy for deciding what to discuss on his show.
"I call it the 'three B's' and you'll hear me say this on my show now," he said. "Anybody who listens knows we'll talk about it if it affects our backyard, bank account or business."
While the radio show made Mittan a local celebrity, he had long been a fixture in local media before "Take A Stand."
"Community media is essential," he said. "Whether it's radio, print, blogs, if it's done right and it's focused on building community and connecting people and lifting people up, that's what works."
After serving in the Air Force, Mittan worked for the Asheville Citizen Times as a manager. He also worked on a cable talk show called "Face the Facts," but it wasn't long before he discovered his true passion.
"When I worked in newsprint and the publisher and editor had a weekly radio show that was broadcasting on North Lexington Avenue in downtown Asheville," he recalls.
A young Mittan began hanging around the studio.
"I was ambitious; I was in my 20s and I wanted to be around the editor and publisher and see how I could help," he said. "I wanted to be around the people who made the decisions and see what I could learn and how I could help."
It didn't take long for people at the station to notice he was "pretty chatty," Mittan said. He was approached about giving radio a try.
"I said sure, I'll give it a try," he said. "That became A.M. Asheville with Matt & Matt, and that was back in the mid-90s. That was how I got started in radio and I enjoyed it, it was fun."
One particular experience related to that show still stands out for Mittan.
"What really triggered something in me was this time we were talking about a local issue, and I'd researched it and wanted to learn everything I could about it," he said. "I talked about it and we went to a public forum and a pretty well-known person locally said I was misrepresenting stuff and that we were just political hacks with an agenda and all this. It shocked me, and it lit a spark in me that's burned for 25 years."
Mittan left his first radio gig in dramatic fashion.
"We had a new program director who was always yelling at us during commercial breaks and telling us what we were and weren't going to talk about, so I quit live on the air and let everyone know why," he said. "This was after months of that kind of behavior, but that wasn't even the problem. What I had an issue with was the attempt to censor the conversation for whatever reason."
Years later Mittan found himself at a studio in West Asheville hosting a weekend morning show, which was canceled when the station was bought out. He started a newspaper in Black Mountain called "The Valley Record" and began broadcasting a local radio show.
"A lot of people probably remember the old, scary looking shack behind Black Mountain Primary that had the antenna," he said. "I worked in that place for a while, doing a daily morning show on a little 1,000-watt station."
In 2004, he accepted the role of interim news director at Clear Channel Radio, which would later become iHeartMedia. Mittan was filling in at 570 WWNC and running his newspaper and broadcasting his own radio show.
"One of the afternoon hosts at the station left and they asked me to fill in," he said. "I filled in one day and the next day I was offered the afternoon show, which became known as 'Take A Stand.'"
Mittan parted ways with Clear Channel in 2011 and started Independent Asheville Radio.
"It really was a content creation house, so we were doing podcasting before a lot of people were doing that," he said. "We were creating content that syndicated content to stations throughout the southeast."
He stepped away from radio in 2015.
"There was a lot of personal and professional upheaval in my life for a couple of years," he said. "It was a defining time where, in hindsight, it really helped me clear out a lot of the noise and a lot of the clutter."
During his time running Independent Asheville Radio and Blue Ridge Radio Network, Mittan became aware of the importance of providing good benefits to employees.
"I'd hire great people and lose them to larger corporations," he said. "I didn't want them to leave and they didn't want to leave but I understood why they had to."
He educated himself on the insurance industry and the more he looked into it, he wanted to know more.
"In that process I had an awakening, or a realization, about how many things we as small business owners don't know," he said. "I decided to go get my license from the state."
Mittan Insurance and Employee Benefit Solutions was born, and what the longtime radio host refers to as his "day job" is thriving. So much so, he wasn't planning a return to radio last winter.
"The owner reacquired this station and reached out to me to help figure out how to best use it," he said. "There wasn't really any intention of me doing a show."
But Mittan was inspired by his work with the local business community.
"Because of the relationships I've developed over the last four or five years, I really saw the singular need to have a platform to have conversations that impact us as businesses and employees," he said. "We needed a place where we could connect and stay connected and advocate for solutions that aren't getting play because of the partisan agendas that dominate the way a lot of outlets deliver content."
"The Matt Mittan Show," which began airing a year ago, was born. The show places an emphasis on topics that impact local businesses and highlights the entrepreneurial spirit found in the mountains.
"It lets us have sincere front porch-style conversations about things going on in the community, where we respect and appreciate each other and have fun," he said. "But we also speak to truth and we're fair."
Mittan has already welcomed over 300 guests into his Swannanoa studio. The format is similar to his old show, he said, "but with less advocacy."
"I used to be the bull in the china cabinet," he said. "Now I'm the cow in the Tupperware cabinet, I guess. I get my fur up every once in a while, but I'm older and a little more deliberate in the conversations I want to have."