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Matty still rules the airwaves

His show’s loyal following endures nearly 3 decades

Matt Siegel joined KISS 108 when disco was in bloom, but always keeps the 'Matty in the Morning' show contemporary while maintaining a loyal following of previous generations. Matt Siegel joined KISS 108 when disco was in bloom, but always keeps the "Matty in the Morning" show contemporary while maintaining a loyal following of previous generations. (George Rizer/ Globe Staff)
By Johnny Diaz
Globe Staff / July 7, 2009

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MEDFORD - It was a Friday morning, and MC Hammer was late. Matt Siegel, also known as Matty in the Morning, was sharing his frustration with thousands and thousands of friends.

“This is my favorite moment in my whole career,’’ said Siegel, morning host at Boston radio station KISS 108. “Our guy MC Hammer booked for the show at 8:30 sharp, and where is he?’’

Finally, the iconic star of 1990s hip hop called in, and Siegel did some hammering of his own.

“Are you on Eastern Standard Time? Are you on Daylight Savings Time? Or are you on Hammertime?’’ he joked.

For 28 years, the breezy ribbing from Siegel and his team has endeared listeners - mostly female listeners, ages 18 to 54 - to their show on WXKS-FM. That’s an eon in radio, where formats, personalities, and music styles come and go with every shift in popular tastes.

In May, the show, which also airs in Manchester, N.H., was picked up by a third station - 93.9 Coast FM in Providence - after being rated the most popular morning program on Boston radio this year. According to Arbitron, an average of 501,600 listeners tuned in to Siegel during any given week in May, big numbers for local radio.

“There are very few Top 40 morning men who can last through so many generations,’’ said Scott Fybush, editor of industry trade journal Northeast Radio Watch. “The people who listen to him now are the kids of the people who were listening when he started. And to keep that relevancy in a youth-oriented format like this is difficult and remarkable.’’

Siegel joined KISS 108 when disco was in bloom, and has held the fort from the days of Blondie to the Black Eyed Peas. “Even though [the show] has evolved and become contemporary for today, it always seems to hit a note to the people who grew up listening to it. It didn’t stay stuck in the ’80s,’’ says Dana Hall, 44, a Hingham native, now based in New Jersey, and executive editor of industry website radio-info.com.

As a local personality, Siegel can build a connection to listeners that they won’t get from national radio stars like Howard Stern or Rush Limbaugh, according to Northeast Radio Watch’s Fybush. “Matty has always been part of the community - you see him out at stuff - and the station has always had these blue collar, Medford roots to it,’’ he said. “The fact that it’s set apart out in the swamps of Medford, that shows on air.’’

Siegel acknowledges the challenges to radio from an ever-widening range of Internet and satellite services. “I know that the big buzz in the industry is that radio is old form,’’ he said. “[But it’s] still your little friend in the car. You have your BlackBerry and your e-mail, but radio is still there, like a home-cooked meal.’’

A show like his is easy to enjoy, the radio host said. “You don’t have to pay for it,’’ Siegel said. “You don’t have to program it. The radio comes to you and you don’t have to participate. You don’t have to plug in and get out your keyboard. You wake up in the morning and put the radio on and we’re there.’’

Siegel does showcase the music of the day. But it’s not his music - he’s a country fan, he said - and it’s really the banter that he depends on to carry the show. He insists that he should not be called a deejay.

“I’m neutral to the music,’’ Siegel said. “No offense. It’s catchy. I just really don’t listen to it. My job is a personality show. We play the music, but I am not presenting the music. We do our act.’’

The pop music playlist may be youth-oriented, but the show is driven by its middle-aged hosts - Siegel, 59, and longtime sidekick Billy Costa, 56, also known as the host of “TV Diner’’ on NECN. While Costa punctuates the show with entertainment and news updates, Siegel ruminates aloud about golf, his daughters, his two divorces, and the weather. His shtick is to play the sarcastic guy’s guy, willing to make fun of himself, his family, and Costa, an energetic, salt-and-peppered personality with a penchant for designer shoes - good fodder for on-air teasing.

“That’s the show. I make him laugh or I laugh at him,’’ Siegel said. “It’s a comedy show. We just horse around.’’

On that Friday morning, under the bright track lighting of the third-floor studio, traffic reporter Lisa Donovan, producer Jim Clerkin, and the rest of Siegel’s crew surrounded the show’s host. Siegel, parked in front of four monitors, was taking calls from commuters, college students, and stay-at-home moms looking for free concert tickets.

An excited caller who said her name was Rosalda was on the air.

“My boyfriend is Dominican,’’ she said. “I am Spanish, too. He loves your station, and the funny thing is he doesn’t even speak English that well.’’

“The people who like the ‘Matty in the Morning’ show best are people who don’t understand English at all,’’ Siegel deadpanned. “When people actually speak the language, they find our show somewhat tedious.’’

During a commercial break, Siegel traced his journey to KISS. A New York native, he first broke into radio at an Arizona rock station. While vacationing in Boston in 1977, he stumbled on a job opening as midday deejay for rock station WBCN. After two years there, and a stint hosting the Five All Night program on WCVB-TV (Channel 5), he landed at WXKS.

“I came here in January 1981, thinking I would come here for six months and then go back to television,’’ said Siegel.

He lives in Newton, and stays current with pop culture trends by consulting with younger staffers, Costa, and his five daughters, who range in age from 14 to 21. He doesn’t do the customary “prep’’ for the show, assembling material before going on the air.

“I am a reactive comic,’’ he said. “I can’t write jokes. My father was a novelist, and he would research and write and rewrite. I’m exactly the opposite. It’s how my mind works . . . If I write things down, it doesn’t seem to flow.’’

He usually arrives at the studio as the show is going on the air at 6 a.m., although he’s sometimes late. On those occasions, he’ll call in from the road on his cellphone. By 10 a.m. that Friday, he had spent four hours interviewing MC Hammer and actress Denise Richards, and taking calls from listeners.

“We make people laugh. We make ourselves laugh. No one got hurt . . . Thank you for listening. We do appreciate it,’’ Siegel said, as he signed off for the day.

The self-deprecating, wise-guy style didn’t drop away immediately, though. “People listen to this stupid show,’’ he said, his audience suddenly reduced to the handful of staffers in the studio. “I don’t know why, but they do.’’

“This is the party that everyone wants to be invited to,’’ Donovan, the traffic reporter, answered.

And he was on it in a flash. “What’s pretty ironic,’’ he said, “is that Lisa never invites me to a party.’’

Johnny Diaz can be reached at jodiaz@globe.com.

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