All talk: CMU junior hosts KMSA’s first general talk radio show

CMU junior hosts KMSA's 
first general talk radio show

Matt MacDonald, a junior at Colorado Mesa University, interviews a guest on his radio talk show. “The Matt MacDonald Show” is KMSA’s first personality-driven, general interest talk show and airs on Sundays.

Matt MacDonald, a junior at Colorado Mesa University, hosts “The Matt MacDonald Show” on Sundays on KMSA. It is KMSA’s first personality-driven, general interest talk show.

Not that a radio listener would notice, but Matt MacDonald’s finger smelled like onion.

It smelled like onion because he ate at Burger King for lunch, and he doesn’t like mayo.

He doesn’t like it, “so I order things without mayo because I don’t like giving fast food people too many instructions” because that, he said, pretty much guarantees he’ll get mayo. He’d rather just pick off the stuff he doesn’t want as long as the mayo is kept far, far away. Which is what he did, which is why his finger smelled like onion on that fine Sunday afternoon.

And with that, episode 21 of “The Matt MacDonald Show” on KMSA began — “‘The Matt MacDonald Show’ is able to legally drink,” he observed.

So, this is probably as good a time as any to talk about unpredictability. In a study published in the August 1994 issue of the Journal of Neurophysiology, Swiss researchers Jacques Mirenowicz and Wolfram Schultz found that, at least in monkeys, the unpredictability of reward “is of central importance for learning.” The responses during learning “apparently occur because reward is not yet reliably predicted by a conditioned phasic stimulus.”

Which is to say, Sundays between 3 and 4 p.m. on 91.3 FM are nothing if not surprising: The show might start with onion scent on the finger but then segue to conspiracies, horror movies, scientific research or an interview with Beverley Simpson, British Consul General in Denver.

As the host of KMSA’s first personality-driven, general-interest talk show, “I think my purpose is to engage the public, to keep it interesting and involve listeners. I think there’s real potential to create community with talk radio,” MacDonald explained.

Established in 1975 as a lab for Colorado Mesa University communications students, KMSA is fertile ground for trying new things and exploring possibilities, said Regis Tucci, KMSA’s faculty advisor. And it was Tucci who got to know MacDonald in class and eventually approached him about hosting a talk show.

“I wanted a way to allow students the opportunity to ascertain what’s important (on radio),” Tucci said. “With KMSA, our music programming is very varied, it’s eclectic alternative, but we need to have more than just music. Our sports coverage is really good, our sports guys are very dedicated to that, but we needed to have something else, and one of best things for involvement and localism is talk radio.”

Plus, news/talk/information radio is second only to country in radio audience share. According to fall 2010 data from Arbitron, the most current available, 59 million listeners tuned in to news/talk/information radio.

So, Tucci approached MacDonald after class one day last spring. As a nontraditional student studying communications, MacDonald, 34, returned to college with a lot of life experience: three kids, four years in the U.S. Marine Corps, a variegated resume that includes working on a ranch, waiting tables and working for Poma.

“One thing I noticed in class is his ability to carry a conversation,” Tucci said. “He’s a very thoughtful guy, he thinks about things.”

“As an only child raised by a much older couple — I was adopted — I got used to talking to adults,” MacDonald explained. “I learned pretty early how to have conversations, how to express myself.”

Despite no previous talk radio experience, but with a longtime interest in entertaining, MacDonald quickly accepted Tucci’s proposal for a talk radio show. Tucci matched him with Nick Patton as a producer for the show and on April 21 they went on-air with “The Matt MacDonald Show.”

“The first show was… kind of rough,” Tucci recalled, laughing. “They came on like six minutes late and in middle of word, because they were brand new at working together, but now it goes very smoothly. They fit together really well.”

With the focus on being interesting, relevant and engaging, MacDonald says he scours news and social media to spur ideas for the show. The show currently is an hour each week, but even that can be a lot of airtime to fill. A team of three student researchers works with MacDonald and he crafts an outline with data and talking points for each show.

There’s always a framework, which grants him latitude to riff and banter with Patton. Take, for example, the Sept. 8 show. It started light and funny with onion on the finger, transitioned to the mythology of Cartoon Network’s “Adventure Time,” then onward into football season:

“I’m kind of a sports nerd,” MacDonald said after introducing the subject. “I’m really bad with baseball. I look over scores every night.”

“I like boxing,” Patton said.

“That’s a great sport, it takes a lot of conditioning, actually, I was unaware of that, but it…”

“Mike Tyson!” Patton added. “It led to brain damage, ultimately.”

“And alcoholism,” MacDonald said. “There was an article out recently about Mike Tyson, he had been battling alcohol abuse for a long time.”

“If I bit someone’s ear off I would probably struggle with alcoholism.”

“I think taking off appendages from human beings that are still alive would drive me to drink.”

“He still has ear wax in his front teeth,” Patton joked.

Later in the show, MacDonald introduced a segment he called “Awesome Things I Didn’t Do This Week”: “The awesomest thing that I didn’t do this week was find a way to test for pancreatic cancer,” he said, going in to talk about a 15-year-old who did just that. “Old scientists, what the hell are you doing? You’re doing it wrong!”

The envelope, it should go without saying, gets pushed on “The Matt MacDonald Show,” though always on the righteous side of Federal Communications Commission rules — just barely, sometimes. But the ultimate taboo is to be boring or irrelevant. The focus may be topics of interest to college students, MacDonald said, but should lead to topics that are interesting on a community, national and international level.

MacDonald also has guests on the show, averaging about twice a month, who are in the community or visiting the university.

The show soon will expand when KMSA adds concierge equipment to the production studio, which will allow MacDonald to talk callers on-air, “which is a great way to involve listeners and create that community,” he explained.

But until then, the world is big and there’s lots to talk about — murderous artwork at Denver International Airport, perhaps, or the best horror movie of all time. It’s unpredictable, and it’s on every Sunday afternoon.


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