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WHP’s Ken Matthews Believes Talk Radio Will Save Live Radio

WHP 580’s Ken Matthews told Barrett News Media that talk radio would “save live radio” because it’s the most viable format in the medium. 

Ryan Hedrick



Harrisburg radio host Ken Matthews believes that he became a better host following a four-year stint as a fill-in for the late Rush Limbaugh. Matthews, a staunch conservative Republican with a background as a Top 40 DJ, possesses some striking similarities to the late radio icon.

Much like Limbaugh, Matthews paid his dues as a radio jock in several small markets. The New Jersey native spent time in Maine, Ohio, South Carolina, and Allentown, Pennsylvania. His passion for the U.S. Constitution and the core values that make America unique is evident in the way he addresses his audience.

During Limbaugh’s final months battling lung cancer, Matthews courageously engineered arguably the most successful talk radio program to its final stages. Matthews told Barrett News Media that talk radio would “save live radio” because it’s the most viable format in the medium. 

Recently, we sat down with Matthews to discuss what it was like meeting Rush Limbaugh and host his final show. Matthews also opened up about the process to find Limbaugh’s replacements. 

Ryan Hedrick: Tell us about your station and your show on 580 WHP in Harrisburg.

Ken Matthews: The station has a fabulous reputation; it has been around for almost 100 years. My show is very much an extension of my personality. I did a live audition there about eight years ago after Bob Durgin retired; he has since passed away. After my live audition, they called me back, and I have been doing the show full-time since September 2013

RH: What is your background in radio?

KM: Before I began hosting my talk show on 580 WHP, I did 25 years of morning radio in the contemporary hit format (CHR).

RH: How did your experience in the CHR format prepare you for your talk radio program?

KM: The good thing about the format is that you learn the basics probably better than any other format because it’s fast-paced, you have a limited amount of time to get your point out there, you must entertain, and when you go into those commercials you better make sure that people stick around.

RH: Describe the Harrisburg market and how its listeners engage with the talk radio format? 

KM: At WHP, we are bringing valuable information on a local level that people are not receiving in the market. Very few people in the market of Harrisburg dive deep into really important issues.

RH: How do you find the balance between catering to your local audience while addressing what is going on nationally and making it relevant to your Harrisburg listeners?

KM: Now more than ever, just in the last 18 months, we probably have more issues in common with the rest of the country, if not the world, right here in Central Pennsylvania. We have a fraudulent election that still hasn’t been clarified, and Pennsylvania is at the epicenter of it. The same thing with COVID. Our governor is one of five governors that really made some horrible decisions and locked down people, and destroyed businesses. It is rare when so many things nationally connect to you locally but being here in Harrisburg because we are in the Capitol, there’s so many connections there.

RH: How did you come onto Rush Limbaugh’s radar?

KM: I got my shot in the spring of 2017 after sending letters and tapes and going after people at the Premiere Radio Networks with snail mail and emails. I had the opportunity to fill in for Buck Sexton, who was going on vacation. I took my tape from Buck and I started to send that out to people, and before I knew it I was in a meeting with the head of Premiere Radio Network, who sent my stuff to Rush Limbaugh and James Golden.

RH: Did you have any type of relationship with Rush Limbaugh?

KM: I got to meet him in 2019, briefly after he got off the air. I was the only guest host that got to sit in that famous EIB chair and do a show. Rush invited me in. He was extremely gracious and thanked me for guest-hosting. 

RH: Did Premiere Networks ever approach you about replacing Rush Limbaugh full-time?

KM: I was never in that conservation, but I was very happy when they asked me to continue doing the show after he passed away. They asked several of us, including Todd [Herman] and Brett [Winterble] if we wanted to be on-air guides. It was a very interesting time, and I think the producers and the staff did an incredible job. That was a wonderful blessing and opportunity for me.

RH: Were you aware of who was going to replace Rush Limbaugh?

KM: No, I did not know. None of the guests hosts knew who was going to replace Rush. We were pummeled constantly by media people or friends. Premiere Radio Networks should teach the White House how to keep a secret. I knew the morning of the announcement when Craig Kitchen, President and COO of Premiere Networks called myself and the others involved and told us. It was a very positive transition.

RH: When you first heard that Clay Travis and Buck Sexton were going to replace Rush Limbaugh, your first thought was what?

KM: Who is Clay Travis because I wasn’t familiar with Clay. Obviously, I was familiar with Buck, and I figured that they would promote someone in the Premiere Networks family.

RH: How did it feel doing the final two Rush Limbaugh shows ever?

KM: It was bittersweet, but Rush was such a force that you couldn’t help but think that he was right there in the studio with you. The last of couple of shows felt very comfortable, and I did the show as if Rush and I were sitting there talking. When you fill-in for Rush you have a direct line to America.

RH: What did your time as one of Rush Limbaugh’s fill-in hosts to for the perception of you in the business?

KM: It certainly did not hurt it. Premiere Networks treats its talent very well. And for me personally, getting into that high-octane environment made me a better thinker, a better host. I had never worked with so many professional people in one location, it was amazing.

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1 Comment

  1. Andrea from New York

    August 18, 2021 at 1:40 pm

    I think Premiere Radio Networks made a HUGE MISTAKE not giiving Rushs timeslot to Ken Matthews. Maybe even Todd Herman. I also think maybe they should have polled Rushs audience. Obviously nobody could replace Rush. I miss him everyday and especially now with this country and the world being turned upside down.


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BNM Writers

Telling The Audience What You Think They Want to Hear Won’t Help You Grow

“Calling out each candidate’s positives and negatives isn’t picking one over the other, it’s opining on the news of the day.”



Photo Credit: iStock

It’s OK to not always tell your audience what you think they want to hear. 

I have been writing that phrase down at the top of my notepad before I start my show for the last two weeks. Something tells me I will need it for at least another 12 months.

In the last week alone there have been two major topics that have divided News Talk audiences across the country: The debt-ceiling debate and the brewing Donald Trump vs. Ron DeSantis feud.

And as I’ve listened to talented hosts and perused the social media landscape, I’ve noticed a hesitancy that I usually would not expect. 

Granted, for the last two years it’s been relatively easy when talking about the national political scene: Joe Biden is a disaster. Whether it’s economic policy, border policy or foreign policy, most Americans don’t believe the guy is doing a good job. The News Talk audience, generally speaking, thinks he’s doing a terrible job.

That’s shooting fish in a barrel. But now comes the hard(er) work. 

Starting with the debt-ceiling drama, there was a big divide amongst Republicans in the House of Representatives. The bill passed with broad bipartisan support, however dozens of Republicans, many of the most conservative members of the House, voted against the bill, saying it did not do enough to cut spending

As a result, it seemed many hosts, who assume their audience blindly aligns with everything the most-conservative members of the House say, were hesitant to point out the obvious: Explain what better deal you were getting when you only had a small majority in the House, and no control over the Senate or the White House?

It was a question I never got a good answer to on my show.

Republicans already picked up a win getting Biden to the negotiating table after he spent months saying he wanted a clean debt-ceiling raise with no spending cuts attached. Speaker Kevin McCarthy won, got some concessions, and slowly began turning the tide towards hopefully Senate and White House victories in 2024, when then the real work can begin on getting spending under control. This was a victory.

And while no one with any levels of fiscal sanity believes our government’s spending isn’t wildly out of control, that is a separate conversation from whether or not this was a good or smart deal. 

Then, there’s the Trump vs. DeSantis feud. Some have staked their claim with one candidate over the other. Some are trying to toe the line and avoid all conflict. Neither approach makes sense to me.

The obvious approach seems to me to analyze the candidate’s based on what they do and say on a given day. There will be good and bad days for Trump. DeSantis will have his up and down moments. I can guarantee this because they’re flawed human beings like the rest of us.Like every election season, it will ebb and flow, and eventually someone will come out on top.

Calling out each candidate’s positives and negatives isn’t picking one over the other, it’s opining on the news of the day.

If you compare this to sports talk radio, a national host talking about the NFL Playoffs doesn’t have to have a preferred team, but he or she has to have something to say that’s interesting, compelling, honest, thought-provoking and entertaining.

If they don’t do this, they’ll become wallpaper in a world of too many media options. 

If you have the trust of your audience, you’re real, honest, engaging and thoughtful, you won’t lose your audience. You’ll keep them engaged and you’ll grow it.

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Why Did Newsmax Allow Rep. Matt Gaetz to Host An Unchallenged TV Program?

“A sitting politician hosting a show also doesn’t allow for a variety of opinion. It gives them the ability to deceive their audience, delude their constituents and impact lives in the name of lies.”

Jessie Karangu



Photo Credit: Newsmax

Representing your constituents in Congress used to be a mark of honor. It was a position that came with pride and respect. At least that’s what I’ve heard from older relatives who lived in an America that was supposedly more united. Today, depending on the individual, the position doesn’t usually come with too much regard if any at all. Congress has an all-time low approval rating and many representatives go into the job plotting their next money-making move in the process. 

The cable news circuit has slowly but surely built a bench of potential hosts from current and former Congressmen. Former Congressman Jason Chaffetz is a Fox News commentator, Trey Gowdy is a host on Fox News, Joe Scarborough is MSNBC’s morning show anchor and most recently Rep. Matt Gaetz anchored his own hour for Newsmax. As much as some members of Congress roast young Gen Zers for their tenacity when it comes to TikTok, these men are just as eager for the wrong kind of attention and spotlight. 

A former Congressman on television can provide perspective that gives context to current issues the country faces. On Scarborough’s morning show, he often harkens back to past negotiations and talks he had with fellow lawmakers. At times, he even uses those connections to find out the inside scoop about something that’s happening in the moment. Current Congressmen who appear on shows as guests also get to talk directly to their constituents hopefully alongside a host that is willing to challenge them on the issues of the day and not simply allow them to lead the audience astray. 

For Newsmax to allow Rep. Gaetz to host a show though, is a disgrace to a medium of television that already like Congress doesn’t have much acclaim. With that being said, even for cable news, this is a major low and it should never happen on either side of the aisle. Politicians are elected to serve but are also forced to make tough decisions. These choices are answerable to the American people. When a Congressman is allowed to spew their thoughts uncensored, it takes attention away from the issues that really matter. 

A sitting politician hosting a show also doesn’t allow for a variety of opinion. It gives them the ability to deceive their audience, delude their constituents and impact lives in the name of lies. Unless Gaetz had a co-host that was a journalist questioning his takes, how does an unchallenged show truly serve the public – an oath he agreed to partake in when he took on his role as a Congressman. 

Gaetz’s appearance is also a waste of tax dollars. The people of Florida who elected him into office expect Gaetz to be working with fellow lawmakers to make their lives better. They expect him to be doing research or reading up on bills that can bring the change he’s promised to his voters. Instead, he used the resources of hard-working Floridians to moonlight into his next career and spew misinformation that can prove harmful to the public.

If we allow more serving Congressmen to host their own cable talk shows on such a widely distributed platform, will we reach a day when lawmakers exclusively negotiate bills on television? Will Congressmen be more worried about ratings than results? We’ve already seen what happens when a President reigns over a populous and only rules based on what he sees on television. We’ve also seen the political implications that come with such unjustly behavior. Cable news networks will suffer the moral consequences of their actions while politicians who dare to try this act again will eventually face the demise of their legacy in the voting booth. Be careful.

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Sales Productivity Protects You From Hedge Fund Uncertainty

“The good news is that most radio station clusters are still very profitable. The bad news, the debt makes many clusters unprofitable.”

Avatar photo



Almost 30 years ago, Radio station ownership limits were lifted, and Wall Street saw an opportunity. But the hedge funds didn’t understand the business and created mayhem in a still vital industry.

I worked in New York City for over 6 years. I had the opportunity to spend time around the brain trust of Wall Street. These Masters of the Universe saw the weakness of the radio industry and thought that they had all the answers. 

Well, they didn’t. 

I will give you some history from my perspective. My first 16 years were spent working for family run operations. Both of these companies were managed by third generation operators who put people and community first. These were highly successful operations with large staffs. 

I am not looking back with rose colored glasses. No organization is perfect or without unique challenges. But people were first in these broadcast companies. Both of my first employers had top consultants to give strong outside the organization feedback. Both companies had General Managers that catered to both the programming and sales departments. 

The Telecommunications Act of 1996 was the biggest overhaul of telecommunications law in 62 years. It was widely thought that this would bring radio into modern times. Consolidation has been a landmark of American Business, so, Wall Street’s Hedge Funds saw an opening.  Radio station owners sold for insane profits. Longtime owners were able to sell stations for multiples of up to 30 times meaning that if an owner had a station earning 1 million dollars, they could sell it for 30 million dollars. Quite a return (Most stations didn’t go that high but multiples of 18-25 were very common during this period).  

Wall Street looked at radio like the pickle industry. Except there was an issue. Radio did not have hundreds of workers in each location. You couldn’t move all operations to a central hub and save HUGE money, that would justify strong ROI. So, radio ended up with several large owners (by the way, I am not criticizing iHeart, Audacy, Cumulus and the other large owners). 

When larger companies developed, they went public selling stock to individual shareholders and institutional investors. The market states that companies show a certain amount of revenue growth per year. Let’s say that number is 10%. Radio is interesting, we are regulated by the Federal Communications Commission. You cannot just build new radio stations. So, companies were forced to merge or expand to meet revenue goals. Wall Street encouraged and even demanded it. 

Here was the problem – radio companies acquired an unsupportable amount of debt that could never be paid back. The Hedge Funds just moved cash around and demanded companies cut staff and consolidate management. It was a blood bath. Any of us who entered this business in the 90’s saw this. Great broadcasters, salespeople, managers were forced out because of unsustainable debt and micromanaging Hedge Funds.  

On the local level, new clusters were forced to protect the biggest biller in the group. This was not set to grow revenue; it was to protect the revenue and keep the spreadsheets looking right. I know of stations that were more successful brands in ratings in a cluster than the cash cow but if you were the Program Director who was consistently beating the cash cow, your job was in jeopardy.  This was a reverse hunger games caused by debt, fear and shortsightedness. 

So, here we are.

The good news is that most radio station clusters are still very profitable. 

The bad news, the debt makes many clusters unprofitable.

Even though a couple of the bigger companies have gone bankrupt, they’re not bankruptcy situations where assets were liquidated creating a market-based value of these properties. It was essentially a negotiation to lower the debt, and did not move these companies to become cash positive operations again. 

Why do the Hedge Funds not cut their losses and move on? Now that is a great question.  Hedge funds handle billions of dollars. They bundle bad deals with great deals and so their investors don’t seem to have a problem if they see enough of a profit at the end of the month, quarter or year. People remember the subprime mortgage crisis of 2008. Hedge Funds were bundling bad mortgages with good ones. Soon the bad overcame the market. Thus, a crash.  The homes never went away. The value of real estate fell dramatically in many places.

Are people still listening to us? 80% of Americans do. Not the 93% of a decade or so ago (Pew Research). This is much better than local TV where only 63% of Americans watch local TV News.

But what is the future?

It is entirely up to Hedge Fund involvement. Will Hedge Funds cut their losses and move on?  If that occurs, will local broadcasters rise again? 

What can YOU do?

It is all about the billing. If you are billing a lot more than you cost, the company will need you, and indispensability is what corporate leaders will see. Make yourself available for Sales. If you are the morning talent, be dressed well enough for a sales call. Make yourself available a few times each week to meet clients. Let salespeople know about the products and services that you use. Radio personalities are influencers. They have huge audiences that listen every day.  Don’t forget your advantage. We cannot control the Hedge Funds, corporate debt or a fast-changing marketplace. 

This was not an exhaustive history, but it illustrates our challenges. Radio programming departments are filled with creative people who just want to entertain. Be aware of our weaknesses and strengths. The Market Manager and sales manager are under huge pressure.  Be that person who understands their concerns.

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