Hoping to go live later today, Nov. 4, the website will feature podcasts of the duo talking about local, state and national issues, much as they did during their 6 years together on The Matt Mittan Show, which was broadcast throughout Western North Carolina by Clear Channel Asheville.
Last week, Clear Channel Communications laid off Cheek as part of a national "reorganization," in which the media conglomerate laid off what is believed to be hundreds of employees across the country. Soon after, Mittan chose to leave, citing the breakup of his show's partnership and ongoing disagreements with management over its direction.
In the days since, Mittan and Cheek have been busy putting together their new project, inspired by an outpouring of support from fans, most notably on Facebook. For now, the podcasts will be prerecorded, but they're hoping to get a live stream going soon. And Mittan says they're working on syndication, with several radio stations across the region already committing to broadcasting the show in coming weeks.
Meanwhile, Clear Channel Asheville has posted a job listing for a new talk-show host to fill the daytime slot on WWNC.
Xpress sat in on one of the first "Matt and Agnes" podcast sessions, recorded in a temporary office on Lexington Avenue in downtown Asheville. (In a strange coincidence, Mittan says he left Clear Channel on the same exact day 14 years ago he had his first local broadcast, also on Lexington Avenue at the former Just as You Are coffee shop). Here's a video sneak peek:
Mittan also sat down with Xpress to share his thoughts on why he chose to leave Clear Channel and what he's hoping to accomplish with the new project. Here are some excerpts from that conversation.
Mittan on the timing of his departure:
Clear Channel broke up the show. … There was no choice. We've been a firm partnership right from the very start. …
When they broke that up, that's not fair to the community. For whatever reason, whether it's the way we get on each others nerves, the way we counter each other. The dialogue we're able to participate in has fostered this very diverse, very unpredictable but very impactful forum that has grown to the lofts that it has in the last several years. So I think Clear Channel really missed out on an incredible opportunity as a business to support and nurture and take advantage of that. But that's fine, because we will.
Mittan on his ongoing frustrations with Clear Channel:
It's something that's been brewing for a while. It's not something that just happened last week. …
It doesn't matter if it was a threat to pull ads. It doesn't matter if it was an internal paranoia about losing ads. The fact is, the priorities changed about the content, the team and the delivery of the forum that I moderate. And I wasn't willing to do that. And that's what it comes down to. I fired Clear Channel. They no longer met my needs or the community's needs. Because my needs are to be in service to my community. … That's why I'm willing to lose everything to try to preserve this in its true form. ...
I was offered an opportunity to stay and do the show but I wasn't interested in the climate that exists. I didn't feel like I could maintain the character and integrity of what we've been doing and still be there. …
People everywhere have learned to live in a climate of fear. Is my job the next one? And it affects peoples priorities, I think. And it's not a judgment. I can understand people worried about their mortgage and everything. I'm worried about my mortgage. I have no money coming in right now. … I have kids. But a paycheck is less important than my integrity and principles and what the community expects from me and the show that me and Agnes do. ...
We've always just wanted to have the truth the way we see it represented. And beyond that, even if we disagree, if we see an opinion or viewpoint or concern that's being suppressed and isn't getting fair play, we want to give them a megaphone. ...
If you start taking that away, you start taking away the spirit of what we've been doing for years. … We weren't going to be able to meet the needs of WNC at Clear Channel. And that's fine. They have a different direction. And we have a different direction.
Mittan on his eight years as a WWNC broadcaster:
It was an incredible run. We got to witness some pretty incredible things, and we got to be there for our community that not too many people get to enjoy. And I'm grateful for it. And I'm grateful for the people that I've worked with at WWNC all these years. ...
I know there's hurt feelings and anger from people that I worked with over this decision. And I hate that. These people have been like family. We've been through a lot of hard times. In the last few years I've lost a son and a father. And you build bonds with people when you go through things like that. And I want all of them to know that this wasn't about them. And I want the community to know this isn't a reflection on WWNC. …I don't have an ill bone toward them in my body. I really do hope they find someone to put in that slot who can continue a community dialogue.
Mittan on the new media project:
This is grassroots at its core. … I believe this is going to be a remarkable thing. I think it's going to be successful for our community and beyond. Because I think we've developed a model here that can be duplicated to other regions. And we can kind of lead the way and show people that you can jump and land on your feet. And if we show people the way to do it, than all the power to it. If we fall on our faces, then we can go ahead and let people know, don't jump like this, find a different way to jump.
Either way, it's going to empower and embolden people to take ownership of their own situations.