“A place where they can feel heard”

Time for part two of my interview with Erik Mattox about his radio show The UnCola, which you can listen to live on Tuesdays at 8pm on Asheville FM or anytime you like at the show’s blog. (Here’s part one, in case you missed it.)

WH: You said you do your own tech work, so the intro to your show, the bumpers that you haven’t asked other people to record, those are things you’ve put together yourself?

EM: Right. Yeah.

WH: Let’s just take the intro and the bumper that you run after the second song each hour. I recognize pieces from the Eurythmics, and there’s a James Brown sample, and there’s the Buggles. What are the other ones? I’d love to know what else you’ve sampled.

EM: Okay, let’s see. The one that starts with the Buggles, it has “You are…” in it, the “listening to” actually comes from a recording program I had, so that’s just a robot. Of course, then it says “the UnCola” (from a 70s commercial). The “Bam! Who’s next?” is from a Pharcyde album. They were a hip-hop group who did skits in between some of their songs.

When I was doing shows for African American Music Appreciation Month last year, that was the first time I’d listened to my intro in a while. I’m realizing it doesn’t tell you anything about my show. I really need to change it. I start off with James Brown (“Keep It Funky, Pt. 1”), I forget where the drum roll is from—it sounds like it’s from Edwin Starr’s “War,” but I don’t think it is—and I’ve got the Pharcyde in there again, I’ve got a What’s Happening sample in there. And of course I use the Eurythmics’ “Beethoven (I Love to Listen To).”

Early on, I did a show dedicated to WLIR, and I contacted some of the WLIR DJs to do bumpers for me. And one of them—Andy Geller, the guy who does all the voiceovers and promos for the Oscars—he did an hour-long bumper for me, including, (drops voice to sound like Geller) “You’re listening to Erik Mattox, on the UnCola at Asheville FM.” It sounds so good and professional. As soon as I heard it, I’m like, “I’m using that.”

WH: I know which one you’re talking about.

EM: And people have recognized his voice, and they ask me, “Is that the guy from the Oscars?” And I’m like, “He was actually a DJ at a radio station, but yeah.”

WH: Can I still get an UnCola bumper sticker?

EM: Do I have UnCola bumper stickers?

WH: Back in 2010, you advertised on your show’s website that you could write in and get one.

EM: Oh my god, I’ve completely forgotten about that. I don’t know if anyone ever took me up on it. Maybe they did. If I do have one still, please send me your address, and I’ll send one to you. I don’t think that they were done very well. If I have one, I will definitely send you one even if it’s something that you want to just put on a water bottle.

WH: Thank you!

EM: Absolutely.

WH: You touched on this a little bit at the very beginning, but now that you are over the airwaves in Asheville, what do you see as the role of your show, of Asheville FM—what do you see as the community role of the station?

EM: One thing we didn’t talk about earlier as Asheville FM got started…I was so excited and I immediately wanted to be involved in lots of different areas. I did publicity and promotions, and I joined the Board. In 2011, I became the Board President, and I served for about five years, until we got on the FM airwaves. We’ve been able to grow exponentially, and fundraising has greatly improved. We now have a station manager who’s paid, we have an underwriting manager who’s paid.

Our role here in the community is to be a voice for people from all races, all genders, and give them a place where they can feel heard, because people don’t always feel heard. Not only do we do that with music, obviously, but we have talk shows, we have Spanish language programming, we have a sports show, we have a kids’ show, and we have a podcast program where we take underprivileged children that don’t get an opportunity to do anything outside of school, any extracurricular activities, and get them involved in creating their own radio shows, so that they can see the power in that. And we get involved with a lot of other nonprofits’ causes within the community and because we are not beholden to any corporate entities—we raise money ourselves—we can be as unfiltered as the FCC allows us to be. And we can show viewpoints from a neutral vantage point, so that we’re not swinging one way or another and we can give people news that doesn’t have any sort of bias to it, letting people know what’s going on—this is a tourist town, so a lot of that is geared towards letting people know more of the real stuff that’s happening here. There are some independent papers that are like that as well, but we’re the main radio outlet for that. Continuing to do that, continuing to get into schools, educating younger people and show that this is something they can do, either as something that they’re paid to do in the future, or just because they love to do it—all of that is important.

We want to be as inclusive as we possibly can. I’ve rejoined the Board this year and I hope especially with everything going on, to really reach out and team up with a lot more folks to bridge the large gaps we have in the community. Black people, Latinos—those are two big sectors here that just need to have their voices heard in order for their stories to be heard, in order for justice to start taking shape and equality to start, so that it’s not theory, it’s actually practice, it’s people actually working towards a goal. I think there’s a lot of stuff in the ether, but people don’t necessarily know how to go about helping, even if they really want to. We want to be able to be a conduit for that for folks.  

WH: Going back to your show, do you have any special plans for the upcoming year? You don’t have to give me any spoilers.

EM: I come up with stuff as I go along. I tried planning ahead early on; I think there was a year where I actually listed that on the blog. Probably new volumes of the special shows I do. I’m also trying to find artists that I haven’t done tribute shows for that mean a lot to me. I kind of take it one week at a time, and I probably should plan a lot better. I’m happy when I sometimes plan two weeks ahead of time. This is a fun time of year for me, because in January I know I’m going to do a couple of shows where I’m just looking back to the previous year.

I think there was one year where I did an “In Memoriam” show where I played songs from artists that had passed away in the last year. It was cool to do but I don’t want to do that again. It’s hard to imagine that someone like Little Richard passed away, an architect of roll and roll, and it wasn’t bigger. It felt like it needed to be a lot bigger for people, and so you see that disconnect already for older artists. It happens already for 60s artists, and it’s going to happen for 70s artists, too, and I want to get there and do those tribute shows before that happens.

WH: Is there anything that you hoping to talk about tonight that I haven’t asked?

EM: I don’t know—your questions were great. I didn’t really think about what I wanted to talk about, because I’m not exactly sure how to talk about myself and what I do very well.

WH: I get that.

EM: I’m just very appreciative of the fact that we are financially supported by folks and I’m allowed to do this every week. I thought for sure there’d be a point that I’d not want to do it anymore, like years ago. I’ve been way more consistent in the last four years than I had been—2020 was the first year where I did an original show every single week. I’m amazed that I still want to do it and I go, “Oh yeah, that’s cool, I should play that,” and I don’t get bored doing it. I have a feeling that if I stop doing this, I probably won’t do it anyplace else. I will say that if I have at any time turned anyone on to a certain artist they didn’t know about and they got into that artist, that’s all I really want. I’ve been told, “I didn’t know that person, I really like them…” That’s really to me the thrill of still being able to do this. There’s a well that just never ends with music. I can’t believe I can still find older music that I’ve never heard before. It’s amazing.

WH: I’ve listened to many of your shows over the last two-and-a half years. I’ve learned a lot, for sure, and I just enjoy it. One thing I remember really impressing me was a Jonatha Brooke song you played…

EM: Nice.

WH: …early on in the time I was listening to you. So I’ll say you’ve had an impact on me.

EM: That’s cool. I’ve probably seen her live about 5-6 times. She’s amazing, and like everybody needs to know who she is. Everybody. I don’t understand why…well, I don’t want to go down that path…but she is so incredibly talented, it’s ridiculous. She has a beautiful voice. Her songs are just amazing. What a great catalog she has. And just by herself with a guitar, she’s a great live show, though with a band, it’s even better. If you get an opportunity—if she comes anywhere near you… She hasn’t been to Asheville in like ten years; she used to play here all the time.

WH: It was “Last Innocent Year,” off of 10¢ Wings.

EM: I love that album.  

After I stopped recording, Erik asked me why I had wanted to talk with him. I told him about how I’d play-acted being a DJ during my junior-high years, enjoyed being at WTLX, my college station, and that I was just plain curious about how he managed his show from week-to-week. What I didn’t say is that in some ways he’s living one of my dreams, getting to play music I like for other people.

Many, many thanks to Erik for taking the time to chat. I had a blast, and hope we have the chance to get together to talk again soon.

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