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WVTF’s Mattioni to sign off after 40-year career

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Posted: Tuesday, May 20, 2014 12:10 am

Rick Mattioni has been at WVTF so long, he remembers when people could only hear the radio, well, on the radio.

That was in 1987, when Mattioni joined WVTF-FM (89.1) as news and public affairs director. Over the years, he has served as news and programming director and has helped shepherd some of the changes that have occurred in the past 15 years. The Internet, high-definition radio and a plethora of over-the-air frequencies have broadened the station’s reach from Northern Virginia to the mountains of Southwest Virginia.

Mattioni, 62, a familiar voice on WVTF for 27 years, will retire from the station on Sept. 30, signing off after a 40-year career in broadcasting.

“It’s been hectic and it’s been fun,” Mattioni said recently during an interview. “I got to build something, which is something not too many people get to say in my line of work today. There is a lot of deconstruction going on in broadcasting. It’s been wonderful to be a part of the construction of something new.”

Mattioni was born in Argentina, and his family emigrated to the United States when he was 8 years old, settling in Hagerstown, Maryland, where his father worked as a chef. As a youngster, Mattioni constructed an antenna on the roof of his family’s row house so that he could pick up AM and short-wave radio signals. That’s when his love of radio was born.

He went to community college, served in the Army, then got a degree from Syracuse University. He came to Roanoke after having helped start a public radio station in Syracuse, New York, and after having worked in commercial radio.

When he arrived, WVTF broadcast across two over-the-air frequencies (89.1 and 89.7) that covered an area from Charlottesville to west of the New River Valley. The station had just one program schedule, which meant that listeners heard the same shows regardless of whether they were listening in Roanoke, Blacksburg, Lynchburg or anywhere their antennas could pick up the station’s signal. That’s pretty much how all radio worked until the 2000s.

Today, WVTF has four separate over-the-air broadcast streams that include the regular station schedule, Radio IQ, the BBC and other public radio programs. The station also streams three separate Internet broadcasts (

“We have put many more resources toward digital,” said Mattioni, who oversees the programming on all the radio and Internet broadcasts. “We are strong when it comes to programming innovation. Being in public broadcasting, you learn to make every dollar go as far as it can, so we have learned how to be creative with everything we do here, whether it’s streaming programs or podcasts. We have a lot going on here.”

WVTF is owned by the Virginia Tech Foundation and broadcasts from studios on Kingsbury Lane that opened in 2003. The station has added multiple transmitters across the state to broaden its coverage area. The reading of its station identification contains more letters than a spelling bee — WVTF, WISE, WVTW, WRIQ and so on.

The expansion across the state has added listeners and potential contributors, but it has also made WVTF less of a local station in the Roanoke Valley. In fact, the station bills its newscasts as “state and regional news” rather than state and local news. The station carries many news and feature stories from Charlottesville and Richmond, but an intensely local story such as the Roanoke city council election does not get much coverage. The station no longer announces weather-related school closings, because its coverage area is simply too large to include every school system.

Because of WVTF’s statewide reach, “[w]e have to look more broadly at the news we produce,” Mattioni said. “We won’t cover the local school board, per se, but we still produce news and stories that generate a lot of interest across the state and region.”

One thing that has not changed for Mattioni during his 40-year career is his love of radio. Mattioni, an adjunct faculty adviser at Roanoke College, said he might fill in on-air when the station needs extra help during fund drives.

“I’m a broadcaster at heart,” he said. “I can do the digital media and I have learned as much as I can. We have a beautiful website and there are so many creative things we’re doing with digital media. But, bottom line, the most joy I get is from the broadcast side. That’s what I grew up with. I love working behind the scenes and I love the programming.”

Sweeps and sports

The Nielsen Co.’s May ratings period for local television ends Wednesday. The company’s most recent ratings book from February showed little changes among TV-viewing habits in the Roanoke-Lynchburg market, where WDBJ-TV (Channel 7) led in all local newscast time slots.

Channel 7’s weekday 6 p.m. newscast pulled a healthy 18 rating and 32 share of the audience and averaged 112,000 viewers — the most viewers the station has attracted in several years.

WSET-TV (Channel 13) averaged an 11 rating, 20 share and 69,000 viewers at 6 p.m. WSLS-TV (Channel 10) was third at 6 p.m. with a 6 rating, 11 share and 33,000 viewers.

(A ratings point is the percentage of people in the entire TV-viewing market who are watching a specific program. The share is the percentage of viewers from just those households watching television at that particular time.)

Sports was a big ratings grabber in February, thanks to the Winter Olympics, the Super Bowl and the Daytona 500.

Channel 10 posted strong numbers during prime time, because of NBC’s Winter Olympics coverage in February. WSLS attracted more than 100,000 viewers on average for tape-delayed Olympics coverage each weeknight. The Olympics helped Channel 10 draw younger viewers, as it beat its nearest prime-time competitors 2-to-1 in the under-40 demographic.

Not surprisingly, WFXR-TV (Channel 21) drew big numbers for the Super Bowl on Feb. 2. Seventy-five percent of the TV-viewing audience in Roanoke-Lynchburg watched the early going of the Seattle Seahawks 43-8 blowout of the Denver Broncos. The telecast averaged about 350,000 viewers for much of the night, a huge total for a single station in this market. Still, that total is less than the 500,000-plus viewers who watched last year’s Super Bowl on WDBJ, when CBS carried the game nationally.

Viewership for the rain-delayed Daytona 500 was down considerably on WFXR/WWCW from a year earlier. The race was delayed more than six hours, which prompted it to compete against other networks’ Sunday night prime-time programming.

Dale Earnhardt Jr’s victory peaked at around 60,000 viewers in Roanoke-Lynchburg, down about one-third from 2013.

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