North State Public Radio News Director Matt Shilts
By Melissa Mendonca
News that Matters
Story by Melissa Mendonca
Photos by Manda Reed
North State Public Radio News Director Matt Shilts has a new perspective and renewed appreciation for Brad Wagner, the Red Bluff High ROP teacher who gave him his start in radio. “It must have driven him nuts to have all of those students who all wanted to do their own thing and had an open mic,” he says with a laugh.
Shilts, a 2006 graduate of the high school, says his journey to North State Public Radio wasn’t intentional, but was certainly helped by his early years as a DJ on the Morning Drive show of KBLF Spartan Radio. “It was a lot of fun because I got to do my own thing,” he says. “I loved it.”
After graduation, he moved on to Chico State University, where “I slowly figured out what I was going to do.” He ended up with a double major in English and journalism, and had a three-semester run at the Orion, the school’s award-winning newspaper, including one semester as editor.
Of his ascension to news director of North State Public Radio, he says, “I’m surprised that it ended up happening the way it did.” At 23 years old, with the ink still drying on his degree, he took a part-time job at the station as a board operator. From there, the opportunities and responsibilities continued to build, until the role became his in 2014.
“I like facilitating news production a lot,” he says. “I feel I’m well suited to it.” As for on-air reporting, that’s something he’s learned on the job and he expresses gratitude to “people who are still listening as I’ve figured out how to do it.”
“News casts are a really cool way to do journalism,” he says, noting that each day he puts in about 7½ minutes of them and 3 of weather, “more when it’s fire season.”
“It really makes you think about how you sound to people,” he says, adding that the complex sentences allowed in print journalism are out.
Shilts grew up in a household that revered public radio and says NSPR, his hometown station, has “become a home to me.” His goals now are to increase the station’s influence through production of regional and national news stories. During the summer fires in Lake County, Shilts made a report to Lakshmi Singh on National Public Radio, something he’d like to do more.
The team is deepening its relationships with neighboring stations Capitol Public Radio, Jefferson Public Radio and KQED in the Bay Area. “I predict that we'll have stories on the California Report in the next year,” he says.
He also wants to extend coverage of news stories to a larger portion of the station's service area. Relatively new to the position, he says, “It's been an interesting year figuring out how to deploy our resources. We're basically with limited resources trying to create this mosaic of North State news.” His news team consists of Kelly Frost, based in Redding, and Chico-based reporters Marc Albert and Sarah Bohannon, all of whom are wrestling with the question, “How do you represent this giant area and do it justice?”
Part of the answer will come with training, which Shilts was grateful to receive in Salt Lake City from Public Radio News Directors, Inc. “I couldn’t help but come away from there feeling like public radio is the good guys,” he says. “It’s kind of nice to be a good guy.” Part of being a good guy in public radio, of course, is encouraging station membership. “I started pitching during pledge drives out of necessity,” he says, “but now I really enjoy doing it. I enjoy talking to people. There’s a magic to live radio.” Plus, he adds, “The drive itself is such a high-energy time. Everyone’s on their A-game trying to make it happen.”
When he’s not producing news or pitching for memberships, Shilts is often found playing in the Chico bands Teeph and Touch Fuzzy Get Dizzy. “It gets a lot of the aggression out,” he says, noting that he’s held a long interest in music and played in a high school band.
He also spends time counting his blessings to have found such meaningful work. “The people who like it (public radio), really like it,” he says. “They're big fans.” For a young man starting out his career right after college, that's a great quality. “I feel like I've learned a lot,” he adds. “I feel really fortunate to be at the station at this time.”