For a boy who grew up pretending to call games alongside the greats from his living room, Matt Santini takes pleasure in doing the play-by-play for local sports teams.
The chairman of the Georgia Association of Broadcasters this month saw his station -- WBHF-AM1450 -- take home numerous awards during the association's annual GABBY Awards Ceremony. Taking two Merit Awards for Best Newscast and Best News Story and three GABBYs -- Best News Cast for WBHF's New News, Best Feature/Documentary and the Community Service award, Santini, WBHF's station manager, was pleased with the station's wins.
"We put a real high standard on community service. ... All stations are tasked to serve the public, and we're real proud of the work we do here," he said.
And community service is something Santini knows well. He is in his second term as mayor of Cartersville and works with several local organizations, spending countless hours alongside his family volunteering in the community.
Name: Matt Santini
City of Residence: Cartersville
Occupation: I wear a lot of different hats. I work for Anverse, and I'm responsible for the radio station, where I'm the station manager. I work for The Grand Theatre, where I am the administrator and also the administrator for the Resource Center. ... And I happen to have this little part-time job, too, as the mayor of Cartersville, and as I mentioned, this year I happen to be the chairman of the Georgia Association of Broadcasters.
Family: Married to my wife, Anthia, 20 years, 21 in October; have one daughter, Matalyn, just turned 15, got her learner's license; and two dogs, Pasta and Cannoli; and a cat, Molly.
Education: Graduated from Sprayberry High School, went to Georgia Southern University and have a degree in marketing with sales and with marketing in advertising.
What led you into broadcasting?
A: Always, like a lot of young boys, grew up playing a lot of sports, just a sports nut. As a matter of fact, as a kid we would sit there and watch games on TV and pretend I was broadcasting them. My older brother, Greg, and I would do that a lot.
When I moved up here and got involved, just listening to WBHF and saying, "Wow! That would be so cool to be on the radio," and said it enough to my wife that one day she introduced me to Hershel, who she was in Rotary with. In 1999, it just so happened that they had an opening to work with the sports guy, Scott Singer, and Scott and I hit it off. And that was the year that Cartersville went 15-0, won the state championship; [I] got a lot of recognition for just being a small part of those broadcasts and just really loved it.
So did that in '99, 2000. Then when the foundation was started in 2001, there was an opportunity here to come onboard and it included broadcasting, so I started in '99, did a Saturday morning show and also did the sports. So I kind of dreamed and backed my way into broadcasting.
What do you feel is WBHF's role in the community?
A: Without a doubt we are an important part of the news mix. Certainly different outlets have different roles, but our job is to serve the community and informing them about important issues that face the community.
You know, one time I had someone ask me, "What's the big deal? It's just a thousand watt radio station." And I said, "Exactly." That's the point. You can listen to a hundred different stations doing a Georgia football game. There's only going to be one that's going to do a Cartersville football game. There's only one place you're going to find out what happened at the Kingston City Council meeting or the Adairsville City Council meeting. You know, that's what makes us special. The people who want to hear the song of the day and win $10,000 -- they're not going to listen to us. The people that are interested in what's going on in their backyard, who have a passion for what's going on in their community -- those are the people that listen to us. We've been doing it for almost 66 years.
What encouraged your venture into politics?
A: I totally blame Mike Fields for that. I went to a city council meeting for something related to the radio station, and after the meeting, I was talking with Mike and he basically said, he goes, "I'm not going to run again." Kind of took me by surprise. And he says, "You know, you ought to think about running." I said, "You're crazy." I couldn't, wouldn't, never would kind of thing.
And we talked about it for awhile, and the fact that we've got a city manager form of government, a strong history of councils doing good jobs and, like I said, strong administration, he said it's really manageable. I said I'll go home and talk to my wife and that'll put an end to that. Went home and she said, "Gee, that'd be neat." Asked a couple friends and they thought it would kind of be a good idea, and then certainly checked with my employer and they gave the full blessing. And then was just real fortunate and humbled by the fact that the people have elected me and allowed me to do a job I love to do. I love everything I do.
What do you think is the biggest issue facing Cartersville going forward?
A: I think going forward some of the challenges we have or really face are dealing with, I don't know if you'd call them mandates, but things that are changing at the state level. There's a mood that less government is better government, and maybe my view is a little bit tainted. I would agree with that on both a national level and maybe a little bit from a state level, but when you start talking about local government, local government is very different from state and national. We're providing direct services to people.
So when you say that you want less government in your lives, well maybe that means that you're going to get garbage service once every two weeks. Maybe that pothole doesn't get fixed right away, maybe if a tree falls and is hanging out over the road maybe it takes a half day, maybe if the power goes out and it's a Sunday you have to wait until Monday to get it turned back on. ... Maybe when your house catches on fire it takes another 10 or 15 minutes to get someone there. Like I said, I'm not foolish enough to think I might not be a little bit jaded now that I'm in this position and look at it from that perspective.
But, you know, challenges that come down from the state are real big for us. For instance, there was a bill that was passed that everybody was onboard and really cheered about that takes the taxes off energy that's used for manufacturing, lauded by the governor, the state Legislature passed it. And the Georgia Chamber of Commerce and everybody is, "Hey, this is great. This is going to be great for jobs in Georgia." I'm not going to dispute there's a lot of good parts to that, but what you've got to realize is, the counterbalance on that is the city of Cartersville, we exist off enterprise funds -- the selling of utilities to offset the cost of our management and operations. That bill alone, once it's phased in, we've estimated is going to cost us a million and a half dollars a year. So where does that come from?
Certainly that's just a few of the things and, of course, continuing to find that balance between bringing quality jobs here and continuing to preserve the way of life that we have.
Who was your radio hero?
A: Oh. I'd have to say any of the Braves' broadcasters. You know, I grew up with Skip, Pete, Ernie. I left one of them out there. Oh my gosh, Skip, Pete, Ernie, Don Sutton. Even Jim Powell who does the games now is great. Baseball, I guess, is the most relatable sport on the radio. I grew up listening to Larry Munson [doing Georgia] and Al Ciraldo doing Tech games. Wes Durham does a great job. I've got a lot of, just about any of the guys that do that.
You know, the emotional tie that you get if you say best broadcaster, gosh, Ernie, Pete, Skip. I mean you can throw them all in a hat and shake them up and you can't go wrong there.
What would people be surprised to learn about you?
A: (laughs) My friends will tell you -- actually I'll just tell you -- I've got rather eclectic music tastes. On my iPhone, I've got everything from Eminem to Norah Jones. I'm a big old-school rap guy. And I spend probably too much time playing Modern Warfare.
I guess a lot of people would be surprised to know -- it's been a long time since I've done it -- I play basketball a little bit better than people would think from looking at me. I get out to Dellinger Park and hang with the 25- to 35-year-olds. I can hold my own with the young bucks on the basketball court.
What is your personal philosophy or motto?
A: That's a good question. ... There's probably so many of them, I guess; every day is different. I guess kind of the Serenity prayer, you know, to kind of know what you can control, try to control the things you can and don't try to control the things you can't, have the wisdom to know the difference. I don't always follow that. Try not to worry about things you can't control and the rest will kind of take care of itself.
What do you think makes Cartersville and Bartow County special?
A: I think the people. ... I haven't lived many other places but I've seen enough other places to know this place is -- it's the people, the past leadership, the people that have a vested interest in this community, the fact that it's large enough to not be a one-horse town but it's still small enough that people know each other, care about each other. So many people have personal connections with their neighbors and their community, their churches, their businesses, their circle of friends. I really think that's it.
I go to the grocery store -- my daughter gets mad -- the other day I went in the grocery store, there were eight people that you just say hello to. It's not just me saying hello. ... You go anywhere and you see people just passing somebody by and saying hello, having a brief conversation. I think that's part of the dynamic that makes Cartersville so special.
What's your favorite meal?
A: Oh, it's got to be Italian. I would say my mom's eggplant and cutlets. It's an Italian dish.
If you were stranded on a deserted island, what three things could you not live without?
A: Oh. Well if you've got to give me the ... My wife and daughter are one and two. ... The three things I could not live without? My wife would say ESPN; I'd probably agree with her. A microphone. Oh, that's a good one. A PS3 wouldn't do me any good because there wouldn't be any electricity. I would say ESPN, my iPhone and some way to know what's going on in Cartersville.