“I hope I made a difference in people’s lives."

By Erica Thomas, Managing Editor

Since he got his start in radio at age 15, Matt Murphy has been evolving and improving his craft. Now, many years of connecting with audiences have led to a career change that will take him from Birmingham, Ala., to Nashville, Tenn.

Murphy, the co-host of “The Matt and Val Morning Show” on Talk 99.5 and Program Director for the station, announced on Friday that he will be the new host of an afternoon show on Super Talk 99.7 WTN. Murphy will fill the spot of Phil Valentine, who died from COVID-19 earlier this year. The new show will be called “The Matt Murphy Show.”

“I’m very excited for the new adventure,” said Murphy. “It came about in an odd way.”

Following the death of Valentine, Murphy said Cumulus contacted him, which began a series of conversations about him moving to Nashville.

Murphy has been with Cumulus, formerly known as Citadel Broadcasting, for 14 years. He has been on Talk 99.5 since its inception five years ago. He said the decision to leave Alabama comes with mixed emotions.

“Alabama, when I came here, was supposed to be a fling,” Murphy said. “One of those quicky romances where I used Alabama to a certain degree and then moved on to the next place. But that was in 1999 and I fell in love with it. I especially fell in love with Birmingham when I came here in 2002. I love the people first and foremost. I think it is an absolute gem that most people don’t know about.”

Alabama has been where Murphy said he has grown as a radio host.

“When I first started in radio when I was 15, it was all about being on the radio,” Murphy said. “When I got my first talk show in Montgomery in 2000, it was all about me and my ego and as you grow older and mature you realize, ‘it’s not at all about me, it’s about the people that you serve.’ It truly is about impacting people’s lives in a positive way.”

As a child, growing up in Georgia, Murphy said he always had a way with words.

“I was the class clown,” Murphy said. “Well, I wasn’t really the class clown but I would hear something funny that someone funny said, and I would repeat it and I was louder so people thought that I said it. So, that’s what I now do for a living.”

He’s used his gift of gab to not only entertain but to inform. He said although his dad wasn’t around when he was a child, that was actually one of his inspirations for his career.

“The void of my dad as a child and when I was 15, kind of led me into radio,” said Murphy. “That sounds a lot more dramatic than it really is but I knew that he was in radio so I applied for a job and got it.”

Although Murphy was fired from his first full-time job for talking too much, he eventually got the opportunity to move to Montgomery. That’s where he said his interest in politics began.

“Once I produced the morning show for a while, I felt like I could do it better than the host,” Murphy said. “That kind of got me involved in politics. I learned the ropes there.”

He learned the ropes but he said going into the hosting position, he didn’t know a lot. So, he faked it until he figured it out and eventually realized how important his job was.

“The attraction to it was that you could speak truth to power and get away with it,” Murphy said. “It gives you the power to speak for the people. I realized that it was just a ruggedly corrupt system, generally, and exposing that was appealing.”

So, those talkative ways and natural curiosity paid off for Murphy. It wasn’t long before he was summoned to the Magic City, where he was charged to reach as many people as possible. He said he talked to those in charge about the importance of being on an FM station.

“I was told to get 35-year-old people listening to talk radio,” Murphy said. “I presented the case that the average 35-year-old, A: ...don’t know what AM radio is, and B: if you asked them what talk radio is, they would say it’s some form of an old white guy yelling. And we had to reinvent that.”

Murphy said he wanted Talk 99.5 to be service-oriented to the community and he wanted to have a variety of voices and viewpoints on the station. So, he built a team of people he had met over the years that he thought was successful. What happened next took talk radio to the next level in the state of Alabama.

“We set a goal to be the most listened to community- and politically-oriented station in the state and we accomplished that in two years,” said Murphy.

Even though he helped create Talk 99.5, Murphy’s growth in the industry wasn’t over. After co-hosting shows with Andrea Lindenberg and Valerie Vining, he said he was able to become not only a better host but also a better person.

“For a long time in my career, I was kind of a little more of a bulldog with regard to the way I conducted things,” Murphy said. “They taught me that you can attract a lot more with honey than with vinegar. And they taught me how to share.”

Murphy said he doesn’t think he would have been given the opportunity for his next adventure if not for his time working with Lindenberg and Vining.

Vining said Murphy has made Talk 99.5 what it is today and has been the glue that has held it together.

“I was initially shocked because we had just started doing our morning show together,” Vining said. “I was sad and disappointed but at the same time, very excited for him.”

Vining will replace Murphy as Program Director. She said she has big shoes to fill but she understands what Murphy’s vision is and she hopes to continue that.

Talk 99.5 host Leland Whaley said, "I ain't gonna miss him because we are brothers and will stay in touch. But our audience will miss a guy who threw his heart into everything he said about everything. Look out, Tennessee, you are getting a bulldog."

Although Murphy has had quite a few run-ins with politicians and people in charge, when asked what his most memorable moment has been so far, it wasn’t about a time that he called out a lying politician or about a policy he bit down on and held on to like a Georgia Bulldog. It was about a former listener.

“I hope I made a difference in people’s lives in some form or fashion,” Murphy said.

Mission accomplished.

That listener that Murphy remembered, known as Libertee Belle, has since passed away. But his death could’ve come sooner, Murphy said, if not for the power of radio and for the compassion of the people of Alabama.

Libertee Belle was a drag queen and LGBTQ rights activist in Birmingham. In fact, he helped start the pride parade in the city, in the eighties. He was also a veteran and he performed for charitable organizations. But life wasn’t always bright for him and one day, Murphy said he got an off-air phone call from Libertee Belle.

“Libertee Belle was just a troubled soul in a lot of ways,” Murphy said. “He was a frequent caller to talk radio stations. Libertee called me one day and said that he was going to kill himself. He said that the straight community would never accept him, that the gay community didn’t want him anymore because he was old and that he was just going to take his own life.”

Murphy wasn’t sure how to handle the situation, but he asked Libertee Belle to do one last live phone call on the radio. After some convincing, Libertee Belle agreed, and Murphy said that changed everything.

“I think that more than anything, what Libertee wanted was to feel valued,” Murphy said. “And I knew that if I got him on the air, then the people of Alabama would respond. And they did. He was on the air for three hours one day and he didn’t kill himself.”

In tears, Murphy said that is an example of the power of radio and the connections made through that medium.

“I think we develop family over the years,” said Murphy. “The names of the callers become known to the listeners. I do think that relationship is very intimate and very special.”

Murphy said as he leaves the state he fell in love with over 20 years ago, he has high hopes for the state.

“I hope I made a difference in people’s lives in some form or fashion,” Murphy said.

Murphy plans to continue to stay informed about what’s happening in Alabama. He will continue to write editorial content for 1819 News.

Murphy's last day in Birmingham will be Friday, Dec. 10. He will start on Super Talk 99.7 on Monday, Dec. 13.

More announcements about Talk 99.5’s future lineup will be made Monday.

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