On the Radio

ILR student leads WVBR
Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Matt Harkins ’16 came to Cornell for its highly ranked debate program, but instead followed a passion for radio, and is now president and general manager of the Cornell Media Guild.

Harkins’s interest in radio began after bedtime in the second grade by listening to the radio with his twin brother and pretending to be program hosts.

“Our beds were right next to each other and using a headphone, he would put one bud in his ear and I would put one bud in my ear,” Harkins said. “Then we would bet what song would be the number one song for the week.”

“My brother really liked ‘Don't Go Chasing Waterfalls,’ and we would talk about the songs that played and tell jokes before we introduced and started to play the next song.”

Additionally, the two brothers frequently would “play sports” in the backyard.

“Instead of actually playing sports, we would focus our time on playing the national anthem ahead of time and having a good halftime show.”

Delivering a message clearly came from coaching from his parents. When he was in a play growing up, Harkins was the mayor of the Munchkin City. Harkins’s parents taught him to deliver his lines as if he were Bill Clinton.

“My parents told me to do the monologue like Bill Clinton because it was at the height of the Monica Lewinski scandal”, Harkins said. “Everyone in the audience knew about Bill Clinton and his mannerisms, and it must have been really funny to see a 10-year-old kid do a spot-on impression of him while dressed up as a Munchkin.”

When it came time to apply for college, Cornell came calling by recruiting Harkins for the debate team. Harkins credits Sam Nelson, Cornell Speech & Debate Society director and an ILR senior lecturer, for being the person “that sold him” on coming to Cornell.

“He gave me a really good behind-the-scenes tour on what Cornell is really like,” Harkins said. “All the other schools that I went to had really generic tours and would brag about how they have a quidditch team. I became disenchanted with how fake they were, but Sam Nelson gave me the real deal.”

Though a talented debater, Harkins ended up not choosing debate in favor of radio.

“I saw the radio tent and thought that I could continue to listen to the sound of my own voice and have a creative outlet. It also would not be as stressful.”

Being in charge of the Cornell Media Guild, which operates both Cornell Radio and WVBR-FM, Harkins puts ILR-learned information into practice and calls on the expertise of his professors.

“I took Human Resources and was not naturally inclined in HR, but I had to resolve a workplace issue,” Harkins said. “I even went back to my HR notes and sent an email to Assistant Professor Beth Livingston to ask her for advice.”

Harkins credits ILR classes with helping his broadcast work. “You can pick up knowledge and bring it to an experience running a radio station.”

A host for a popular Cornell Radio show called “Big Red Banter,” Harkins once facilitated a debate between Student Assembly presidential candidates.

“I really grilled one of them and gave him a pressure-filled interview that everyone was talking about after,” Harkins said.

“There was controversy about if I was fair to him or not, but I personally felt the questions that I asked needed to be out there. The show was filling a vacuum for dialogue to get the real version of these candidates and not just stump speeches.”

Being able to facilitate serious dialogue is just one of the spectrums that Harkins covers on the radio. On the other more humorous side, Harkins once received a full-body wax on live radio.

Harkins said that people from his freshman floor remember him as “the guy who listens to Howard Stern all the time.”

“Howard Stern is important especially for Cornell since we are taking ourselves seriously by trying to find jobs and put stuff on our resumes, but he taught me that you can go far in life by just having fun and not taking yourself too seriously,” Harkins said, referring to the controversial radio show host.