It was not too long ago when Kevin Matthews was the biggest star on the radio dial in Chicago. His fans were known as Kev Heads, his catch phrases were well known by everyone (“Is it wrong?”), and his radio station, AM 1000, was an absolute juggernaut.
“It was more than just a radio station,” Kevin remembers correctly. “It was this ball of culture. People listened day and night. If you wanted to hear and know what was happening in Chicago you had to listen to AM 1000. We had Johnny B, Steve & Garry, Chet Coppock, and Howard Stern. You name it. We carried the Chicago Bulls, with this new kid called Michael Jordan. The ’85 Bears – they were on this station—all the time. There was so much happening in advertising, and the economy, and the birth of the internet and the ’80s, and it was this ball of energy. This volcano of talent and fun. It was a perfect storm. That’s what AM1000 was, it was a perfect storm that happens once in a lifetime.”
It remains one of the highlights of Kevin’s lifetime. And he has some very fond memories. “We got kicked out of ten golf courses in ten years, ten golf outings,” he says with a cackle. “I’m most proud of that. We did a concert with Mike Myers, Dana Carvey, and Ellen DeGeneres, and 65,000 people showed up at Grant Park. You know, from the Park West, to Alpine Valley, to Poplar Creek, we just did anything we wanted. Anything. And we did it with the audience. We all grew up together, we all had kids together. We did everything together.”
After the demise of AM 1000, there were several attempts to re-create it (first on the Loop FM, and most recently at WCKG) by re-accumulating the talent, but the magic could never quite be replicated. Kevin worked at several stations in Chicago, before eventually moving back to his home state of Michigan and hosting mornings in Grand Rapids at WLAV. That was his final full-time radio stop.
His life has taken a few unexpected twists and turns in the years since then. “I was diagnosed with MS in 2008. Doctors thought it was a brain tumor at first. If it was a brain tumor, I wouldn’t be having this conversation right now. But then, in 2011, I found this statue. God sent me to a dumpster (laughs). I’m serious, but I know that sounds odd. I was driving around, and I found a statue of the Virgin Mary. It was being thrown away, and it was broken in half. Her hands were missing, she was covered in garbage, but it really touched me. Because at the time, I felt broken just like her. People were throwing me out. I was really of no use to the radio industry anymore; I was just a piece of garbage, like her.
When I asked the clerk to negotiate a price, she recognized my voice, and gave me the statue to take home.” That statue inspired Kevin to write his memoirs. The book is called Broken Mary, Journey of Hope (Beacon Publishing, 2016). The book and statue have become an inspiration for thousands of people. “When I first brought the statue home, we had people that wanted to completely paint her and replace her hands, and put her back together, and I said no.
She represented the broken, and we’re all broken – everyone who’s reading this, we’re all broken. But we’re also loved, by our creator. So it’s amazing how this story and this statue of Mary are now literally touching thousands of lives from around the world. People will take this statue inside hospice, or they’ll take this statue inside prisons. Also the rosary plays a key part. I never said the rosary before, and now I narrate it and there’s a Broken Mary App and you can hear it for free 24/7, it’s being downloaded – in huge numbers in the Philippines, Asia, even in the Middle East. It’s amazing.”
Kevin is still struggling with health problems, but his attitude has never been better. “You know I’m really glad I wrote this book, so that when I am dead, people can really read it from my head to paper. As far as the MS goes, I look at it this way. There’s somebody that’s got it much worse than I do. I’ve been blessed to get MS, in a way. I wouldn’t have met the people I’ve met. I wouldn’t have gone to that store and found the statue of the Virgin Mary by a dumpster. It was all meant to be. And I’ve got so much more to be thankful for than to sit and wallow in pity.”
One of the things he is most thankful for is the blessing of grandchildren. That has had a big impact on his life. “Oh, there’s no question, because you know children are so innocent. And you know physically, I’m not able to do radio, I’m not able to drive long distances. I can walk, but I’ll never run or golf again, which is good for the game of golf. (Laughs) You know, life, when it slows down, it’s just beautiful.”