In his half-century career, Ron Matz shared microphones with the gods of local radio and television.
He broke in at WFBR radio with funny jocks like The Flying Dutchman and Johnny Walker and Commander Jim Morton, and created an enduring funky sideshow character of his own called Harry Horni.
When he went to WCAO, the great rock ‘n’ roll station, Matz worked with Johnny Dark and with Louie and The Bear.
When he transferred to television, Matz spent three decades beginning with WJZ’s Jerry Turner and Al Sanders and ending with choruses from all over the metro area cheerfully singing along with him on The Bangles’ “Manic Monday.”
Matz was part reporter, part comic, part cheerleader. He was there on snowy mornings, standing in the slush, and one time he dodged bullets covering a hostage situation. In broadcast terms, Matz was a man for all seasons and all situations. He was Baltimore broadcasting’s Zelig.
Matz has spent 50 years getting up at 4 in the morning, but now he’s announced he’ll start sleeping in. Next Tuesday, July 9, is his last day at WJZ. He’s retiring. He’s 73 now, and the broadcasting game’s changed, gotten far more convoluted with the need to address social media.
Matz started out with the basics. A local kid out of Baltimore City College and the University of Maryland, he hooked up with WFBR when the station expanded its news coverage during a newspaper strike in the winter of 1969-70.
He was still there when a crazed assassin named Charles Hopkins shot up the temporary City Hall one awful morning in 1976. To hear Matz’s live coverage that day from the scene was to hear radio news at its best: chaos reigned, but a steady Matz brought us the straight facts as they were spilling out all around him.
Across the years at WJZ, they’ve turned him into a features guy more than a hard news reporter. He handled the features like a pro, but the station lost a first-rate newsman by pulling him away from the serious stuff.
But his retirement is part of a generational change at WJZ — and in local broadcasting. For years, the station’s “Eyewitness News” not only hired people with Baltimore roots – people who didn’t need a road map to find City Hall – but held onto them, including Richard Sher, Bob Turk, Frank Luber and others.
Also, while other stations were spinning their anchors and reporters through revolving doors, WJZ held onto veterans such as Turner and Sanders, Denise Koch, Marty Bass and Alex Demetrick, all veterans of more than 30 years.
Viewers were not only informed – they were comforted having familiar faces enter their living rooms. In that sense, television’s an act of intimacy. You don’t want strangers entering your home.
That was WJZ’s strength for many years, and Matz was a big part of it. To viewers, he was part reporter, part old friend. On Monday, July 1, hours after announcing his retirement, he had lunch at the Village Square Café at Cross Keys. In a line of people, a woman said to him, “You’re that ‘Manic Monday’ guy, aren’t you?”
She had it only part right. Matz led the early Monday sing-alongs, because it was Bawlamer schtick. But he played whatever role he was handed. He was radio, he was TV. He was serious newsman, he was Harry Horni.
He was Baltimore broadcasting’s Zelig.
A former Baltimore Sun columnist and WJZ-TV commentator, Michael Olesker is the author of six books, including “Tonight at 6: A Daily Show Masquerading as Local TV News” (Apprentice House). His most recent, “Front Stoops in the Fifties: Baltimore Legends Come of Age,” was reissued in paperback by the Johns Hopkins University Press.