Pete Kaliner fell in love with radio without really knowing it. The local radio talk-show host grew up on Long Island listening to NPR but says he was more likely to know current events than the names of local DJs.
The editor of his high-school newspaper, Kaliner launched an in-house radio station at Winthrop University in Rock Hill, S.C. After graduating, he spent a decade as a radio reporter and host at WBT in Charlotte. Most recently, Kaliner worked in front of the TV camera at News 14 Carolina before taking his place behind the mic at News Radio 570 WWNC in January 2012.
He and former WWNC host Matt Mittan used to fill in on each other’s shows, and when Mittan left in the fall of 2011 to start his own broadcasting business, Clear Channel Asheville management recruited Kaliner to replace him.
Xpress staffers regularly appear as guests on the program. But on Kaliner’s one-year anniversary at the station, we reversed roles on air, asking him about his first year on the job as well as his take on topics ranging from local media to politics.
Here are excerpts from that conversation:
Mountain Xpress: You’ve said this job is more fun than being a reporter. How so?
Pete Kaliner: Because I get to offer opinions and perspective that, as a reporter, you don’t get to do. … And I get to do topics that I want to do rather than get assigned stories like the county’s largest watermelon, that every young cub has to go cover. I hate those stories.
As a reporter, I would go out, I would meet people and I would interview them and stuff, but I very rarely interacted with the audience of the talk-radio stations.
As a host, it’s three hours a day of interacting with the audience without a net. Anything can happen, and that’s exciting and it’s scary, but it’s fun. And you get to meet all these interesting people with crazy stories and perspectives that you would have never even considered.
What have been some of the highlights of your first year here?
Every day is fun for me, because I get to go to work. I don’t say I have to go to work; I say I get to go to work. I work all the time, basically, because I love doing it.
A lot of people in media don’t understand what it takes to do this job: two hours of show prep for every hour you’re on the air. Everything is show prep: current events, anything I’m reading, just talking to someone at a water cooler and they say something and you think, “Hey, that would make a good topic.” To me, what’s fun is finding the topics, finding the questions that will get people talking.
How would you describe the media landscape here compared with where you worked in the past?
I think part of the problem with the media scene in Asheville is the same problem a lot of markets this size experience and, to some extent, Charlotte was experiencing a decade ago. A lot of the good reporters would move through. You had to really want to stay, you loved the place so much. They think success is determined by market size: “I’m not a success if I’m not in the top five or top 10 markets” or whatever it may be.
I’ve never viewed success like that. I was happy in Rock Hill; I just couldn’t make any money. But eventually, either the city has enough to keep people there or it just continues to be this sort of pass-through.
You get recognized, you get awards and then other people come calling. Do you leave? Do you go to a bigger market to make more money, to get more exposure, to do more good? Those are very personal questions, but I think that’s the pressure of a small market.
What about the local political scene?
Brutally honest, I think Charlotte-Mecklenburg was better at good government. Maybe part of that was that they had more staff to allow for transparency, I don’t know.
Part of coming here and learning the local news and politics is you have to learn the history. There’s some nasty political fights that occur here that never occurred in Charlotte.
Any thoughts on why? Could it be because you’ve got a really progressive city and you’ve also got really conservative areas right outside the city?
I think that’s part of it. You also have a lot of transplants that come here and try to tell people how to do stuff. And I think there’s a lot of resistance: ‘We don’t care how you did it where you came from.’ There’s a pretty big libertarian streak that I think runs through all the political parties: They just want to be left alone.
Democrats tend to want to be left alone for some of the social things, and conservatives want to be left alone on the fiscal stuff. So that sort of ‘leave me alone’ streak is prevalent, I think, in all the folks out here.
Are there any changes to your show that you’re excited about for this coming year?
We just revamped the opening, with the little sound bites and the funny clips. Last year it was a very heavy political show, because it had to be, and now it’s going to be a little bit different. We’re going to talk more local politics, because you’ve got a local election coming up.
But you’ve also got things that, now that I’m here, I’m more aware of. Some of the funnier topics we’ve done have been about stuff that’s not political at all.
What kind of advice would you give someone who’s interested in getting into the radio business?
Don’t. For starters, the more people who are in radio, the less job security I have. But from a career standpoint, radio is becoming more and more automated; it’s becoming more homogenized, particularly on the music stations. I think some of that is pressure being brought by new platforms, digital and stuff. You’ve got to really love radio to stay with it. It’s a calling; it really is.
Xpress staffers appear weekly on the following radio shows: “Jeff Messer Show” (880 AM the Revolution; Wednesdays 3:30 p.m.); “The Pete Kaliner Show” (WWNC 570 AM; Wednesdays 4 p.m.); “Take a Stand With Matt and Agnes” (WZGM 1350 AM; Thursdays 4:30 p.m.); and “The Wise Guys” (ESPN 1310 AM; Thursdays 5:30 p.m.).