The news is out! Monte Belmonte and Kaliis Smith, longtime radio personalities in the Pioneer Valley, have joined New England Public Media to create a new radio show and podcast centered around community.
So, what brought Monte and Kaliis to public media, and what can we expect from their new show? Zydalis Bauer sat down with her new colleagues to find out more about them, and what they have in store for listeners in the region.
Read the full transcript:
Zydalis Bauer, Connecting Point: Well, the news is out. Monte Belmonte and Kaliis Smith, longtime radio personalities in the Pioneer Valley, have joined New England Public Media to create a new radio show and podcast centered around community.
So, what brought Monty and colleagues to public media and what can we expect from their new show? I sat down with my new colleagues to find out more about them and what they have in store for listeners in the region.
All right, so Monte and Kaliis, let’s start off a little bit getting to know you. I know that both of you are from eastern Massachusetts, but you’ve spent decades here working in the area. What brought you here and why did you decide to call this region home?
Kaliis Smith, NEPM: Oh, my answer is way less interesting.
I was dating someone at the time and I ended up in the valley and then stayed because I got kind of entrenched in – especially the music scene here.
So, I play a couple of instruments, I’m in a couple of bands, and just it felt really right being a part of the music scene, especially here, like I love it.
And then I grew to love other things and stayed.
Monte Belmonte, NEPM: I was dating a woman as well who was coming out to western Mass to get her master’s at UMass, and she said, “Maybe we should get married and you should come with me.” And that was probably the wisest decision I ever made.
And I happened to be walking around downtown Northampton, and there was a radio station there called “The River,” and I was working at another radio station north of Boston, also called “The River.” I thought – I thought that was illegal. Maybe you can’t have two of the same name radio stations, no affiliation.
And then I said, “Well, maybe I’ll put in a tape for this ‘The River'” and the rest is the recent history.
Zydalis Bauer: And so, speaking of “The River,” you both have had a long and successful run there.
WRSI with your show “Mornings with Monte,” but it was recently announced that you have joined the team here at NEPM.
So, what ventures are you looking forward to and going to be working on at New England Public Media?
Monte Belmonte: Well, I – what I really love doing on the mornings with “The River” was to play a lot of music and things, but also to have interesting conversations with the interesting people of The Valley.
So not unlike what you do at Connecting Point, finding those stories and bringing them to the airwaves, and I won’t be doing it at waking up at 2:15 in the morning anymore. Which takes its toll after a decade and a half plus.
So, yeah, I think a lot of the same things and sensibilities that I brought to that show I’m hoping to bring to NEPM.
Zydalis Bauer: Well, I know that you also said it’s a different format.
So you’re not going to be spinning records, you’ll have more time to have conversations with people. What are you most looking forward to with this new venture?
Monte Belmonte: Well, I’m most looking forward to being able to focus on, on that. To spend more time focusing, and brainstorming, and thinking about who I want to have conversations with.
I was doing a lot of plate spinning at the other job and carrying a lot of responsibilities apart from just the show.
So, really being able to dig in to those conversations and to think big picture and maybe go after some bigger questions in like a series.
Those kind of things are what I’m pretty excited about.
Zydalis Bauer: And Kaliis, you and Monte have built up a great rapport with each other, working alongside at “The River.”
What will your role be in this new radio show and podcast?
Kaliis Smith: Oh, I think a little bit of a foil for that because Monte likes well, it’s not that we’re both not invested in community because we clearly are, but one of the things that I didn’t get a chance to do as much of was talk to some of those artists that were coming through town and like some of the people that were making like creatively things that I was really interested in.
So I think some of those conversations are a lot more of what I will end up being – doing and bringing onto us. Still focusing a lot on the arts and the arts and culture.
Zydalis Bauer: Which makes sense because as a multitalented artist like yourself, you’re part of several bands and you are an established writer. I guess it makes sense for you to be focusing on the arts and culture in the region.
Kaliis Smith: Yeah, I mean, that’s what I’m interested in.
Zydalis Bauer: And why the switch to public media? What drove that decision?
Monte Belmonte: I’ve always been a fan of public media, or at least, well, when I was a little kid, I grew up watching “Sesame Street” and “The Electric Company” and “Mister Rogers Neighborhood.”
So, there’s always that so formative for me as a human being and then in college, I was turned on to public radio and I loved the kind of conversations they were having.
There’s a lot of stuff about commercial radio that I have liked over the years, but I – and very intentionally, when I started my radio show on commercial radio, modeled it after a lot of the things I liked in public media. Where there can be a little bit of tongue in cheek humor, but you’re really digging into some meaningful conversations.
You’re not just going for the lowest common denominator to try to get ratings.
And I’ve been likening public media to food co-ops, let’s say, where you can go to any supermarket and get food, that’s great, but you get a little bit more invested in the community.
And there’s something more than just sheer dollars and cents involved when you go and shop at a food co-op, you become a member. It’s part of community building, and I believe that’s what public media does too.
So it really feels like an honor to be a part of it.
Zydalis Bauer: And I mean, investing in community is is your thing. You’ve been a champion for the community. You’re well known for Monte’s March, which supports the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts.
Why have you always decided to make being a community champion part of your work as an entertainer?
Monte Belmonte: Because I can’t allow myself, I guess, morally to go for the those lowest common denominators just to get attention. And I really feel like community is kind of all we’ve got.
You know, our neighborhoods and who we are with each other as human beings is, is all we’ve got.
It’s what ultimately ends up being the most important to people. And if we can better connect our neighborhoods, and then better connect the 413 to the other individual neighborhoods, and exploring the different parts that we might not have known about.
I just today learned an interesting piece of of of history from this area that I’m eager to explore.
So that’s the kind of thing – that’s why I feel like it’s all that really matters.
Kaliis Smith: Yeah. I mean, at the base of of like everything that we’re looking at and everything that, that we’re making, like is community and making those bonds stronger.
Like whether it be through arts and culture, or just simple conversations with people doing interesting things, or like rediscovering cool things about our neighborhoods that we weren’t aware of, like, really just like getting to the foundation of the stuff that draws us together is kind of the point.
Zydalis Bauer: And so speaking to that point, what do you hope that the audience gets out of this new radio show? What are you looking for the community to take from it?
Kaliis Smith: Go out and find something new you love about where you live. Because there’s always something new to discover.
There’s no way you know everything about what’s here. And hopefully we can help you a little bit in that.
Monte Belmonte: And it’s always exciting for me to hear the feedback of if I had a guest on the air that had a book out and they had a big event in regards to their book release that, “Oh, I heard about you on the radio and then our event was sold out.”
So it’s this culture building culture. So the radio itself becomes part of the curators of culture in the area, and then other people hear about it, then they go out and experience that culture and it becomes this kind of revolving door of of giving a feedback loop within the community.
Zydalis Bauer: Yeah, I know you want to set it up as a reciprocal relationship.
And so what are you looking for from the community as part of the show?
Monte Belmonte: I want to hear the ideas of things that we haven’t thought about yet.
So we’ve been spending the last couple of days and weeks coming up with things that we can talk about going forward in the future for a five day a week show.
I’m sure there is tons of stones that we’ve left unturned. And so, when people hear about this being something that will be on the airwaves relatively shortly, I hope that they’ll reach out and say, did you know that XYZ happened in Chicopee in 1944, you know, that kind of thing. And – and bring those stories to us so that we can go and cover them.
In addition to the fact, we’re hoping to have live audience interaction.
I think that’s another great thing that radio does, which it becomes a real time sounding board, and it’s usually a lot kinder than social media.
Kaliis Smith: That’s not a phrase comes to mind about bars and floors. Yeah.
Monte Belmonte: Yeah. So being able to interact with the audience in real time, especially if there’s a big news story that’s happened that day, and for the audience to be able to interact and, and reach a wider audience than just their kitchen tables, I think it’s an interesting opportunity.
Zydalis Bauer: So for those listeners who are familiar with “Mornings with Monte,” they’ve gotten used to the familiar voices of the guests that you’ve had on over the years.
Will listeners of this new show be able to recognize some of those voices, will there be new voices on the show?
Monte Belmonte: Both, first of all, Kaliis Smith and her nerd watch became a very popular segment and the waning days of the show on “The River” and she will continue to nerd out on this show.
Kaliis Smith: There will always be new board games and I will pretty much always get them.
Monte Belmonte: I have a resident astronomer, Salman Hameed, from Hampshire College, who’s eager to participate.
Again, the word nerd from Merriam-Webster, Emily Brewster.
I’m hoping to talk about food and wine with wine snobs up and down the valley.
I have had a regular standing chat with Congressman Jim McGovern, “Mcgoverning with McGovern,” I called it, which was a way for the audience to ask one of their congresspeople questions.
So that and more, I hope.