23 May Matthews begins next chapter
by Levi Gilbert
Mike Kemp photo
In many ways, it just seemed inevitable that Jeff Matthews would give his professional life over fully to Conway Corporation. Matthews was born in Conway but moved to Duncan, Okla., when he was 4. After graduating from high school in Enid, he moved back to Conway and joined the workforce, getting his first start in radio at KTOD-FM (now KASR). That radio experience eventually led to a 14-year career at B98.5 FM in Little Rock.
Now, Matthews will serve as public relations coordinator at Conway Corporation, fulfilling the life-long pull to serve the city of Conway.
“I had a desire to work for what I think is the most respected company in this city of Conway,” Matthews said. “I didn’t pick to be born here, but everybody is from some place. This company provides so much to this city. For some reason in the 1950s, my grandfather decided he would take a job at this city off Highway 64. My other grandfather decided when he came back from the war that he was going to put his roots down in Conway. From where I work at Conway Corporation, I can see the church where all of my family were baptized and married.
“Those decisions generations ago led to our parents meeting here and having me and my sister. Conway was always a base for me, and I always knew the name Conway Corporation. It’s the constant in this city. These dominoes all had to fall for me to be as passionate as I am about a city that I missed growing up, but I get it now.”
One of the skills Matthews brings into the new job is one that he honed during his many years working with his Morning Rush co-host, Lisa Fischer, on B98.5 FM.
“You have to be a good listener,” Matthews said. “That’s lost on a lot of people. In every industry — this isn’t exclusive to radio — people just don’t tend to listen enough. They wait for silence and then say what they were thinking the whole time the other person was talking. My focus is validating someone’s words enough by listening. I hope people know that I’m giving value to their words by listening.
“I have a tremendous amount of respect for Lisa. We were such a good balance. She’s her. She’s a character. She carries her heart on her sleeve. She used to joke that she was the Howard Stern of the two of us. That was great because I never desired to be that. Early on, it took a little while to accept that I have an ability to do the job and that I didn’t have to be intimidated. It was a challenge, but we got past that pretty quick, in large part thanks to her.”
As he transitions into his new role, Matthews will continue to approach the work the same way he did day-in and day-out at the radio station — show up, work hard and listen. This approach — which he learned from his parents — served him well in his previous career.
“My mom is one of the most thoughtful, loving, patient people I’ve ever known,” Matthews said. “Those were characteristics that I want to have in my personal life. I want it to come through in my professional life. She molded that in me. She’s a great listener. What my dad continues to teach me is work ethic, focus and task completion. That target is moving. I’ve just learned that that’s what he did. He was a cowboy in Conway, but he took an oil field job in Oklahoma because it was the best opportunity for us.
“It’s hard work, focus and all those things. In this role, and in the previous role, you had to have both. I have the work ethic and focus and the ability to listen and relate to people. It takes all of these things in the next chapter.”
Matthews has developed camaraderie with the citizens of Conway, both through the airwaves of B98.5 and as the play-by-play announcer for Conway High football and basketball the last 14 years on Conway Corporation’s Channel 5 Sports. Stepping away from his early love — radio — was difficult. But ultimately, his love for his three children (Mary Grace, 11; Ellie, 9; and Beckett, 6) and his love for the city of Conway made making the move into this new phase of life an easy decision for Matthews.
“I’m learning the pacing of a new life,” Matthews said. “In the past I said that I felt like I was living my dream by working in radio, but now I’ve got a new dream. I thought I wanted to do that, and I did for a while. Now the most important thing in the world for me is that I’m able to be there for my children. It’s not like I’m missing my dream — it’s just different. Honestly, I feel like that chapter has ended, and there’s nothing that I’m heartbroken over. This chapter has begun.
“I hope that I have gathered the trust of people by being transparent on the air. That’s the thing about radio — you opt in every day. For people who chose to listen, they heard someone who loved Conway. I’m someone who has genuinely been interviewing for this position for a long time. For the 14 years I’ve been on the air, I’ve built a trust with the community and the people who work here. I’m going to get to help tell our company’s story.”
Originally from Johnson County, Levi Gilbert now calls Conway home. A 2010 graduate of the University of Central Arkansas, Levi became involved with 501 LIFE in its early days and now serves as the magazine’s associate editor. He and his wife, Brittany, have two sons. Follow Levi on Twitter for more local 501 stories. Send him story ideas at [email protected].