Remembering KCRW’s Matt Holzman, curator of Matt’s Movies and host of The Document

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It’s hard to think about KCRW without Matt Holzman; the Long Beach-born, UC Santa Barbara computer science major-turned Anderson Consultant based in Chicago. He found that corporate work wasn’t really for him and made his way back to Southern California and into a tiny, public radio station that had about 20 employees. Matt started as a board operator and, like so many of us in those days, he made the job for himself that didn’t yet exist, but that needed to be done.

The KCRW Underwriting Department was Matt’s creation. He raised money expertly because he was genuine. And funny. And sometimes mean and excessively creative — and always engaging. I remember when Matt fired himself from that job. He wanted to be a radio producer. So he quit and after a few days was rehired, at a much lower salary, to become an audio storyteller. One of his first stories was about a young man whose kidney disease left him on punishing dialysis three days a week in a five year-long wait for a donor kidney. That man was Matt. He got a call while he was in line for a ride at Disneyland that some very precious cargo was waiting for him.

There were two eras of Matt: Dialysis Matt and donor-kidney Matt. The donor kidney gave Matt the vigor you always knew was in him. To see him not sick was truly joyful. He grabbed life and lived it — even traveling to Ghana and India soon after his transplant when many on immunosuppressant drugs wouldn’t dream of it. 

As an audio storyteller Matt was always brilliant. In the earliest days he was the one who would call people to tell them they won a sweepstakes prize during our Drive. Those were recorded and edited down into something memorable. Everyone wanted to get a call from Matt Holzman.

He was the first producer of a KCRW show, The Business, and told stories of Hollywood. He created Matt’s Movies, a film club for members that grew into a true community of film lovers featuring Matt interviewing directors and producers. We asked him to produce and direct Press Play with Madeleine Brand when it first started. He argued, questioned, pushed and demanded and the show was better for it.

The Document was a podcast idea that Matt created taking his two loves of documentary filmmaking and audio storytelling. He described it “like if a documentary and a radio show had a baby.”  He worked so hard making that show something, and it became a kind of center at KCRW for documentary storytellers. Matt’s Movies changed into The Document screening series and, once again, Matt created something that didn’t exist before.

Matt was one of the first people I met at KCRW when I started as a volunteer. He knew how to make people feel welcome and he knew how to be a really good friend.  He was mine and I am lucky to have had him in my life. I'm crushed writing this and I'm going to miss him so very much.

Many people shaped KCRW into what it is today. Matt Holzman’s imprint won’t be forgotten. It’s in the voices who emulated him, the producers he trained, and the people who he pulled towards him like a magnet.

The news of his stage IV cancer diagnosis last fall was shocking. Definitive and unforgiving, there was not much else to say about it. He handled it with such openness. He was scared and worried more about being a patient again — as he had on those years of dialysis — than about the death part. Years ago, he volunteered at a hospice and helped people die. For someone who knew the indignity of being cared for, losing control and feeling like a burden, Matt made everyone who cared for him feel heard and a little more okay about all this.

He found love around the time of his diagnosis which gave him monumental happiness. His partner Adria Kloke was with him until the end.

Like any good producer, Matt knew when to say goodbye. That was today, with his family and love around him, Sunday, April 12, 2020. 

Listen to some of Matt’s work below:

Bad is Good
A theater artist in the throes of a mid-life crisis takes a job directing a dated Neil Simon musical on tour through India. He brings along a filmmaker to document the experience — and it all goes downhill from there.

Arctic in Residence
An international group of scientists and artists set sail for the Arctic. They were bound for a group of frozen Norwegian islands halfway between the top of continental Europe and the North Pole. Matt Holzman joined the adventure.

Never Built

Matt Holzman produced a series for KCRW's DnA that took an in-depth look the A+D Museum's Never Built exhibition, which revealed ambitious plans that never came to fruition: Santa Monica's island, a housing development in Chavez Ravine, and DisneySea in Long Beach.  

Celebrating Turkey Day on Catalina Island
Matt Holzman shared his experience of sailing to Catalina Island each year on Thanksgiving Day.

Ministry of Presence
On this episode of UnFictional, Matt Holzman produced the story of a man who called the Death House his office. Carroll Pickett observed 95 executions as a minister at the Walls Prison unit in Huntsville, Texas; and after each one he recorded his own thoughts about sitting with a condemned man on his last day. 

The End of the Endless Summer

For The Document, Matt Holzman produced a piece on "The Endless Summer," an innocent little film about the idyllic world of surfing in the '60s. A funny, super cool and sometimes corny story of two young dudes traveling around the world in search of the perfect wave, the movie was less about surfing and more about the surf lifestyle. It kickstarted the boom in surfing and surf travel when it become a huge crossover hit, but also played a part in destroying the thing it so lovingly documented.