Growing up in Montclair, N.J., Matt DeVoti dreamed of doing three things as a child: playing for the New York Yankees, broadcasting on the radio and being deeply involved in the Catholic Church. The first of those aspirations proved to be unattainable, but DeVoti spent 38 years from his beginning at WSOU living out the second. After a lifetime of faith, DeVoti is on his way to truly actualizing the third.
DeVoti has been studying in the Seton Hall seminary for the past two years alongside 24 other men who aim to receive ordination as deacons in the spring of 2020. For a radio professional that once set the stage for Led Zeppelin on WNEW-FM, or spent sun-filled Memorial Days on the Asbury Park beaches with a crowd of 30,000-40,000 ravenous young rock listeners, the Book of John may not have been the first guess for DeVoti’s favorite verse.
DeVoti actually chose Seton Hall for its seminary and originally was pursuing a lifetime in faith before his passion for radio and the temptations of the most storied college radio station in America won him over.
“About a year into it I switched majors,” DeVoti said. “I figured, you know, it wasn’t the perfect match for me at that time. The program was unbelievably rewarding, what I did, it stuck with me to this day. But, the other thing was, Seton Hall had a tremendous radio station.”
That radio station is WSOU, the 2016 Marconi-Award winning non-commercial station that began in the shadows of World War II when the FCC approved the 2,200 watts that allowed Wireless South Orange University the capacity to reach distances that few other college radio stations can reach.
Coming to WSOU as a sophomore, DeVoti knew he was behind most of his peers. He needed to catch up, but that proved to be little problem given the passion he had. Being involved with the station went from a part-time endeavor to something he ate, slept and breathed, from club to full-time passion project.
“I would guess, any group, you name it: sports, any club, or whatever, there’s those that just are really into it, those that are having some fun, and those that are just along for the ride,” DeVoti said. “I was in the group that was really into it.
“So, I’ve actually, along with other people through the years that I’ve heard say the same thing, ‘Where’d you go to college?,’ and they slip and say, ‘WSOU. Oh, no, I went to Seton Hall, I was on the radio station.’ Because, that was such a heavy…part of my week.”
WSOU allowed DeVoti to reach the place he had his eyes set on from the beginning of his radio pursuit: New York. The Big Apple had the hypnotic energy that drew him to push for more, from being a disc-jockey on WNEW to eventually rising to Production Director at WAXQ, otherwise known as Q104.3, before becoming the Marketing and Promotions Director at WNEW.
“I think the first time I said, ‘Here’s Led Zeppelin on 102.7, WNEW-FM in New York,’ you know, and I started that song, and I shut the mic off, I just stood back and was like, ‘Woah, did I just, did that really just happen!?,’” DeVoti said. “To put it back in the Yankee terminology, it’s the rookie that comes out all of a sudden, hits a grand slam, and the whole place is, you know, standing there and applauding.”
The late 1980s proved to be a much different setting than the radio scene he walked into just a half-decade earlier, let alone 1990s and 2000s. By 2006, DeVoti was still passionate as ever, but had an offer presented to leave New York and work for WDHA in Morristown, N.J., an opportunity that he could not pass up at the time.
“At the time, my son was just in, like, seventh grade, and I thought, I missed a lot of his grammar school years,” DeVoti said. “I said, ‘I want to see him get through high school, and my daughter get through high school, so, give me those years.’ And it turned out to be fantastic.”
Around that time was the 60th anniversary of WSOU, when DeVoti and many of the alumni were gathered together. It was a time to celebrate, but also a time to contemplate, what was missing from the station?
“A classmate of mine, Glen Schuck and I, were both invited to join the advisory board,” DeVoti said. “So, five years later was the 65th anniversary…and I can’t believe that, no one had really thought about this until then, 65 years into it, but, there was no scholarship for a student.”
The WSOU Student Scholarship Fund arose from that, an effort which quickly reached its $50,000 benchmark, guaranteeing $2,000 in interest every year. The advertisements from the program can be heard during every Seton Hall basketball game, with DeVoti’s now synonymous lines and delivery beginning with, ‘Hey Pirate fans.’
“It’s funny, because…that PSA that I cut, has to be three or four years old now,” DeVoti said. “And I keep telling [Mark] Maben (WSOU’s General Manager) I had a sore throat when I did that, I want to re-cut it. And he goes, ‘No, it sounds fine.’”
While making an impact with WSOU may be what most know him for in South Orange, DeVoti is also in the process of becoming a deacon, so that he can leave a lasting impact in his parish. It is a pursuit that has always been inside him, even if the longtime radio professional has to pinch himself when standing next to his brothers in prayer.
“Sometimes I question, ‘Why am I with these guys that are so much better than me?’” DeVoti said. “There’s a couple guys I just look at them and go, ‘This guy is a walking saint, I shouldn’t even be in the same room. I’m the guy that used to play Led Zeppelin, remember? How did this happen!?’.”
James Justice can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JamesJusticeIII.