A Voice You’ve Probably HeardPublished: August 15, 2011
You’ve probably heard Mat Kaplan’s voice—you just may not know it.
Many consider his the “first voice” of the Long Beach Aquarium, though he admits that is very unofficial.
“I met with founding president of the aquarium, Warren Iliff, and told him we could do a radio series on (campus radio station) KLON telling people about this great new facility opening up,” said Kaplan, the senior director for Technology and Development in the College of Continuing and Professional Education (CCPE). “The feature was called “SeaNote” and we aired them for two-and-a-half years.” Kaplan’s voice lives on for the aquarium, partially through a podcast series called AquaCast.
Currently, he hosts “ContainerCast,” a monthly podcast on behalf of CSULB’s Center for International Trade and Transportation which features CCPE’s director of research Thomas O’Brien; and “TransCast” for the METRANS University Transportation Center (a partnership of USC and CSULB), where Kaplan interviews individuals associated with the transportation industry.
Also, he does voice work for the American Red Cross in Long Beach and has served as the behind-the-scenes announcer for its Hometown Heroes program. More recently, he has taken over the on-stage hosting duties for the event.
“That is just an amazing thing,” said Kaplan of the Red Cross event. “People are nominated—civilians or off duty public safety professionals—who have done something heroic. I’ve hosted now three times on stage and get to tell what these people did to attempt to rescue somebody. Their stories are very dramatic and humbling.”
In addition, he has served as the voice of CSU Notes for the chancellor’s office, a series covering the CSU and its campuses; done voiceover work with local cable companies; has hosted shows on Pasadena City College radio station KPCC; and, of course, has lent his vocal abilities to numerous CSULB productions during his 27 years on campus.
With all that, and more, on his résumé, it’s easy to reason that if the city of Long Beach had an official voice, the argument could be made it belongs to Kaplan, though he shies away from such an accolade.
His first taste of broadcasting came at Narbonne High School in Harbor City, where at lunchtime, he and a partner got on the public address system—with permission—and played records and talked in between songs.
Upon graduation, he entered USC and worked on its radio station, not as an on-air talent, but rather as the board operator. “Basically, I turned the knobs while other people talked,” he said, “but I learned a lot.” He then transferred to UC Irvine and by his own admission, was much happier there.
“I fell in love with the campus and when I found out it had a radio station (KUCI) that was it,” said Kaplan. “Plus, they were going to open a TV department and I already had some TV training from USC, so I spent all of my time either at the radio station or the campus TV studio.”
Getting in front of a microphone was not as easy as one might think for Kaplan because “I was way too shy and insecure.” The first time he ever did a radio program of his own on KUCI, he admits, “I was the world’s worst DJ.”
With support and gained confidence, however, Kaplan blossomed and eventually became the station’s co-manager and did a regular talk show and radio dramas.
From there he had a job in commercial radio while also doing video production for an audio visual company in Anaheim. He then landed a gig at KOCM, based in Newport Beach’s Fashion Island.
“The Sounds of the Harbor,” he said. “It was elevator music and it was mostly an automated station. I had something to do roughly once an hour and the rest of the time I could read the paper. I didn’t get paid much, but I read a lot.”
But, like most individuals, Kaplan eventually had bills to pay so he got a job with the Long Beach Unified School District heading up its video production studio. That became his connection to CSULB radio station KLON (now known as KKJZ), which at the time was in its original studio at the Pacific Coast Campus of Long Beach City College (LBCC).
“There were these beautiful studios and one of them had been remodeled as a TV studio. The staff of KLON shared the space with the TV staff of Long Beach Unified,” remembered Kaplan. “That’s how I got into KLON and started doing radio there.” After that, he worked for cable in Long Beach doing public access and helped the city of Lakewood start up its public and municipal access channels before being hired by CSULB.
When KLON moved to the CSULB campus from LBCC, Kaplan was still pretty heavily involved.
“When I got hired by CSULB (in 1984 as the director of University Television) I thought since I would be right across the quad from KLON I would be over there all the time,” he said, “but I became too busy and didn’t get to do much of anything.”
A space enthusiast since his youth, Kaplan had the opportunity to become involved at the Planetary Society in Pasadena, an organization that has research projects related to astronomy and space exploration. He was a volunteer during the 1990s, and even worked for the organization for a six-month period back in 1999.
“My plan was to leave CSULB altogether, but Dean Bob Behm wouldn’t let me go, thankfully,” said Kaplan. “After six months he said, ‘Are you ready to come back?’” Returning to CSULB full-time, Kaplan was happy to slip back into his volunteer status at the Planetary Society.
“Things got better there and now they are doing pretty well,” added Kaplan, who was recently honored with CSULB’s Community Service Award for staff, “and I’ve been doing the radio show for them along with other projects. It’s very rewarding work.”
The radio show is called Planetary Radio, a weekly 30-minute show devoted to space exploration and astronomy. It’s the kind of opportunity that doesn’t come around too often, one where Kaplan was able to combine two of his life’s passions.
“I have been a space nut for as long as I can remember,” said Kaplan. ”Now I get to do a radio show about space. Two of my favorite things in the world—radio and space. I think, man, nobody else gets to do this.
“Most of my Sundays go to Planetary Radio because it takes on average five to six hours to take all the bits of the show and put them together on the computer,” added Kaplan, “and then send it out in five different file formats because of the different ways that people hear it.”
The show began on just a single outlet, Kaplan’s old campus radio station KUCI, but now people are hearing it all around the world.
“We weren’t really working at getting it on other radio stations, but somehow other stations heard about it,” said Kaplan. “They contacted me and said ‘Can we run your show?’ Soon we were aired by five stations, then 12; and eventually I think we were up to about 20.”
Looking to cast an even wider net, they hired a PR agency that did work specifically for public radio.
“I said to them, ‘If we get on 100 radio stations that would be amazing,’” recalled Kaplan. “Well, they got us on 120 and now we are on about 150.”
And then, from out of the blue, Kaplan received a call from the Sirius XM satellite radio. They wanted to make the show part of their programming, so now it can be heard on the XM Public Radio channel.
“Nowadays, most of the mail we get is from people who listen to our podcasts,” said Kaplan, “and that, of course, comes from listeners all over the world. It is the most amazing thing. We get mail from Iran and Poland and lots of listeners in Australia. It’s incredible. It’s great fun, it’s a blast. Like I said, it’s space and radio.”
What more could a space nut with a good voice ask for?
Toughest Announcing Job Ever?
Asked if he has overcome his early days of stage fright, Kaplan said, “No, and I probably never will, but it doesn’t keep me from getting up there.”
He then recalled the one announcing job he took on that he said tested his nerves more than any other.
“The thing that terrified me more than anything else I’ve done, was when I was asked to narrate the ‘Lincoln Portrait’ by Aaron Copland. It’s Copland’s wonderful orchestral tribute to Abraham Lincoln that the CSULB symphony orchestra decided to do, and the conductor was told by somebody ‘You should ask Mat Kaplan to narrate it.’ Copland wrote a script with excerpts of several Lincoln speeches into the score. Really, I was never so scared in my life because I felt that if I screwed up I’d be letting down the conductor, the orchestra, Copland and Abraham Lincoln himself! There was just one performance about 10 years ago and it actually went well, but I had a total panic attack up until just before the music began.”
The piece Kaplan referred to is known as “A Lincoln Portrait,” a classical orchestral work written by the American composer Aaron Copland as part of the World War II patriotic war effort in 1942. The work involves a full orchestra, with particular emphasis on the brass section at climactic moments. The work is narrated with the reading of excerpts of Abraham Lincoln’s great documents, including the Gettysburg Address.