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Passim’s Matt Smith brings his love of local music to the airwaves

Matt Smith hopes to give listeners "a taste of something they already love, but leading them into something they don’t know about yet."
Matt Smith hopes to give listeners "a taste of something they already love, but leading them into something they don’t know about yet."Abby Altman

It feels like a match made in New England music heaven.

Matt Smith, the managing director of Club Passim who has booked thousands of acts at the Cambridge club in the last quarter century, is now also an WMVY-FM DJ, spinning local tunes each week for the station’s “Local Music Café” program.

“To me, the absolute joy in this is hoping to find some new favorites for somebody,” said Smith. “And to show my own tastes beyond what I program at Passim — this is an opportunity to spread those wings.”

Smith, who will run the show out of his Somerville home, took over the weekly local music program from longtime host Alison Hammond in February.

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He’ll stick with Hammond’s focus on New England artists. The show airs Tuesdays at 9 p.m., repeating Sundays at 8 p.m. via mvyradio.org, and broadcasts to the Cape and Islands on 88.7 FM, and in Newport, R.I., on 96.5 FM. You can listen to Smith’s first shows via MVYRADIO.org/archives.

Since 1983, Martha’s Vineyard’s eclectic independent station has long been a gem of local folk-rock radio. You’re apt to hear Neil Young, Sarah Jarosz, Loretta Lynn, and Dawes in one set.

We caught up with Smith to talk radio, local music, and what the DJ has planned.

Q. “Local Music Cafe” seems like a perfect fit for you. How did this come about?

A. Jess Phaneuf, who works [as music director] at MVYRadio, and I have known each other for many years. Jess reached out to me in the fall just to see if this is something I’d be interested in. And I am someone who is an avid and endless music fan; for me it’s all about discovery. Not to be vain, but people have been saying to me for years, “You’ve got a great radio voice.” [Laughs]

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Q. And who will you play as you start out?

A. A lot of folks from the Club Passim scene that I’ve grown to know over the years, like Mark Erelli, Dinty Child, Kris Delmhorst, Alisa Amador. I’m also branching out to folks I haven’t programmed at Passim, but who I think are great New England-based music, like Future Teens, Vundabar. I’m trying to make it not so much about the kinds of things I program at Club Passim but more a celebration of all kinds of music in New England.

Q. Who are some of your favorite Massachusetts artists right now?

A. Some of the ones I mentioned, like Mark Erelli. Dietrich Strause. Alisa Amador. Kaiti Jones. We are lucky to have a robust scene of incredible talent. In Western Mass., there’s Wallace Field. Izzy Heltai is a favorite. Peter Mulvey lives out there. I’ve been just going through my hard-drive and going, “What about this? What about this? I need to put this on!”

It’s my first time being a radio DJ, so I’m all about just wanting to put a bunch of music on the radio [laughs]. Then I can calm down and start to think: OK, how do I put together a show, and what does that look like? The flow of a show, how to position songs to make them interesting to the listener and open their ears up so they can get a little taste of something they already love, but leading them into something they don’t know about yet.

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I was thinking of putting together a show of people who have worked at Passim as staff. Lake Saint Daniel, Olivia Barton, Lay Low Moon on the North Shore. Julian Loida, who does outreach programming, is an amazing vibraphone player. Liv Greene, Sadie Gustafson-Zook, Rachel Sumner, who runs our school of music, Grace Givertz. We’ve put together shows at the Club before of just Passim staff.

Q. I grew up with MVY — my family always had it on in the house and car. How do you see the future of radio?

A. I think there’s always going to be terrestrial radio in one way or another. There’s something about having a person playing music for you, as opposed to putting Spotify on shuffle. Curated content is missing in a lot of today’s world. Having that trust, of someone that’s going to take you on a journey, is such a cool thing.

Q. Who are some favorites when you consider all of New England?

A. People like Vance Gilbert, Ellis Paul, Dar Williams. Kris Delmhorst, Rose Polenzani. There’s a whole new crop of folks, like Alisa Amador, Kaiti Jones, Hayley Sabella, that are on the rise. I also want to pull in people like Tom Rush, Jim Kweskin — people who are hitting 80 and still out making music. Music is not of a time. It lives on.

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Lauren Daley can be reached at ldaley33@gmail.com. Follow her on Twitter @laurendaley1.