Spreading his wings: Former WRSI radio host Monte Belmonte heads to New England Public Media


Staff Writer

Published: 01-05-2023 6:30 AM

SPRINGFIELD — Last month, when he stepped down from WRSI 93.9 The River after nearly 17 years hosting a morning show at the station, Christopher “Monte” Belmonte said he was not stepping away from radio. But the popular radio personality wasn’t ready to say what his next move might be.

But now it’s official: Belmonte, of Turners Falls, will return to the airwaves next month at New England Public Media (NEPM), where he’ll host and produce a new daily show and podcast — just not in the morning.

The show, not yet titled or specifically scheduled, will draw on Belmonte’s experience interviewing a variety of people, taking listeners’ calls, and in general using humor and insight to explore different corners of Valley life.

“I think this will be a great opportunity to find more of those stories across a broader range of western Massachusetts,” he said Wednesday. “I’ve been listening to New England Public Media for years, I really admire what they do, and to be a part of that is just a great opportunity.”

Matt Abramovitz, NEPM’s president, said he’s been a big admirer of Belmonte in turn, not just for his skill as an announcer and radio personality but for his engagement in the community.

“When I took this job last February, I started asking around about who the good broadcasters were in the area,” Abramovitz said. “Who were the [radio personalities] who were really tuned in to the community? And everyone I spoke to mentioned Monte.”

Abramovitz said he soon tuned into Belmonte’s WRSI The River show and quickly became a fan. The two met last spring, and Belmonte also said he did some work for one of NEPM’s television affiliates, WGBY, and got to know Abramovitz through events such as NEPM’s annual Asparagus Festival in Hadley.

Bringing Belmonte, 44, to NEPM became “a long courtship,” Abramovitz said with a laugh.

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The idea also came as a result of some public outreach sessions the organization held last year, in which they asked listeners what kind of additional programming they wanted NEPM to provide.

“People were really interested in more local content and stories,” he noted. “That was something Monte could provide, and he could do that for a bigger audience with us.”

As much as he enjoyed doing his morning show at WRSI, Belmonte said the unorthodox hours of his former job wore him down over the years; he would typically be up by about 2-2:30 a.m. to prepare for the 6 a.m. start of the program.

“I woke up this morning just about the time my old show would have been ending,” he said with a laugh. “What a strange feeling.”

Whereas the listening audience for WRSI extends primarily from Northampton to southern Vermont and New Hampshire, Belmonte and Abramovitz note, NEPM’s range extends to the Berkshires, down to Hartford, Connecticut, and to Worcester.

As such, Belmonte said he’s looking to do stories from Hampden and Berkshire counties, while still bringing on some of his regular guests from his days at WRSI. And, he noted, he can focus all his attention on interviews; there will be no records to spin on the new show as there were at WRSI.

He’ll maintain a connection to the station, though: Kaliis Smith, a regular guest on Belmonte’s old show and a weekday evening host herself at WRSI, will become the NEPM show’s digital producer and will join Belmonte on air.

Smith, who’s also a writer, as well as a guitarist in a number of Valley bands, “is the hardest working person I know,” said Belmonte. Abramovitz said she’ll be a great addition to the NEPM show.

“When I was talking to Monte earlier last year, I was saying ‘What about Kaliis?’ ” he said. ” ‘You guys have such a great rapport. Let’s make her part of this.’ ”

Abramovitz said Belmonte’s show is slated to begin in mid-February and will be an hour long, at least at the start: “We’re still brainstorming about the details.”

And Belmonte says he’s doing additional brainstorming for his initial round of stories, stockpiling ideas, thinking about new guests and how he can make the NEPM gig unique. You can email him with suggestions at Monte@nepm.org.

“The technology of the radio may be over the airwaves, but it’s really about light — shining a light on the community,” he said. “It’s an honor for me to have the opportunity to do that.”

Steve Pfarrer can be reached at spfarrer@gazettenet.com.