A lifelong adventurer, Matt Holzman became the heart and soul of KCRW, but not before attending UCSB and parties on Kinevan Ranch, where this photo was taken before the dancing to Jah-B-One commenced. | Credit: Matt Perko

Matt Holzman: 1963-2020

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If you noticed something missing from our FM radio airwaves in the past month, it was the voice of Matt Holzman — a voice described as the heart and soul of KCRW radio.

I met Matt when he was 19 years old. He was down the hallway when I moved into a UCSB dorm on a fall afternoon. Matt and his roommate Rob Babbush seemed years older than me; they were returning for their sophomore year and, in comparison to us froshies surrounded by tearful parents and siblings, they appeared calm and all-knowing.

Matt was a computer science major. Not one person at UCSB would have guessed that he would end up as the soul of public radio. But there were signs of his future: He loved stories. His favorite childhood book was The Twenty-one Balloons by William Pène du Bois about a teacher who found himself on a great adventure.

Adventuring was Matt’s way to create future stories, and in this way, his college work was prolific. There was pounding on my door on week-day mornings “Wake up! We’re going to the snow!” Any resistance was met with a persuasive argument. “We are young, this is college, I will drive so you can study!” While I was not always won over by Matt’s skillful argumentation, his persuasion led to hidden rope swings on the Ellwood bluffs, sailing trips, and rock concerts on nights that always seemed right before exams and due dates.

I wasn’t empathetic enough, at age 18, to understand the emotions that Matt was juggling as a young man living with a condition known as Polycystic Kidney Disease (PKD). It is easy now to understand his bursts of joy, anger, and the way he surveyed a room as if looking for an exit.

After receiving a donated kidney, he became more focused and less frenetic. But he maintained his ability to exult in the moment. When he visited Santa Barbara some 15 years after he graduated, we went on a nostalgic walking tour of Isla Vista and came upon a flower stand on the Embarcadero Loop. It was late in the afternoon and the magic-hour sun illuminated the stand and the flower vendor, a young woman in a cotton sundress who was casually dragging on a joint. The sight of the flowers and the beautiful flower vendor so excited Matt that he jumped to the ground as if commanded to do 10 pushups. He made a loud kissing noise and popped back up, exclaiming to the surprised flower seller — “I LOVE Isla Vista!”

Matt’s death on Easter Sunday has been memorialized in multiple publications and across the radio waves in Los Angeles. Within hours of his passing, I marveled at a river of Twitter posts and comments. Matt had created and built passionate communities. Those of us who know Matt from Santa Barbara gathered virtually to dig up photos and share links to tributes in Variety, the L.A. Times, and a number of film sites.

KCRW replayed many of Matt’s radio pieces. My favorite is his telling of his harrowing experience on the day he received a donated kidney. Coincidentally, there’s a research team at UC Santa Barbara working on unraveling the mechanisms behind PKD, the hereditary disease that affects hundreds of thousands in the US alone.

Thirty-five years after graduation, I had what would be my final adventure with Matt. We loaded up bicycles and pedaled up the coast for some camping and catching up. I had just completed seven weeks of cancer treatment and felt elated to be doing what I love with a treasured friend. We walked the shoreline, swam out over the colorful kelp forest, and biked to the El Capitan Canyon camp store for breakfast burritos. Matt loved his hammock and slept late into both mornings looking like a baby marsupial surrounded by a cozy down quilt.

Matt Holzman told stories for national and international radio audiences. Those of us lucky enough to have had Matt as a friend know that he created thousands of memorable stories; he pounded on our dorm room doors, took us on adventures down ski slopes and across ocean passages. He cajoled us to join him on the dance floor, and he helped us enjoy the moment. He will be in our ears and in our hearts forever.

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