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FEATURE

The Force of Radio

Metropolis has Batman. Gotham has Superman. Jacksonville, NC, has the Jacksonville Ninja.

In many ways, Robert Mattocks is a local celebrity who embodies traits of many traditional caped-crusaders: He carries an air of mystique, vigilance and, yes, even athletic prowess. Yet, the most unique quality he possesses is something neither Batman nor Superman ever attained: unanimous popularity within the community.

Known under the guise of many aliases, “The Jacksonville Ninja” and “Radio” included, Mattocks frequently can be found practicing martial arts routines in front of Applebee’s on the corner of Highway 17 and Western Boulevard. His uniform is consistent: wire-frame glasses, bare chest, athletic pants and a boom box—the famed accessory which earned him the “Radio” moniker, which he readily adopted as his own.
But who is Robert Mattocks?

For 17 years, Mattocks has resided in Jacksonville, after relocating from nearby Belgrade to Onslow County for medical reasons. In his youth, he sustained a severe eye injury while jumping rope. Fortunately, Radio has family members in town.

“My aunts and cousins live around here,” he says one day while practicing his Judo choreography street-side. “They look out for me.”

He began his diurnal dancing and Judo routines simply because he liked doing them. Radio was introduced to Judo while attending high school. He fell in love with the sport and has committed countless hours to his avocation.

“When I’m out there, I just get into the zone—I get focused,” he muses. “If I don’t dance for more than a day, the people start to worry about me.”

After checking his Facebook fan-created page, with over 22,000 members, nonetheless, one will learn that Radio speaks the truth. Appearing on the fan-page wall are postings asking if anyone has seen him on a day when he did not appear at his intersection. The language suggests local residents have a genuine interest in his well-being. Fans also frequently contribute Radio reconnaissance posts, indicating when and where they have spotted him.

Consuelo Magdalena: “Just saw you riding a bike!”

Meghann JacobsSchumann: “He is at the mall allot [sic]. Such a nice man. I invited him to run the Outer Banks half-marathon with me in November and he accepted. I can’t wait. Such a wonderful man and part of human nature.”

Leslie Mooney: “Where is the ninja??? I’m moving and I want a pic with him before I leave!”

Radio’s brash display of Judo acumen has made him wildly popular; now, it helps provide a small stipend. In fact, Ethridge Furniture pays him once weekly to carry an advertisement for their establishment on his 16-mile trek around town. During Radio’s daily cruises, he says he has time to ponder life.

“I just think about how God loves everybody,” he says. “And I think about how I wish everybody would be good to everybody.” Radio believes this mantra so whole-heartedly he even had the word “Everybody” tattooed across his forearm.

Larry Padrick, of Ethridge Furniture, speaks highly of him. It is clear that Padrick cares about his well being, which led him to ask Radio to hold signs for Ethridge.

“Everyone loves Radio,” Padrick says. “He’s very honest—I can tell you that. Last weekend I asked him how many hours he worked and he said, ‘Well, it rained for an hour and a half, so I went into Applebee’s.’ Now, he didn’t have to tell me that.”

Lindsay Sholl, the assistant general manger for Applebee’s, also extols Radio’s virtues. “We love him,” she notes. “He’s great for the town. He’ll hold signs for us when we have a fund-raiser. Last year, we rose close to $11,000 for the Jimmy V. Foundation for Cancer Research, thanks to [his help] with the car wash.”

In trade for his assistance, the management gladly gives Radio food and drink on the house whenever he needs a reprieve from his strenuous Judo routines. “He’s just a cool dude!” E.B., a server at Applebee’s, exclaims. As his fans watch in their air-conditioned cars during the dog days of summer, Radio gyrates and karate kicks with the greatest of ease.

While taking a lap around the Jacksonville Mall on a particularly hot August day, Radio readily poses for pictures with several dozen fans. He’s approached constantly for autographs. As for the group that finds him the most fascinating, “I think the kids really, really love me to death,” he says.

A town riddled with contrasting groups—civilians and service members, conservatives and progressives, locals and newcomers—finally there is a unifying force.

What superhero could do better than that?

See Joselyn’s photo retrospective of Radio online at www.encorepub.com

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Encore Magazine regularly covers topics pertaining to news, arts, entertainment, food, and city life in Wilmington. It also maintains schedules and listings of local events like concerts, festivals, live performance art and think-tank events. Encore Magazine is an entity of H&P Media, which also powers Wilmington’s local ticketing platform, 910tix.com. Print and online editions are updated every Wednesday.

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