Damian Messer becomes the first “distinguished guest” of the Marble City Radio Company
If you’ve ever turned on the radio on your morning commute in the past year or so and wondered who had the pure, unmitigated balls to play Meco’s “Star Wars Party,” a song that wasn’t even on the original LP from 1977. Star Wars and other galactic funks– the answer is Damian Messer.
Such programming chutzpah is actually quite rare in the so-called “wacky” world of morning radio broadcasts, so the fact that on Messer’s last day as a regular host of the Marble City Radio Company on WUTK 90.3 FM is this Tuesday, 7-8 am, comes in as bittersweet news. While Messer successfully graduated with a journalism and electronic media degree from the University of Tennessee, it also means that a singular voice will (mostly) leave the Knoxville radio waves – he says his new title will be “Honored Host” (and “Executive Producer, Twenty-Year Planning “) as he hands the reins full-time to Barbara Gibson, Josh Cunningham and producer Clay McCammon. [Full disclosure: Every Thursday at 7:45 a.m., the MCRC hosts interview me about the Knoxville Mercury‘s new edition.]
“My guiding principle for the show was to create a parody of a traditional morning zoo,” Messer said in an email interview. “I wanted the show to do for WUTK what a morning car ride does: get people listening every day, and get people to stay and listen to the station all morning.”
Since its launch on September 1, 2014, the MCRC has achieved this feat thanks to Messer’s unique knowledge and appreciation for the mysterious facts of pop culture, often expressed through his jokes with co-hosts such as Matt Moon, live quizzes, and an unpredictable playlist. The musical offerings of a single show can range from “Holy Wars… the Punishment Due” by Megadeth to a cover of “Sweet Home Alabama” by the Moog Cookbook, then to “The Minotaur’s Song” by the Incredible String Band. Really, listeners can’t know what’s coming next.
So how did he come to store so much of what some would call unnecessary information?
“I know stuff. It’s a thing. Difficult to explain to a normal, ”says Messer. “I’ve played Nerd Bowl a lot in my life. aka Scholars’ Bowl, College Bowl, Academic Buzzer Bowl. It informs everything I do. But the pursuit of music has become so much of the reason I do this. Kind of like my normal job [at the Disc Exchange], I got in there thinking I know things. I don’t think that’s true anymore. I spent a year and nine months teaching myself everything I could about music.
When in a rush, Messer will also reveal he has a shady bottom reading tarot cards in Jackson Square in New Orleans, not to mention his participation in Rocky Horror Picture Show the shadow casts. “I mainly have experience in waiting tables,” he adds. “It made me the ultimate party host and I throw the best dinner in Knoxville, five days a week. But it is morning. And there is nothing to eat or drink.
McCammon aims to continue that party atmosphere as the show’s producer (“I already like the format of this one and if it’s not broken, don’t fix it.”) And says Messer was an inspiring figure for him from the start.
“When I started on the show, I was terrified of everyone. Damian was so cool,” he says. “If I had to make a comparison I would say Damian was Rizzo and everyone was the other Pink Ladies. Being the new kid made me Sandra Dee. Pre-makeover. And without the potential to be a blonde bombshell.
McCammon says he learned a lot from Messer’s particular approach to broadcasting, as well as from WUTK’s student lab, where it’s “okay to make mistakes.”
“The number of times I’ve pressed the wrong button, causing the song and the station ID to play at the same time is more than I want to admit,” he admits. “But each time Damian just laughs. Not in a mean way, but in a way that lets you know it’s okay. And when he laughs, you don’t have time to blame yourself because you usually start laughing too. And, just like at the end of every camp orientation, he taught me that the most important rule is to have fun. If you’re stiff and trying to be perfect on the air, no one will listen to you. If you’re having fun, the audience will too.
“We often joke about how few people listen, but we don’t mind. We dance as if no one is looking at us. And we wouldn’t dance without our choreographer, Damian Messer.
Damian Messer’s three best songs that no one else is almost sure to play on the radio
Damian Messer has played around 4,000 songs in total on the MCRC, and many of them are the ones you don’t often hear on the air. But here are her more mysterious picks, from the MCRC Playlist of February 11, 2016:
“Dinosaur sex”, family fodder
“Dinosaur Sex”, Emmy the Great
“Dinosaur sex!”, Charli XCX
“I think the reason I played them all is obvious at first glance. Dinosaur sex. Duh.
“Now please understand that sex with dinosaurs has been a deep and constant interest for me since I was a young child. The idea simply struck me and didn’t let go. For more reasons than my lustful interest in erotic sauropod. I thought it was just such a strange notion that it would repeat itself over and over in society. A real meme, if you will. I think the idea of dinosaur sex taught me what a meme really is.
“So why did I play this?” Two of the songs are really rare. It’s an explosion. They’re all great, in different ways. But I played them because they taught me something.
Featured Photo: Dasha Tammark
Editor-in-chief Coury Turczyn guided Knoxville’s alternative weekly, Metro Pulse, through two eras, first as editor (and later editor) from 1992 to 2000, then as editor. in chief from 2007 to 2014. He also worked as a web editor at CNET, the former cable network G4 and HGTV.