Seattle radio man Marty Riemer: ‘I felt like every day, I was lying’
DJ Marty Riemer talks about his exit from radio station 103.7 The Mountain (KMTT).
/ Seattle Times staff columnist
Nicole & Co.
Longtime Seattle radio personality Marty Riemer has a wife, two young kids and bills to pay.
And last Thursday, he walked away from a well-paying job at 103.7 FM, otherwise known as The Mountain, because he just ... can’t ... work there anymore.
“Everyone from my agent to my parents have said, ‘Are you insane? You have a family! You need health care!’ ” Riemer said the other morning. “But I felt like every day, I was lying.”
Since 1997, Riemer has felt “spoiled” for working at a radio station that he would surely listen to, even if he wasn’t already on the staff.
“But now it’s no longer one that I would listen to,” he said. “And I don’t want to feel like a sell-out.”
Riemer, 50, started inching toward the exit earlier this year, when the station changed its format from an eclectic mix of rock and new music to include more classic hits: Eddie Money. Supertramp. REO Speedwagon.
For the station, the change in approach was a business decision, but to Riemer, it felt like the death of something, and that it was time for him to go.
This is no small thing for him, or for longtime Seattle radio listeners who have followed him for years.
Riemer, whose deep voice conveys an easygoing intelligence, has been part of the region’s airwaves since he was 13, when he got weekend work at KGRG, the Green River Community College station in his native Auburn.
He has worked at KZOK, KJR and the late Seattle station KXRX, where he says he was the first person to report the death of Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain. (He was tipped off by a friend of the dispatcher for an electrical firm doing work at Cobain’s Lake Washington home.)
When Riemer finally reached The Mountain in 1997, it wasn’t just radio. It was a handcrafted format; classic rock layered with new music that he hadn’t heard anywhere else.
“It was unique and beautiful and it meant something,” he said. “It was a great service to people. We were curating music, and creating a community.”
In the process, Riemer created a life.
He met his wife, Karrie, on a station-sponsored trip to Mexico. They now have two kids, Josie, 6, and Benjamin, 2.
He was able to connect with both artists and listeners as host of The Mountain Music Lounge, where musicians coming through town performed live before a studio audience.
In that capacity, he did one of the last-ever interviews with Joe Strummer, co-founder of The Clash, who died in 2002 of a heart defect.
“I was expecting a London punk,” Riemer said. “He couldn’t have been more gracious.”
He had only been at the station for four months when singer/songwriter Ryan Adams arrived with his band, Whiskeytown.
“It went horribly wrong,” Riemer said. “I was nervous and he was cranky.”
Well, actually, Adams would later confess that he “took my raging alcoholic frustration out” on Riemer. That’s why he refused to meet with fans and why he gave Riemer the finger.
In July 2007, almost a decade later, Adams returned to the Music Lounge and performed “I’m Sorry Marty,” in which he apologized for acting like, as he so delicately put it, “buckets of ass.” (You can listen to the song on YouTube by searching “I’m Sorry Marty.”)
Riemer had his “best years in radio” working with co-host Jodi Brothers, who joined him on The Mountain’s morning show in September 2007. She now does the news on the The Bob Rivers Show on 95.7 KJR.
The pair didn’t just host a morning show, but slumber parties before concerts at Marymoor; a pancake breakfast with comedian Jim Gaffigan; and Riemer’s “:20 Funny Festival,” which showcased some of the comedic talent that Riemer played every day on both his morning and afternoon shows.
After Riemer and Brothers were suddenly fired from the station in September, 2009, they threw a “Severance Blowout” with Riemer’s last paycheck (1,000 listeners showed up). Three sponsors left the station in protest. And Gov. Chris Gregoire called Riemer on his cellphone to tell him he had been robbed.
Not long after, he started a podcast in his basement studio; the show still runs every Friday.
And just over a year later, The Mountain hired Riemer back and put him on afternoons — until last Thursday.
Riemer will put his energies into his video production company, Twisted Scholar, which is “going gangbusters,” doing contract work and original content.
He’s currently working on a video that will help schools encourage their students to go offline, and journal their experiences. Another will focus on a State of Washington program aimed at improving the quality of day cares and preschools.
And Riemer has just completed a documentary called “Sleeping with Siri,” in which he follows Seattle Weekly writer Michael Stusser as he gorges on everything digital for an entire week — and then unplugs for another week.
“It was a little ‘Super-Size Me’ at one point,” Riemer said, referring to the 2004 film in which filmmaker Morgan Spurlock ate nothing but McDonald’s food for 30 days, and made himself sick.
Same thing happened to Stusser: “We went to the doctor in the midst of it,” Riemer said, “and (Stusser’s) blood pressure was off the charts.”
They plan to submit the documentary to film festivals.
“I’m not retiring,” Riemer said. “You only do that when you’re old or rich, and I am only one of the two. You have to be both in order to retire.”
Then he pulled my unfinished breakfast plate over to his side of the table and dug in.
“Who knows when my last paycheck is going to come?”
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Every Sunday, I bring you a conversation with a local who is doing something great, or a great who is doing something local: media personalities, big thinkers, visiting artists, colorful characters and doers of all kinds.
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