Radio program features music with a message


SPARTANBURG — Move over Snoop Doggy Dogg and Tupac Shakur. There’s a new show in town, and this one caters to the pure, descent instincts of teen-agers.

Kenny Messer, the disc jockey at WMMZ 1400 AM on Sunday nights from 10 p.m. to midnight, said gangsta rap won’t do anymore. He said the violent, destructive message so prevalent in the lyrics of the rappers and heavy metalists is bringing a lot of teen-agers down. He wants to raise them up, so he is playing Christian alternative rock.

He calls his show “Music With a Message.”

It’s not harp music. It still has the hard-driving beat that teens want today. The lyrics, however, are clean. They glorify life.

Messer and his producer, Gene Zohlmann, plays artists who sing about their faith. They give air time to the alternative rock of Rebeca St. James. They like the soul and R&B beat of Kirk Franklin, and the pop of Michael W. Smith.

Steven Curtis Chapman is a favorite, Zohlmann said. “He’s very big.” So is D.C. Talk, and even the soft rock of Jaci Velasquez.

“We’re trying to give an alternative to what kids are listening to today, We’re trying to give an alternative to sex, violence and drugs,” Messer said.

Zohlmann said he teamed up with Messer after listening to Alanis Morrisette. “She’s got a lot of pent-up hate inside her,” Zohlmann said.

Then he put on a CD by St. James. He said he realized that St. James had the same alternative beat, the same rhythm as Morrisette, but her words were spreading a glorious message. Kids can still enjoy the music and benefit from the lyrics, Zohlmann said.

Messer agreed. So they approached T.C. Lewis, owner of WMMZ, with the idea of a Christian alternative radio program.

Their request intrigued Lewis, whose station usually plays adult standards catering to the 40 and above crowd. The WMMZ owner, however, took a chance on Messer and Zohlmann, who wanted to target the teen-age and college crowd.

“I was impressed with his sincerity about doing the program,” Lewis said of Messer. “He didn’t just want to be on the radio. It was a little deeper than that to him.”

Messer said he realized the effect today’s music has on youngsters, and he had to do something about it.

“I got into a car with some 17- and 18-year-olds one day, and they were listening to Snoop Doggy Dogg,” Messer said. “It (the song) was cussin’ every other word, and they had it wide open.”

Messer said he wanted to give them a beat with life and hope at its core. He thought that there should be some place for them to turn to rap and rock with Christ.

He said Britt Dillard has a show on WLFJ called “Sound of Light” that carries a Christian message with a contemporary, pop beat. Messer wanted something a little more hard-driving.

So “Music With a Message” debuted on Nov. 28, 1997, and Lewis said it is beginning to pick up listeners.

That does not surprise Zohlmann. He said Christian music is surging. “It has risen 22 percent a year over the last 10 years,” he said.