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Freeker by the Speaker: KMMT music director "Katie Mac" rocks the house

August 3, 2012

Katie McWilliams, aka "Katie Mac" in the KMMT studio. Photo/George Shirk

You might have seen Katie McWilliams last weekend at the Pink Froyd show in the Village.

She was hard to miss, once you noticed.

“You know that Keller Williams song, ‘Freeker by the Speaker?’” she said afterward. “I was a freeker by the left speaker at Pink Froyd. What a great show. I was getting after it.

“I had to take my shoes off because they didn’t want to move as fast as my feet!”

McWilliams, aka “Katie Mac,” is the music director on Mammoth’s KMMT radio (106.5 FM) and the architect behind its new, indescribable music format.

She is 28 years old and just a slip of a woman. Her voice has a hint of South Georgia clay in it, and she says she’s an atrocious singer.

“I love to sing,” she said during an interview in the KMMT studio, “but nobody wants to hear me sing, I guarantee you that.

“Right after Whitney Houston died, I was really sad, so I thought I’d play ‘I Want to Dance With Somebody.’ I didn’t have it in the system, so I was streaming it online over the air. I had my headphones on; I was jamming and snapping and clapping and singing at the top of my lungs.

“Midway through, someone came into the studio and I took the headphones off my ears and I realized, at that moment, that my microphone had been on the entire time I was singing along. I am SO glad that I did not get to hear how terrible I sounded.”

With that, McWilliams broke into a big laugh and you couldn’t help laughing right along, because she’s like that—instantly knowable.

Much of that comes from listening to her musical offerings on weekday mornings, and especially on Friday mornings, when she introduces new music for the week.

She’s all over the place—her fans love that about her show—and if she has detractors, it’s probably because she has left them in the dust, scratching their heads over bands they’ve never heard of, playing music they don’t recognize.

“So many people are not open to hearing new kinds of music,” she said.

“So many people are stuck in certain genres or certain sounds or whatever, and don’t want to explore the newer music that’s being made.

“There are really incredible artists out there who are continuing to push the envelope of what music can sound like and how it can make you feel or how it can make you move.”

If there is a bedrock of sound upon which her music selections are placed, she says they are the songs that snapped her out of the mainstream rock and country music filling the airwaves of her hometown, little Cordele, Ga., population 11,000 and the self-proclaimed “Watermelon Capital of the World.”

These bands, her high-school discoveries, included the Grateful Dead, Kashmir, Widespread Panic, Pink Floyd and The Band, among others.
She made her way to the University of Georgia, majoring in telecommunications by day and hanging out in Athens’ myriad music venues by night.

“The heart of Athens beats as strong as the heart of Austin, Texas,” she said. “Music certainly is at the center of the culture there, and I was lucky enough to fall in with a group of friends in college who were passionate about music. So most of our nights, going out, we weren’t just at a bar, we were at a music venue, and music venues are everywhere in Athens. Everywhere is a music venue.

“I was constantly exposed to up and coming bands, along with the big bands that were coming through.”

How she got to Mammoth from Georgia follows the kind of familiar, twisty-turny roads that many people around here would recognize. The wind blew her to Salt Lake City and Snowbird, then to Alyeska in Alaska, and back to Salt Lake. Along the way she met some Mammoth people, they talked up the place and here she is.

“Us flatlanders,” she said, “have a different appreciation for the mountains and I just don’t like to half-ass things. Go for it. Why not? Right?”

As for the Katie Mac tag, she said it’s not just a radio handle. It actually runs in the family.
“I wish I had thought of a different name when I was going to be on the radio so I didn’t have to hear about the station with everyone I talk to,” she said.

“But I’ve always been Katie Mac. My Dad is Billy Mac, my Mom is Miss K Mac, my sister is Molly Mac, my other sister is Kary Mac.

“In the South,” she said, “McWilliams is said, ‘MacWilliams,’ so it’s always been Katie Mac my whole life. You can’t run away from that.

“I think I’ll always be Katie Mac.”

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