Lights, cameras and microphones have been a fixture in the life of Eastern Michigan University student Zachary Damon since the age of 16, when he got his first taste of broadcasting at Ann Arbor’s Community Television Network.
Since then, Damon’s interest in film and broadcasting has led him to host numerous local radio and television shows, including the “Ann Arbor Inclusive” show on the Ann Arbor's Community Television Network. The show, sponsored by The Ann Arbor Commission for Disability Issues, works to inform residents of Ann Arbor about the issues facing people with disabilities and the resources available to them.
The show represents the continued progress that Damon, a junior at Eastern, has made in the very competitive field of broadcasting during his high school and college years.
On camera during high school days
Damon, 28, began volunteering as an assistant at CTN in 2003. Before graduating Ann Arbor Pioneer High School in 2005, he launched “The Hot Seat with Zach Damon,” a monthly show focused on local sports and entertainment. While in high school, he was a member of the Pioneer Film and Video Crew assisting with producing and filming the morning announcements on the school's TV station and also competed in varsity wrestling and became an Eagle Scout.
During his work on “The Hot Seat,” Damon conducted on-location interviews with coaches and athletes at the University of Michigan and other leaders in the Ann Arbor community.
“I just want to be able to tell great stories and do good work,” Damon said of his efforts. “Everyone has a story, and I’m simply there to let the Ann Arbor community hear my guests’ stories on the professional and personal levels.”
After high school, in 2005, Damon took a year off to have surgery to straighten his legs. Surgeons in Minnesota had to cut his tibias and fibulas and rotate his legs. He had to learn to walk and in November of that year, he did walk to receive his Eagle Scout Award. He recovered from surgery related to Cerebral Palsy, spastic diplegia, which he had been diagnosed with at six months old.
Damon then enrolled at Washtenaw Community College, where he took an interest in radio and television broadcasting. This interest led him to working at the college’s online radio station, where he deejayed and hosted a sports talk show.
Then came Damon’s first broadcasting job, at Sports Talk 1050 AM, where he worked as a board operator. He went on to work at Ann Arbor’s 107.1 FM, Catholic Radio 990 AM and finally WAAM 1600 AM, culminating in his co-hosting “The Sports Connection with Dave Mitchell.”
“The thing with radio or any broadcasting field is that it can be vary unstable when you're starting out, but you have to be open to change and deviation,” Damon says.
A career-based decision to enroll at EMU
In 2010, Damon was watching the director’s commentary on the movie “The Shawshank Redemption,” when he heard something that would change his professional direction.
“They were just talking about how you just need to grab opportunities when they come along,” Damon said. “At that point, I sat up and thought, ‘I need a job, I need to find some opportunities; I can do this.’”
It was that thought that led him to deviate from his plan of an immediate career and enroll at EMU to pursue his interest in film and broadcasting.
“I never thought getting a higher education (degree) was something I was interested in, but you have to make opportunities for yourself,” Damon said. “What I like about EMU is that you can achieve your goals if you are just willing to put in the time and effort. If you come in and you know what you want to do, the professors are great about pointing you in the right direction and supporting you.
“What I really love is the hands-on nature of the communications department. I feel I learn best when I am shown something and given the opportunity to try it myself, and the professors in my program are great at this.”
In September 2015, Damon began hosting “Ann Arbor Inclusive,” and now praises his collaborator for its vision in creating the show.
“The Disability Issues Commission has been a great partner on this project,” Damon said. “They came to me with the idea for this show, and I have been so lucky to be able to be involved every step of the way—from set design and the taping schedule to writing the script and selecting the guests.”
“Ann Arbor Inclusive” airs on the city’s Community Television Network the final week of each month, and is archived on the network’s website.
Asked if his disability plays a role in the production of “Ann Arbor Inclusive,” Damon said that the perspective is helpful in looking at disability issues, but that it should not impact how people view his work.
“I think it helps me inform the public, because I get to ask questions about things I want to know and issues I may not have been aware of without this perspective,” Damon said. “However, I think it is important to note that it doesn’t define my work, or add or detract from my accomplishments. Just like all of the challenges people face, it is just another part of who I am.”