It's tough to start this new year on a sad note, but hopefully, you'll see my logic here. Last year, we lost Sean Demery, noted Alternative programmer and friend to many. Sean's sad story is a lesson in guts, persistence, and hope. This post was one of the most-read in 2018, written by Richard Sands, Sean's friend and voice of Alternative radio.
Richard said it much better than I could have. You'll see in my intro that I did not know Sean well. Richard's piece was written at the 6 month point of Sean's health tragedy – in early August of this past year. Sadly, Sean passed away just a few weeks later.
His story is a reminder to all of us that life is indeed short, and that we never know what's going to happen. As we jump head-first into the new year, we all could do with some perspective, and a reminder that while what we all do for a living has importance and meaning, it is not life and death. We miss Sean Demery, and remember his spirit, his attitude, his fight – and his deep appreciation of life. – FJ
In 13+ years of writing this blog day in and day out, I've never published a post quite like this one. But this is a special situation.
Below is a reprint of the lead story in this week's “The Sands Report.” Richard Sands has been a devoted programmer, purveyor, and fan of Alternative music for three decades, and his weekly newsletter has become the industry standard.
Richard – as you'll read below – is going to bat for a radio guy and his wife who are going through an extraordinarily difficult challenge. I know that many other radio people are suffering in different ways, but the story of Sean Demery, stricken by a rare stroke from which recovery is a long, arduous, and expensive process, is an especially challenging and emotional one.
I don't know Sean well. We never worked together. But he occasionally called B.S. on me and this blog when he read something that just didn't sit right with him. Sean is a straight to the point, smart observer of the worlds of music and media. And so when he commented on a post, I took it to heart. Truth be told, more often than not, he was right. I always find him to be someone who looks at what we do from a different – and higher – perspective.
If you can help Sean and Jenn, here's the GoFundMe link. Thanks for reading this on a summertime Friday when most of us will be running around, enjoying our weekends. And please forward this post from Richard Sands to anyone you know in the radio biz who ought to see it. And thanks. – FJ
When Sean Demery heard I'd be writing about him this week, his eyes went up twice. That means “yes, yes!” You see, moving his eyes is the only way Sean can communicate now. In case you missed the news, earlier this year he had a stroke. But not the kind of stroke you normally associate with this medical condition. This was a brain stem stroke that left Sean paralyzed with a syndrome known formally as “locked- in.” That means his brain is functioning normally. But that’s it. He can’t speak. Basically, he can only move his eyes in one direction.
Sean has been together with his wife, Jenn Prochazka, for 35 years. Jenn tells me, “It has been a very rough road, I admit it has not been easy.” I’ll say. Can you imagine? No. I’m sure you can’t really imagine everything this nightmare entails unless you’re living it. Jenn continues, “Its been six months! I can barely believe it. It sometimes feels like six years, and sometimes like six days. Sean continues to fight hard and stay positive. He’s been communicating clearly and he is getting better with the computer EyeGaze every time he uses it.”
There’s a Facebook page set up for Sean, and a “GoFundMe” site to help with expenses. Jenn proclaims, “I do feel surrounded by love and support. Everyone has been wonderful with their emails and texts and FB posts, and many visitors. It’s been great to share it all with Sean and I know he feels loved, as do I.”
Yeah, but love doesn’t pay the bills. Sean was working as PD at KINK in Portland when he had the stroke. Alpha Media, the largest privately held radio company in the US, apparently extended coverage as long as they could, but he’s no longer employed nor on the company insurance. So at this point all of Sean’s treatment is “out of pocket.” And as I understand how these things work, any government aid won’t kick in until all of the couple’s financial reserves are depleted. Horrible.
So for the Alt newcomers, who is Sean Demery? “He is one of the three best jocks at the format, ever,” exclaims industry veteran Mike Jacobs (now better known as being the father of Mom+Pop’s David Jacobs). Mike first met him when Sean was MD at Atlanta’s famed 99X. Jacobs says, “He was funny, smart, witty and full of ideas.”
Leslie Fram was Sean’s partner-in-crime in Atlanta. “Ironically my last email correspondence with Sean was shortly before his stroke and it was about how and why we launched 99X,” she states, noting that the station’s origins date back to one band, Nirvana.
Sean is like family to her now, after having worked together for almost 16 years. She says, “Sean always had my back, like the time we booked Butthole Surfers for our annual festival ‘Big Day Out’ and Gibby Haynes couldn’t make it at the last minute. Guess who I asked to go on stage in front of 20,000 fans to let them know? SEAN!…The person at 99X with the biggest heart and best ears was Sean Demery.”
He served as Live 105 PD for four years back in the early 2000s. And in the long history of that SF station, I think Sean was one of the few PDs who really “got it.” He totally understood the station ethos and vibe. And he understands Alt radio like basically almost no one else.
Several industry friends have been to Portland to visit Sean and lend support. Steve Craig, APD/MD at Atlanta’s classic rocker The River, says, “I’ve visited a few times since his stroke, and he’s still very much our Sean! He’s working hard to improve communication, and all the love and support is really helping in his fight.”
Paragon Media’s Mike Henry tells me, “I visited Sean the week after his stroke, and even then, he was 100 percent aware of his condition and the challenges he faced. Six months later, he’s shown some physical improvements and is now able to breathe on his own, and his beautifully brilliant mind is still at 100 percent. He’s fully aware of all that is going on around him.
Henry adds, “As one who is lucky enough to consider Sean a brother, every day he is with us is the best day on earth. Sean’s incredible strength and resilience is a daily inspiration for me personally. I draw on it constantly, and continue to push positive thoughts into the atmosphere in hopes it finds him.”
Leslie Fram went to Portland with Concord’s Nan Fisher back in February, and they’re planning another trip soon. Nan loaded up some music to play, as Sean wanted to hear Arcade Fire and Tom Petty. They all looked at photos from 99X and Leslie talked about all of the crazy stunts and concerts they pulled off. She says Sean really enjoyed taking that trip down memory lane.
Leslie also got to spend time with Jenn, and witness first hand her love and devotion to Sean. Leslie concludes, “I want to encourage everyone to continue to email, send videos and photos to Sean. Jennifer is reading and showing these to him all the time and it let’s him know how much he is loved.”
There's more you can do though. Mike Jacobs sums things up nicely. “Put yourself where he is now, unable to speak, convey thoughts fully. He deserves all of us to do all we can. Reach into your pocket. This could be you!”
Again, Sean's GoFundMe page is here.
And as Leslie and Richard suggest, send Sean thoughts, photos, and prayers. It all very much matters.
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