NEWS AND VIEWS February 1, 2007
Mike and Laurel Kohl
S-9141 State Highway 23
Plain, Wisconsin 53577-9612
February 1, 2007
It's ironic that I closed my last month's column with an encouragement to listen to Dean Spratt's show on the WOKIE Radio Network, for updates and expanded information about my recent trip to the Far East of Russia. We did get three shows with him after that writing, and had great fun with this and other topics. Little did any of us know that Dean would be cut down with a massive stroke that occurred without warning on the evening of January 13th. He decided to take a nap after not feeling well, and I tried calling on the telephone about nothing in particular shortly after that time, being told by one of his daughters that he was sleeping. I apologized and said that I would return the call early the next week. This was the closest that I got to saying goodbye to Dean before he was rushed to the hospital shortly after midnight Saturday evening. Friends in Minneapolis visited him in the hospital, and on Wednesday and Thursday it appeared that things might actually be improving, as Dean could fully understand what they were saying, and was able to utter a phrase that resembled "This Sucks". So there appeared to be hope of a recovery, although these things can take months to reverse themselves given the best luck with intense therapy.
Chris Peterson (from Rochester, MN) and I did a show Thursday night, and there was a lot of input from Dean's many fans wishing him a speedy recovery. We knew that he would pull through; that's just the way Dean was....a fighter. Later that night, things went badly in reverse for Dean; most likely another stroke that left him unconscious. He was put on a respirator and a decision was painfully made to remove it on Saturday afternoon. Dean passed away shortly after 3pm.
WCCO Radio, where Dean worked as a Traffic Reporter from 1981 until 1995, ran the first announcement to the general Twin Cities public early on Sunday morning. After that point, many of us found out just how incredible Dean really was. The Minneapolis Star-Tribune carried an article on page B1 of its Tuesday (January 23) edition, explaining Dean's profound effect on us all. Blind since birth, he never considered it a handicap; blindness was just a nuisance to Dean. In 1981, while at a party, Dean met Curtis Beckmann, WCCO's news director, and was given the opportunity to become a traffic reporter. This was quite an achievement, as nobody in the Twin Cities was doing traffic reports prior to that time, and WCCO was willing to take a chance with a blind person in such a position. Dean was the first blind person in the United States to report on traffic, and set the bar for how it should be done. Many people, including myself, saw Dean in action on the air. I remember visiting one afternoon, playing with satellite equipment and generally goofing off, when Dean excused himself to get on the air less than 15 seconds later. It is an unusual talent to be able to get on the air and sound professional on a few seconds' notice, but what was truly amazing was that Dean was reporting on traffic conditions for highways around the Twin Cities metro that he had never physically seen. His super powers of comprehension had been internally wired to know the street grid of the metro area, and he had a bank of police scanners on the other side of the room. I saw the scanners, and had not paid much attention while we were doing other things, but Dean was internally multi-tasking, and remembering reports as they happened from police officers, and combining them with what he had covered the previous report. No notes to read--it was all in his head, and he was able to put on a very credible (and accurate) report with most people having no idea that he was blind. That was something you usually found out in person, because Dean's perfection at everything he did (running mixing boards to ensure perfect sound levels, switching telephone lines, pushing buttons on various satellite receivers and computers) made him a master at whatever he set out to do. He could memorize a huge amount of information and process it in seconds.
WCCO was sold in 1995, and Dean was forced out of that job after 14 years. He resurfaced at Metro Traffic, who did reports for stations around the Twin Cities, including WCCO. This worked until about two years ago, when he was again a victim of corporate greed and consolidation, and his job at Metro Traffic disappeared. It's an absolute crime that such a talented person could not find a job in commercial radio in a market as large as the Twin Cities. Dean did not give up. He played in a band (which he had done for many years, and I greatly regret never hearing him perform live, as he could play a mean keyboard and sing. Reportedly did Creedence Clearwater Revival songs better than the originals, from multiple reports). Dean found some refuge in Satellite Radio. He had been doing it for many years, first filling in for Gary Bourgois in the mid 1990s when Gary needed a break from Friday Night Live. This started multiple radio gigs playing music and talking about technical issues, making Dean the longest running satellite radio host at the time of his death. Thursday nights in recent times had him doing a 3 hour satellite radio show called "Thursday Night Potpourri", which was a mix of Dean's selected music, me doing 35 minutes of technical talk and trading barbs with Dean, and some old time radio. Believe it or not, Dean got to act on a live radio production called "Powder River", which is a nationally broadcast show with an Old West theme. It was great fun for Dean, and showed still another hidden talent to the rest of the world.
The Minneapolis Star-Tribune (and also the St. Paul Pioneer Press) are linked to an Internet based website called Legacy.com, which allows friends and relatives of those that have recently passed away to express their condolences in a public manner. Dean made his mark in this area, and on the day of his funeral (January 24), I counted 14 pages and over 100 entries from close friends and relatives with remembrances of Dean's life. Even his wife Carolyn posted her thoughts thanking everyone for all of their support in this unexpected situation, and mentioned that their daughters Lisa and Elizabeth were finding some solace in reading things about their Dad from a third party perspective. Dean was so many things to so many people, and touched us all...in many different ways that were unknown to most of us. You might have known Dean from his traffic reports, which were legendary in Minneapolis-St. Paul. Those people might not necessarily know about his exploits on satellite radio. I didn't really appreciate his band activities until it was too late. His family is now getting to know him better with this collection of memories from Legacy's wonderful resource. It is said that a person's true legacy comes from what others remember after they have completed life's journey.
On a side note, Dean was one of 60 nominees for a national Satellite Pioneers Award, honoring those that have done extraordinary things to promote the satellite industry. I have to confess to getting a few votes myself, but neither of us made the top ten. (The voting closed before Dean unexpectedly left us, so we'll never really know how the voting might have changed, given a few more days of open balloting). Most of the winners were politicians or very politically connected. Those of us that knew Dean well might comment that if he did win such an award, and was able to give a speech, it would have been very opinionated and someone might have been embarrassed. This is not a bad thing, because if someone was the target of Dean's ranting, there was always a good reason. It was his pleasure to announce it to the world. He was "real people", and as a journalist (he did that too) on the radio, it was sometimes his struggle to stay politically correct or say what he truly thought about a subject. Dean was almost never politically correct, and that was one of his finest attributes. I consider it a privilege to have known him for 15 years. He was an original that cannot be replaced. Thanks for being with us, Dean.
That took almost as many words as my recollection of Siberia, and I am certain that many things were missed. Very little else besides remembering Dean has been on my mind in recent days, and his absence creates a huge vacuum. Satellite radio will never be the same without him, and it really hurts to lose such a close personal friend.
Until next time,