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Culture Meet Jody Dean: A man for this season: Lost job leads to...

Meet Jody Dean: A man for this season: Lost job leads to a better life

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Paul Harral
Paul is a lifelong journalist with experience in wire service, newspaper, magazine, local and network television and digital media. He was vice president and editor of the editorial page of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and editor of Fort Worth, Texas magazine before joining the Business Press. What he likes best is writing about people in detail and introducing them to others in the community. Specific areas of passion are homelessness, human trafficking, health care and aerospace.

PAUL K. HARRAL

pharral@bizpress.net

Jody Dean is pretty sure that losing his radio show gig on KLUV saved his life.

He hosted the morning show on the station for 13 years and then switched to a Saturday night slot for a year before announcing he and the station were parting ways in a post on Facebook. His last show on the station was Sept. 28.

But broadcasting has been in his DNA since he was a child, and now he’s back on the air.

He’s hosting a half-hour show on CBS-11 – where he spent 10 years before switching to KLUV.

The show is titled More Life with Jody Dean, taken from the wall of his Facebook page – “Less stuff, more life.”

The show is dedicated  to the wonderfully creative, imaginative and giving ways people are helping all of us get through these trying times with a little historical context thrown in to demonstrate how we’ve met and conquered other challenges before, Dean said when he announced the gig.

The show airs Saturday at 11 a.m. on CBS11 and streaming via www.cbsdfw.com/live and on Sunday afternoon at 4:30 p.m. on TXA21.

The decision by Entercom, which acquired CBS Radio and owns KLUV, to not renew his contract really wasn’t a surprise to Dean, who turned 60 last October. He had seen the warning signs.

“They had cut my contract for several years in a row and it became increasingly frustrating. I really didn’t enjoy that job the last 10 years I was there. In fact, it was killing me. It was physically killing me,” he said. “And I was angry. Bitter. I still am.”

Dean is a religious man and says he prays frequently but not necessarily formally. It’s more like Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof, a running stream of consciousness thing and almost a conversation with Dad.

“Every once in a while when I’m really in trouble or I’m really happy, one or the other, then it’s hit your knees and clasp your hands and turn to your face skyward and that sort of thing,” Dean said.

And one night, at bedtime, he made the mistake of praying for a specific thing.

“I said, ‘God, I would like to live long enough to see my grandchildren grow up,’ and those were my exact words. And His answer was, ‘Well, you’re not going to get up at 3 a.m. and do that morning show anymore,’ ” Dean said.

When he was doing the show regularly, his resting blood pressure was 220 over 120. He’d go to the doctor and the nurses would take his blood pressure and want to call an ambulance.

“And I’d say. ‘No, that’s normal.’ And they’d look at the chart and realize that was normal. And within three months of leaving that morning show – and I don’t know if it was because of the constant rage that I felt, which was pretty much true – my blood pressure dropped back to 120 over 70 and that’s where it is right now. And it hasn’t been up since. So that job literally was killing me,” Dean said.

Dean was born in Fort Worth and went to Paschal High School and then to Abilene Christian University.

“I had already caught the bug for radio and television before I went off to college. I worked at Channel 5 for a little bit, starting at about 13 years old. We did an old TV show called The Museum of Horrors, one of those late-night monster movie showcases on Saturday night,” Dean said. “I actually had the distinction of having my first television show canceled and replaced by Saturday Night Live.”

After college, he came back to Fort Worth and worked at Billy Bob’s Texas as a DJ and rodeo announcer.

Like many breaking into television and radio, but especially radio, Dean had a number of short stints – seven months at 105.1 KEAN Abilene while in college, another six months at 1420 AM KPAR in Granbury, just over a year at 1360 AM KXOL Fort Worth and three months at 1190 KLIF Dallas.

Starting in high school, he had a number of favorite stations, but once he heard KVIL 103.7 FM in Highland Park, he focused in.

“It was how they did it. It was what they did and the way they did it that made me want to work there. It was just the attitude that they had,” Dean said.

And one night in March 1981, KVIL radio legend Ron Chapman walked into Billy Bob’s.

“And I walked up to Chapman and I said, ‘I’m going to come work for you,’ ” Dean said.

Chapman invited him to come watch the show at some point. Drive-time shows have opposite hours from most other jobs, starting in the very early morning hours.

“I said, ‘I’ll be there at 3 a.m.’ And I was. The next day I was waiting for him in the parking lot and I think they eventually hired me to get me to go away, actually, because I was such a pest,” Dean said.

He would work there seven years as a morning show producer, Chapman would become a mentor and Dean would feature him on one of the first segments of More Life with Jody Dean.

After KVIL, Dean would work for the CBS radio division for eight years and in the television division at KTVT for 10 years.

Dean had set three conditions to leave CBS 11 for KLUV.

“One was that I would be allowed to assemble my own team, the people of my own choosing, which I feel is important for anybody who does an ensemble show. And that never happened. And my team was always chosen for me,” Dean said.

Still, they made it work for more than a decade.

“When it finally did end, it wasn’t that I didn’t see it coming. I wasn’t surprised, but I can’t say that I was pleased either. And I understood why they wanted to do it,” Dean said.

But for more than 45 years he had worked for somebody else’s money .

“Since I was 13 years old, I was used to taking a check from a corporation or some ownership groups somewhere and most of the time it was a very pleasant experience with the exception of those last few years at KLUV,” he said. “I was Bill Murray in Ghostbusters. How are we going to pay for this? I have no idea.”

But there was a tiny house studio in the backyard he could use for some broadcasting, working on a website or something.

“But I really wasn’t doing anything. I was looking to freelance. I had zero money coming in, no income. And like every other idiot who’s ever been in broadcasting, I hadn’t saved a dime,” he said. “And when you’ve been married four times, you don’t save a lot of money to begin with.”

So he was just messing with his website and had written some silly things, some essays and some commentary that got good response. That included a wildly popular series on his favorite North Texas barbecue joints.

Jody Dean and Fiona Pestell
courtesy

He and his companion, Fiona Pestell, have been together for 10 years now. She’s Australian and tells him if she has to marry him to sneak him into Australia, she’s willing to do so, but she – in her own words – “has no interest in being in No. 5.” He considers that a conditional proposal.

She was working and has been in the entertainment business for a long time.

“So, we spoke the same language and she’s always been very encouraging. She’s an Aussie, so she has a unique, realistic perspective on life, a very pragmatic perspective on life that I needed. She’s very direct. She’s very honest. She’s doesn’t couch her opinions in southern gentility or any of that sort of thing,” he said.

Her demand? “You’ve got to quit looking for other people to solve their problems and work on yourself.  And so part of all that was building this studio in the backyard, putting ourselves in a position where I could actually do freelance work and voiceovers.”

Dean was doing some part-time teaching at Paul Quinn College.

Why not at SMU, TCU or UNT?

“Because they actually plowed up their football field and planted an urban farm. And as much as I love football and as much as I enjoyed playing it in college, I thought any school in Texas that will do that deserves attention,” he said. “It’s the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done in my life.”

But beyond that, he wasn’t doing much.

“I wasn’t bringing any money in; just kind of sitting around with my thumbs in my ears just going, ‘Oh, what do I do now?’ ”

He had been shooting some little videos with editorial commentary and he send one to Gary Schneider, the president and general manager at CBS 11 and, he admits, very arrogantly said, “You know in this time of crisis, you might need a seasoned voice of credibility on your air.”

The studio.

Schneider texted almost immediately asking whether that kind of work could be turned into a 30-minute television show.

Thirty minutes of production is significantly different from three and a half minutes, but he said “well, sure, not having the first clue what I was getting myself into. And so basically, my mouth wrote a check my butt had to cash. Which is not the first time, by the way.”

And so More Life with Jody Dean was born.

“Jody was doing some online segments about people helping people during this pandemic. It has the feeling of giving people hope during these tough times which I believe is resonating with viewers,” Schneider  said. “Jody still has a following and as you may know is familiar with the folks at KTVT from his past tenure as host of Positively Texas then co-anchor of our 4 p.m. news. His segments/show just felt right during this time.”

So now that little studio in the backyard is a full-on TV studio with a teleprompter, camera, and lights, Dean said.

The thrust of the show right now is pandemic oriented about people doing great stuff for their neighbors and their communities with a little historical context thrown in to remind people at the United States has been in crises before.

“Those stories our parents told us about the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl and World War II and all of that sort of stuff. Those things matter,” he said.

He may work his way out of a job when the pandemic ends and that would be OK with him.

“I would rather figure out something else to do in four or five weeks than keep doing this. I have people who keep telling me shows like this are needed, but I’d rather it be an option, because if it’s not an option, that means we’re kind of in the middle of stuff and we don’t want to be in the middle of stuff. We want to be at the end of stuff and get past this, but I will do it as long as CBS wants to do it,” he said.

The show started on the fly and continues to be that way.

“Fiona asks me every week, ‘What are you going to do this weekend?’ I say, ‘I have no idea,’ because what happened was I basically started gleaning all these stories and seeing things on Facebook and little short videos and cute little stories that people were posting,” Dean said.

Now, people are proactively sending him material.

“I’m buried in home video and pictures,” he said. “Last week, people were sending me video of folks leaning off their balconies and standing on their front porch on a Thursday afternoon, cheering and beating on pots and pans to salute healthcare workers and first responders. Little displays that people have set up in their front yard, Easter decorations, a neighborhood parades, you name it.”

If he were still working at KLUV, he wouldn’t have the time to do the current program, he said.

“So, it wasn’t just about making me live longer or live long enough to see my grandchildren grow up. It was about making me live better. And at the time I forced myself to be grateful, kind of like a kid who has Brussels sprouts on his plate but really wanted creamed corn. I had to eat ’em whether I liked ‘em or not,” Dean said.

Looking back, that was a decision was a favor.

“What happened is that I gained a taste for sprouts,” he said

“This show I think matters more than all the years I’ve put into radio. And I’ve had people I’ve worked with tell me that. Suzie Humpreys told me, ‘This is what you were born to do.’ And I think to myself, I never would have thought of it. I never would’ve seen it and I never would have had the time to do it if I had not lost my job,” he said.

“All those stories in the Bible aren’t in there to show human perfection. They’re there to show how people survive with help,” Dean said. “We always talk about the Greatest Generation, and deservedly so. But maybe this is our chance to rise to greatness.”

“The people that I’ve talked to every week and the people that I put on this show, this is not just about who they are. This is about whose they are. This is about what they were given by their creator and how they found a way to use it. Not everybody that I talk about on this show is churchy church but what they do is. It’s the life lived well .”

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