Happy that Kent Kimes at Weekly Surge included this story as one of the top 11 for 2010. It was an honor to sit down with Scott Mann for this series of interviews - and his candor was refreshing indeed.
This story is in the running for the best of 2010.
Working-Mann's Deadhead: Local deejay's tale of survival
On a particular Sunday every August in Myrtle Beach, a phenomenon takes place at the Boathouse Waterway Grill. From early afternoon, the parking lot is already packed to capacity and cars begin to pepper the adjacent parking lot of the old Waccamaw Pottery. Watercraft gather behind the establishment, and the Holiday Inn West staff next door begins to check in an eclectic cross section of humanity - both locals and out-of-towners. And if you're conjuring images of penny loafers and packs of shag enthusiasts vying for cheap draft beer, beach music and bleary breakfast buffets - a paradigm shift is in order, especially when you catch sight of WAVE 104.1 radio personality Scott Mann roaming around in a tie-dye.
Monday (Aug. 9) marks the 15th anniversary of Grateful Dead icon Jerry Garcia's untimely passing, and Sunday marks the return of Jerryfest at the Boathouse - an all-day party celebrating all things Garcia, now going into its sixth year. And like every Jerryfest before, Mann will be on site from start to finish, emceeing the event and grinning like a Cheshire cat.
Mann, 44, has been grinning a lot lately, having undergone a paradigm shift of his own.
Many are familiar with Mann, longtime host of WYAV-FM's weekday afternoon "Work Release Program," "Scott Mann's Headshop" and "The Blues Hangover." Some have no doubt seen him introducing bands at House of Blues or at the Boathouse for the Backyard Summer Concert Series, which in fact grew out of Jerryfest. He has been visible in the community as well, heading up "Scott Mann's Marathon for Meals," a yearly event benefiting Helping Hand of Myrtle Beach and the Community Kitchen which finds him holed up in a mobile trailer 24-7 until it's filled with non-perishable food items, or driving the WAVE 104.1 van behind Santa during Horry County ABATE's annual "Toys for Kids" motorcycle run.
And did we mention the hair?
In March 2009, Mann began a long, strange trip when he was diagnosed with stage II (later stage III) colorectal cancer, an event that nobody, least of all Mann, saw coming - and one that sent ripples of shock and disbelief throughout the community. After a one-year battle, which included the requisite surgeries, chemo and radiation therapies, Mann was declared cancer-free on March 18. But there is much more to the story. Although he went public about his experience on-air and in the realm of social media, he agreed to sit down with Weekly Surge to raise awareness about colorectal cancer, and while we were at it, we thought we'd find out a lot more about the seemingly enigmatic Mann himself.
The Golden Road (To Unlimited Devotion)
QUESTION | How long have you been with WYAV-FM, WAVE 104.1?
ANSWER | Coming up on eight-and-a-half years.
How did you snag the gig at WAVE 104.1?
Actually, they snagged me. I had recently lost my job at a station called Pirate 100 and was working for Traffic Patrol Broadcasting, doing traffic reports. I got a call from (the person) who was then assistant program director, and she told me they were looking for part-time help at WYAV. I came in and started doing fill-ins, weekends and production work. After a short while I became who I am now.
You are referring to your afternoon drive-time segment. Did your Sunday shows come as a package?
No. Classic rock radio tends to have specialty programming on Sundays - and there were spaces that needed to be filled. The program director at the time thought we should do this on a local level instead of getting this from a national syndication company. We already had syndicated shows like "Rockline" and the "House of Hair." I suggested that we do a jam band show because I used to do one up north - based around bands like the Grateful Dead and Phish. He liked the idea, and said he was planning on doing a show himself, called "The Blues Hangover."
I started noticing that sometimes the same "Blues Hangover" would run the following week - and this was basically because the program director was also operations manager for our cluster (NextMedia) and had a lot on his plate. The blues show wasn't getting the attention it deserved. I had the time to do it, and when I took it over, I didn't know a whole lot about the blues. I was a fan to a certain extent and liked Stevie Ray Vaughan and Buddy Guy - but the "Blues Hangover" has been an education. Nobody told me what to play, so I just played what sounded good to me and it worked.
How is "Scott Mann's Headshop" doing?
I don't know. We don't really see numbers or ratings for Sunday nights at 9:30. But by the responses I get by e-mail or Facebook - or when I am at shows - sometimes people have to remind me that there are more people listening than I think. Sometimes I slip into this mode where I am doing this little show for me and my friends - and then I get I'll get an e-mail completely out of left field - "Hi my name is so-and-so and I'm in the Midwest - I picked up your show online one night and I listen every week."
But in the jam band community, aren't you really doing just that - doing a little show for your friends?
Yeah - in a more outstretching way, I guess. But how many friends does anybody actually have? I know a lot of people in the jam band community because I am out in it.
Can you run down your scope of duties at NextMedia?
I do a lot around here, but we all do a lot around here. That's the way radio is now - everybody does whatever needs to be done. I do my air shift, the Blues Hangover and Headshop. I am assistant program director for WAVE 104.1. I put in the music for "Brainwaves" - the headphone music show, write copy for the on-air liners, and schedule all of the music. I do production work, remotes - and even clean up computers when they get viruses. Again, we have a very close-knit staff and we're a little family around here.
How do you schedule the music?
I have software that schedules the music in categories. It's a broadcast industry program called Selector.
You seem very comfortable with multitasking.
You have to be able to multitask. Let's face it. You have to be able to do this no matter what you do for a living - or you're going to find yourself out on your ass.
Do you still see terrestrial radio as a lasting medium, despite inroads made by satellite radio?
Absolutely. There's one bottom line to the whole thing - it's free.
The Music Never Stopped
How long have you been on the Grand Strand?
I moved here in the spring of 1999. I came here from Greenville, where I worked in radio at WROQ ROCK 101 for more than two years. I am from Schenectady, N.Y.
Tell us about your education.
I went to a little two-year college in Central NY - the State University of New York at Delhi. I went for two-and-a-half years and didn't graduate because I spent too much time at the college radio station and deejaying in bars. I am a few credits short of a liberal arts degree.
When did your love of music come into play?
My love of music and radio came extremely young. When I was about seven, my father got me a radio and a little cassette recorder. I used to record songs on the radio. The music was important to me and I loved it - but what happened in between I loved just as much.
You did "bits" in between songs?
Absolutely. For years, I'd lock myself in my room with my tape recorder - playing songs and talking in between. I thought, "I want to do this when I grow up - to play records on the radio."
And that's what you did. You worked for several stations in upstate New York for a time, and then got out of radio for a while?
I got out of radio up there because I was doing full-time midday shifts and making minimum wage. I became the manager of a record shop called Strawberries, part of a chain. I left there to open my own little record store that had a Deadhead theme. It was called Dancing Bear Music.
But you went back into radio?
After a few years while I was running the record store, I took a part-time job at a classic rock station in the Schenectady area. They flipped the format to modern rock. This was the early 1990s when Nirvana and Stone Temple Pilots were taking off. The new program director came to me and said he wanted to do a show centered on music from the Grateful Dead, Phish and Blues Traveler - he called this "organic" music because the term jam band wasn't used yet. I did that show live for a number of years.
The record store didn't make it and I got a job working for a produce company. One day I came home looking miserable and my wife looked at me and said, "You have to go back into radio full-time or we're going to be miserable for the rest of our lives - and I'm going to kill you." I don't think she meant that - but there was that look in her eyes.
So I started putting together tapes and resumes and sending them South because we wanted to make a change and live someplace warm - and the only package I sent to South Carolina was the only one that bit - Greenville. This was my first big move and it was very exciting - but then my mother got sick. She had non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. I was like, "How the hell am I going to move when I know you're sick?" She was like, "You better go because you have been working toward this your whole life. We'll deal with whatever - but you go." So we went.
When did you grow your hair?
The day I moved out of the house. My mother would never let me grow my hair long, but in the 1980s I had a rat-tail. I even bleached it once.
What do Deadheads mean by "getting on the bus?"
Bob Weir (Grateful Dead) used to sum up his 1960s experience by saying that the bus came by and he got on. So when people first become a Deadhead - they say they got on the bus. But the bus really refers to the psychedelic bus that belonged to the Merry Pranksters. They took a shitload of acid and drove across the country, documenting whatever happened along the way.
Have you been on the bus?
I've been on the bus for many, many years.
You told us before that you do not have an acid lab in your bathroom.
I don't have an acid lab in my bathroom. I don't have a chocolate factory in my house either, but I've eaten candy bars.
When did you become a Deadhead, then?
When I was a freshman in high school, I became friends with some kids who were Deadheads. And they tried - I listened a little and hung out, but it just wasn't my world at all. It didn't take.
But in 1988 when my wife and I started dating, the local album rock station was broadcasting the Grateful Dead live from the Saratoga Performing Arts Center. We went over to my sister's boyfriend's house - none of us were Deadheads - but we said "what the hell" and we sat in his back yard, drinking beer and listening to the show on the radio. It was really, really good - and from that point it just started to grow.
The next thing you know, we were immersed. I didn't get to see my first Grateful Dead show until March 25, 1991 when they played the Knickerbocker Arena (now the Pepsi Arena) in Albany (N.Y.). By the time we went it was one of the most important events in my life to that point.
Since then, you have branched out as a fan into permutations of the Dead and other jam bands.
Yes. As time went on, other bands came along. I came up through this thing at a very good time - right around the time Phish was becoming established. But to that point the scene had been pretty much the Dead, the Allman Brothers and Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young and Little Feat - basically the 1960s holdovers. Then after Phish the bands just came one after the other: Widespread Panic, Dave Matthews - and many bands that have since faded away. But nowadays there is a whole slew of them, and this makes the "Headshop" possible.
Jerryfest. Give us the lowdown.
Seven years ago - the ninth anniversary of Jerry Garcia's death - and around his birthday (born Aug. 1 and died Aug. 9), there was a Jerry Garcia birthday party at a local bar. (Local promoter) Scott Byrd booked a band out of Wilmington (N.C.) called Poor No More. The "Headshop" was relatively new, and he hired WAVE and me to come out and do a remote. He got Missy Johnson from Loose Lucy's to help set stuff up. The place was packed.
The next year rolled around, and Byrd got the same event into the Boathouse. He used the same band and added a local duo called Biscuit and Gravy with Billy Wright and Damon Bradley. Loose Lucy's came in again and at that time we actually gave away vendor space - so people could come in and sell tie-dyes or whatever. That was the first Jerryfest.
I can say that Jerryfest is one of if not the biggest annual music event in town, and it gets bigger every year. (Boathouse owner) Tripp Coan books the bands for the most part and the Boathouse crew does a fantastic job. Last year we had (former Grateful Dead member) Donna Jean Godchaux. It's my favorite day of the year. I get to the Boathouse early and stay until the last note is played.
Jerryfest sparked the Backyard Summer Concert Series at the Boathouse?
Yes. The first Jerryfest started all of that.
Eyes of the World
Scott Mann's Marathon for meals is going into its eighth year in November - where you camp out at Broadway at the Beach until a double-sized motorcycle trailer is full of canned goods and non-perishable items. Can you explain this event?
It's a tradition that I am terribly proud of and every year wish was unnecessary. The event is affiliated with Helping Hand of Myrtle Beach and the Community Kitchen of Myrtle Beach - two independent organizations that happen to share the same space on Mr. Joe White Avenue. Helping Hand is the food pantry and the Community Kitchen is where people can go for a hot meal.
We get all kinds of donations during Marathon for Meals - a lot of number 10 industrial size cans of veggies and stuff that the restaurants use, and that goes to the Community Kitchen. The individual stuff - typical canned foods, dry goods and cereal - those things go to Helping Hand.
Remember that we're not just helping homeless people. The Community Kitchen helps folks get a hot meal - but both agencies in a very large part deal with people who are having trouble making ends meet. A lot of people who use the Helping Hand service have jobs, kids and homes. The economy is difficult and things are expensive. They do the best they can and still can't quite make it - and that's where Helping Hand comes in. If you need some food, well here's some nutritious food for your kids - if you need some assistance with your electric bill or whatever - they are there to assist you - to lend a "helping hand."
You have no qualms about laying down the guilt-trip gauntlet on the air about this?
Absolutely not - without question or even a second thought.
Explain your association with Horry County ABATE's annual Toys For Kids motorcycle run.
This is something I have been a part of in varying degrees for a number of years. Every year, ABATE does their Toys For Kids run - and throughout the year they do promotions to raise money for them as well - then right before Christmas they get Santa Claus on a motorcycle and have all the bikers meet in Murrells Inlet and they have the toy run. Most years we have had the WAVE 104.1 van in the parade right behind Santa.
The toys get distributed to Horry County kids who wouldn't otherwise have them. The money is raised locally to benefit local kids. We promote it at the station. Where's the downside? Kids just want to have a good time.
You received the Wellness Council for South Carolina's Community Star Award for 2009 - for community charity work.
Yes. And with that award they gave me a membership. My wife and I were happy to join them, and their mission couldn't be better - to make South Carolina a healthier place.
Like it or not, Horry County is an incredibly unhealthy area. We have eight gazillion restaurants - some care about the health of their food and some don't - and it's harder than it should be to eat healthy in this town. Let's face it - when you are on vacation, you don't care what you eat or drink or what you do, and that's fine. But for those of us who live here have to realize that we can't live like we're on vacation year-round because our bodies won't tolerate it.
Cancer is on the rise, and a lot of people don't do the standard things that cause cancer - but many are getting it nonetheless - so this leaves the food, the water and the air.
The Wellness Council's goal is overall health and wellness for individuals and for the planet. We have been talking about putting together a program to help uninsured cancer patients in Horry and Georgetown counties.
Hell in a Bucket
We were shocked to hear of your cancer diagnosis a year ago. How did this diagnosis come about?
I had a kind of upset stomach for about six months. And I don't like the process of going to the doctor because it's become so big and impersonal. I started asking around and got referred to a doctor with a smaller practice. I told him my stomach hadn't been right, but it wasn't painful or nauseating - and when I ate I felt better but then started to feel upset again. He said it sounded like an ulcer, which made sense because I get bad headaches and eat Ibuprofen like candy. And there was a little blood involved, so they automatically ordered a colonoscopy. Blood tests revealed that my numbers were right, and the doctor actually told me that if all of his patients had my numbers, he'd go out of business. I started eating healthy a few years prior to all of this.
When I went in for the colonoscopy, they found a tumor blocking 75 percent or my rectum. This was Friday, March 13, of last year. It took seven days to get the confirmation that the tumor was malignant. That was the hardest seven days of my life.
How did you handle that news?
Let me tell you that every cliché out there about somebody finding out something like this is absolutely true. You lie awake at night while your partner is sleeping next to you and think about what she is going do to if I die - what's going to happen to my house, my family - and how many people are going to show up at the funeral. It's really, really difficult.
What was the actual diagnosis?
It was originally reported as stage II colorectal cancer. This means that the cancer hasn't gone into your lymph nodes. After they did my surgery, a pathologist came back with stage III. 13 of the lymph nodes they tested were clean, but one tiny node tested positive - and if one tests positive, you just became stage III. What this bought me was one extra IV chemo treatment. I wound up having five - along with the radiation before surgery and the oral chemo pills. There was a second surgery to put everything back together.
Can you tell us about the initial surgery?
The first surgery was the temporary assignment of an Ileostomy. People tend to call this a colostomy, but the colostomy is connected from your colon. The Ileostomy comes off your small intestine. They cut me from my navel to just above Mr. Johnson. They snip your small intestine - cut a hole into my stomach and pull that end of the intestine out so it sticks out a little bit and they stitch around it. This essentially cut off my digestive system from that part down. So you wear an appliance - a bag - and your body disposes of the waste into the bag. The bag gets to a certain point and you go to the bathroom and empty it.
Every few days you have to change the bag and something called a wafer, which sticks to your skin, making it possible for the bag to snap on and off.
How long did you have to endure this?
A little over four months, because they basically went in and removed most of my rectum. (Everybody finds these words amusing, including me, because every man deep inside is a 12-year-old boy. Fart words and poopie words are funny.)
So they took the rectum out and they need three or four months for everything to heal. After that, I had an endoscopic ultrasound to make sure that the integrity of the seal - the two ends of the rectum that was stitched together - hadn't leaked. The discovered that the seal was fine and booked the second surgery - called the Ileostomy takedown - which took place in January. They go in and take the ends of small intestine and put them together, and they get things flowing again. And there it is.
Wake of the Flood
After going through all of this, you say your numbers are looking great now. When were you declared cancer free?
I was declared cancer free/in remission on March 18, 2010 - a year and five days from when they found the tumor. Right now my numbers are perfect. I have to have another colonoscopy toward the end of the year and MRIs. They generally keep a close eye after declaring somebody cancer free or in remission - in my case around three years.
Amazingly, you kept your trademark hair through all of this?
That was a big concern for me. Everybody has something that they are vain about. For whatever reason for me, it's my hair. I asked my oncologist about this, and he said that, oddly enough, the medication he was goingto use on me would not take my hair away. I'd say my hair has earned its keep. If you can stay put during two forms of chemo and radiation, you get to stay and can grow as long as you want.
How did your wife handle all of this?
The day I had the colonoscopy, the dickhead doctor who did it told her he knew cancer when he saw it and showed her a digital picture of the tumor. It was seven days before the lab results confirmed it. I was just coming out of the anesthesia haze, and she looked like she just saw the dog get hit by a truck.
We spent the day doing whatever, wandering around Coastal Grand Mall - doing anything we could to keep our minds off of what we just heard. By the end of the day we started talking - wrapping our heads around the reality.
My wife immediately hit the Internet, went into research mode and found every which way but loose to immediately get me on the road to recovery. The next day I was doing natural remedies, taking vitamins and doing everything we could find from a holistic or natural standpoint.
My thought was that I would try anything if it didn't hurt or cause me physical harm. I'm not saying that all of these approaches work or don't work, but I am saying that I came through all of this better than expected - the doctors were endlessly impressed with the way I tolerated the treatments, and the way my blood numbers never changed from that of a healthy person through it all. For whatever reason, I did enough and beat it pretty soundly. At least for now.
I tell my wife on a regular basis that she saved my life. I really believe that because who knows how it would have turned out if I had just gone the way of the doctor - or if I never went to the doctor? I truly believe that the information she researched helped me get through this on a physical level.
On a mental level, I have no idea why I got through it so well. It completely changed me as a person, but I didn't realize that. Somebody pointed this out to me when they came up and said, "You know, you seem awfully happy all of a sudden. You're not a miserable pain-in-the-ass anymore - what happened?" I said I didn't know and hadn't really noticed."
Come on. You didn't notice such a dramatic shift in your worldview?
It seemed kind of incremental. The simple answer is that I used to be a "glass half empty" type of person. Now I am a "glass half full" person - or as I like to say I am more interested in what's in the glass. If it's a glass of good beer or coffee, then it's half full. If it's a glass of urine or Myrtle Beach city water, then it's half empty.
As soon as I found out that my oncologist was approaching this from a curative standpoint, it felt like a weight fell off my shoulders. I became immediately proactive. All of a sudden I was happy all of the time, and everything started going through a positive filter. Initially, I was scared to death, but once I was into treatment and out of the woods, I wasn't scared of anything.
It was an unbelievable experience, and I met some of the most amazing people - other cancer patients, doctors and nurses - technicians. I made it my goal that every time I went into any kind of medical facility that I'd go in with a smile and a joke.
After you made your illness public, what was the reaction?
I announced it just before I went into the hospital, and the reaction from our listeners was unbelievable. Well wishes, strangers coming up to me in the supermarket. The public announcement was the right thing to do.
And now you are very vocal about cancer awareness and supporting others in the fight?
Its amazing how interested people get in a charity when it suddenly affects them, but I have always tried to be active in charitable causes whether they impacted me or not.
My mother died from a cancer-related illness. I met a lot of cancer patients, and since the day I was diagnosed, I have counted five friends who have called me up and said, "I got it - what do I do now?" When a doctor looks at you and says you've got cancer, your brain doesn't debate whether it's the easy kind or the hard kind - and even as advanced as research is and the number of people who survive it compared to 20 years ago - the very first thing that goes through your head is - "Holy shit - am I going to die?"
So people get freaked out, and I have been able to calm friends down. Your doctor can tell you until the end of the day what to expect, but until somebody who's been through it tells you what to expect - you don't ever really know.
You have been involved with recent local Relay for Life events. Can you tell us about that?
Through Relay for Life, I have been able to help others and raise awareness. These are amazing events, and if you have never participated, you really should. It's unbelievable, and I can hardly describe the feeling involved.
When I did the Relay for Life event in Myrtle Beach, I was part of (WPDE meteorologist) Ed Piotrowski's team. He was walking in memory of his bother. They did what they call the Survivor's Walk, where all of those who have survived or are surviving walk around the entire perimeter to nonstop applause. It's just the most surreal feeling in the world.
I don't have the words, and I talk far too much anyway.