Northwest Business Magazine

Waking Up With B103’s Sean Henry

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Sean Henry loves to wake up every morning, and why not? It’s his job as B103 morning host to help get people out the door and on their way to work in a good mood. And, he’s pretty good at it.

Sean Henry wakes up with Rockford every morning on B103 radio. (Blake Nunes photo)

Sean Henry isn’t curing cancer. He isn’t out to save the world, either. As morning host of B103 FM Today’s Lite Rock, his job is simply to help listeners start their days in a positive way.

“We’re happy music,” he says. “We’re a happy place. This is hugs and butterflies. This is a station where your kids can listen. I hope we’re a place where people can feel good for a couple of minutes as they start their day.”

Henry grew up in Milwaukee, among people from “all walks of life.” The second of three sons, he was 11 years old when his parents divorced. “We were a generic, middle-class family,” he says.

While most of his friends played sports, Henry played soccer for one summer and suffered through a brief Little League baseball career. “I couldn’t hit,” says Henry, who admits to getting hit on purpose in order to reach base. “I was the player who always took one for the team. I was eight years old and I needed a new hip.”

Henry graduated from Milwaukee High School for the Performing Arts, where there were no sports to consider. He appeared in several plays and musicals, and attended plenty of ballet recitals, but no high school football games. “I missed out on part of the high school experience,” he says. But that experience led to wonderful years.

During high school, Henry got a job with Comedy Sportz, an improv comedy troupe that traveled the country, performing as many as six shows a week. Many top names in comedy – among them Robin Williams, Dana Carvey and Dennis Miller – appeared with the group along the way. “It was a cool job,” says Henry, who spent eight years with the troupe. “I got to do comedy for a living and travel with a close-knit group.” In addition, he served four years with the U.S. Army Reserves as a communication specialist.

In the early 1990s, Henry was hired several times as a background extra for well-known movies that were filmed in the Milwaukee and Chicago areas, among them The Fugitive and Hoffa. “Jack Nicholson even swore at me,” he says, laughing.

As fun as the film jobs were, Henry was in search of some stability. While living in Milwaukee, he worked at a Blockbuster movie rental store. His wife, Amy, worked as a server at a Tumbleweed restaurant.

“We were spinning our wheels,” he says. “We didn’t know what we were doing with our lives, so we decided to move.” They threw a dart at a map and vowed to go wherever it landed.

Soon after, the couple left for Charleston, S.C., in 1997, and Henry decided to pursue a career in radio. “It seemed easy,” he says. “All you’re doing is talking.” Henry was flipping through radio stations one day, when he heard a familiar voice. It was Holly Anderson, a former Milwaukee host working in Charleston. He quickly found a pay phone and called the listener line. “I told her I had just moved to town and was looking for a job in radio.”

Anderson gave him the name of the program director and, within days, Henry was hired to work nights at 100.5 FM. It wasn’t long before he moved up to afternoon host and then morning host. “It was pretty fast,” Henry says. “I never really paid my dues.”

The Henrys cherished their time in Charleston. They lived five minutes from the beach, where Henry could fly his kite and observe long-billed pelicans patrolling the water in search of fish. “In Charleston, you get paid in sunshine,” he says. “It’s a gorgeous place to live.”

He also appeared as an extra in a TNT special called The Hunley, starring Donald Sutherland, a true story about the crew of a submarine during the siege of Charleston in 1864.

His radio gig ended in 1997, when Henry was replaced by syndicated programming. Although this was a common scenario in the ’90s radio industry, he nonetheless took it hard. “I cry at the drop of a hat,” he admits. “I was very upset. I was thinking, ‘What are we going to do now?’ That’s a scary feeling to have.”

It didn’t take long for Henry to land on his feet, however, when he was hired by Y95 in Rockford, working in the same building where he plays music today. During the past 11 years, he’s built a devoted listening audience.

“I’ve come to know a lot of great listeners over the years through this microphone,” he says. “I feel like I know them and their families, and they know my family. We have something invested in our relationship. This job is all about interacting and sharing with my audience.”

Listeners have come to know not only Henry, but Amy and their three children: son Declan, 4; daughters Samantha, 23, and Morgan, 6; and granddaughter Rowan, 1. Listeners also know about Henry’s loyalty to the Green Bay Packers and his obsession with golf.

“I wish I’d found the game 20 years ago,” he says. “There’s a personal challenge in golf. It’s just you and that darned ball. It can get you mad, but it’s a peaceful game. It gets me out of the house, and that’s why my wife loves it.”

Interacting with a live audience on a daily basis means sharing both good times and bad. The most heartbreaking moment occurred this past November, when Henry’s co-host (and WREX anchor) Jeannie Hayes died unexpectedly from complications related to leukemia, a diagnosis she’d received just days earlier. The devastating news rocked Henry, his audience and much of the Rockford community.

Coming to work the next morning was the greatest challenge of Henry’s career. The grief-stricken host had planned to prop himself behind the microphone and search for words to comfort stunned listeners; instead, he shed tears and shared stories about Jeannie for four difficult hours.

“I didn’t know what I was going to say,” he says. “It was a healthy day and it was an awful day. It sucked and I couldn’t wait to get out of here. But it was cathartic and I’m glad I did it. Jeannie was such an honest person, and we had a great working relationship.”

Each day since has become somewhat easier, thanks to co-workers and listeners who’ve seen him through the worst moments. The tragic experience of Hayes’ death also has reinforced his belief that, at this moment, he’s exactly where he should be in his career.

“I aspire to come in tomorrow and be better than I was today,” he says. “I’m too old to be on a rock station or any other format. I’m 42 and I’m talking to people my age that share my life experiences. I’m very comfortable right where I am.”

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