The American Dream: Radio, the stuff of which dreams are made

DeWayne Bartels

Retirement is a word Dan Dermody uses and hears with disdain.

“People ask me how I like retirement. I tell them I’m not retired,” Dermody said.

Dermody, 65, was let go from WIRL in May when the station went into cost-cutting mode. He was a dominant radio personality there for years. It was the end of a career in broadcasting that spanned almost five decades.

Or is it the end?

Dermody does not accept this is the end.

“Chronologically, I can’t help how old I am. I ain’t ready for retirement,” he said. “I’m not 65 inside ... I am actively looking for work.” 

Childhood dream

Dermody said his definition of The American Dream is not about money or fame. It has been about fulfilling a childhood dream.

Growing up in Trenton, outside St. Louis, Dermody said he would lie awake at night with his transistor radio listening to faraway radio stations. Dermody said as a boy, he would emulate the disc jockeys he heard.

“From the time I was 5-years-old, I knew radio was the only thing I wanted to do,” he said.

In high school, Dermody got a one-hour show on Saturday afternoon in Centralia. He was 18.

At 20, he joined the Air Force. While not assigned to a radio position in the service, off-duty, he volunteered with Armed Services Radio in Okinawa.

When he was discharged in 1967, Dermody got a full-time job in radio in Goldsboro, N.C., for $100 a week.

His career was on the way. It included stints in Florida before coming to Illinois and Peoria, where he spent more than 20 years.

Along the way, he was voted Illinois Country Music Association Personality of the Year nine times.

On May 12, his dream imploded.

“I didn’t see what happened coming,” he said. “It was a surprise.”

Living the dream

Despite the abrupt end of his days on radio, Dermody remains optimistic. Dermody said he also retains faith in The American Dream. 

“I lived The American Dream. I still am. I’m married to a wonderful lady. I’ve got a terrific son married to a terrific girl. We’re going to become grandparents for the first time,” he said.

Dermody said he will fight to recapture his dream.

“I’m not ready for a rocking chair. I may have done my last show.  But, I have to think positive,” Dermody said. “God closes one door and opens another. That other door just hasn’t opened yet.”

This experience, he said, has not shaken his faith in The American Dream.

He added he does not believe it will.

“My definition of The American Dream is a combination of things. It’s not just one thing,” he said.

Dermody said living the dream for as long as he did was great.

He said it was something his parents never achieved.

“My parents had seven kids. I was the oldest. We were very poor,” he said.

He said there were many sacrifices along the way in his career, but they did not match the sacrifices his parents made.

“Early in my career, we moved around a lot. There wasn’t a lot of money. The early years were tough,” he said.

But, he said, he had his work, which he loved, and his family.

He said in the early years, he not only did the on-air work, but also sold advertising.

“I’d work 12-13-hour days,” he said.

But, the sales work, he said, was just a part of the gig.

“I  did it. It allowed me to do what I wanted to do,” Dermody said. “It was part of the price.”

Dermody said he is prepared to do what it takes to get back in the broadcasting booth.

“I ain’t ready to retire yet. I want to get back into radio,” he said, “and win the lottery.”