That veteran Q100.3 radio jock Larry Neal had spent 14 of his 37 years rallying to raise money for research against childhood cancer made his cancer diagnosis earlier this year a bitter irony.
Doctors discovered a tumor on Neal's spine in January. He underwent surgery in February, spending 52 days in the hospital while he recovered.
As the region's longest tenured radio host with his entire career spent at the local station, Neal, 63, is a mentor and friend to many in the local broadcasting community. And now they're giving back in a big way.
His colleagues at Bicoastal Media and its competitors — Opus Broadcasting and Radio Medford — began raising money, planning events and sharing stories on dedicated sites, Loveforlarry.com and a like-named Facebook page.
Ashley Greninger, KRWQ program director, said the response from local stations and listeners had exceeded expectations — so much so, in fact, that a planned event at Rocky Tonk Saloon Friday evening will find the venue at capacity before even half those who plan to attend are able to get inside.
"When everything started happening with Larry's diagnosis, it was like, 'We've got to do something. We can't just watch this happen. How can we help?'" Greninger says. "We were talking and coming up with ideas and we thought, 'We should see who else would want to be involved, since so many people know Larry.'
"When you get a bunch of radio people together, everybody has contacts. Things just really kind of grew legs and took off."
While Neal is known as the first DJ on Q100.3 when it signed on in August 1980, Greninger says he is even more revered for bringing the annual St. Jude “Country Cares for Kids” Radiothon to the Rogue Valley 14 years ago.
To date, the campaign has raised over $1 million — $351,000 of which was raised this year. Recovering in the hospital, he missed this year's campaign but insisted he not be made a focus, says Bicoastal Media operations manager Don Hurley.
"Even with everything going on this year, Larry said it had to be 'about the kids,'" Hurley says, noting Neal provided voice clips from his hospital bed to use for the radiothon.
"The only reason we were able to raise $351,000 this year was because of what he did when he planted that seed 14 years ago. This was the first year he was not physically a part of the radiothon — he was two days out of surgery — so we had his picture hanging up everywhere."
Hurley says the level of support is indicative of the kind of reach Neal has had in nearly 40 years.
"A lot of people grew up listening to Larry and then continued to listen to him and he's become a part of their lives," Hurley says. "He's given so much and now this is their opportunity to give something back.
"It's a cruel irony that he started something so incredible 14 years ago — and something that is one of the largest fundraisers for St. Jude on the West Coast. It was never an option for us to let him fight this alone."
Greninger says the support for Neal has been heartwarming.
"It's not every day you see 16 radio stations — stations that compete on a regular basis every day of the year — coming together, for one of their own," she says.
"Larry is that guy everyone always talks about who would give you the shirt off his back."
With Neal's prognosis an unknown, Greninger says his radio family will do everything it can to ensure his return to local airwaves. "Larry has been a part of us for a long time and we aren't ready for him to go just yet."
Attendees for Friday night's auction and event at Rocky Tonk are encouraged to arrive and register early for bidding.
Also on Friday, all proceeds from Black Rock Coffee locations on Biddle and at Northgate will be donated to Neal.
On the web: http://loveforlarry.com.
Reach Medford freelance writer Buffy Pollock at firstname.lastname@example.org.