Popular Current DJ Sean McPherson Takes New Position as Music Director and Host at Jazz88 – Twin Cities
Sean McPherson did not envision a career in radio.
“No, I didn’t,” McPherson said. “I was a pure and simple musician, aspiring to do this.”
While still a musician – his band Heiruspecs have a new album coming out later this year – McPherson has become one of the hottest DJs on 89.3 The Current, thanks in part to his gig hosting the show Radio Free Current on demand Saturday. nights. After more than seven years on the air, McPherson took on a new job.
Beginning March 21, McPherson, 40, will serve as musical director and afternoon host for Jazz88. He takes the place vacated by Kevin O’Connor, who left Jazz88 after 27 years to become an announcer on the classic Minnesota Public Radio station.
“From what I’ve done on the radio, it’s a big change,” McPherson said. “But as a listener, it’s totally in my comfort zone. I don’t mean I don’t have anything to learn, but I don’t jump into a genre that I’m a stranger to. I’ve been a jazz fan and listener all my adult life and I’ve also been a huge fan of jazz radio.
CHASING FAME WITH HEIRUSPECS
A native of Williamstown, Mass., McPherson moved with her family to St. Paul in time for her sophomore year of high school. He formed the live hip-hop group Heiruspecs with other friends from St. Paul Central High School.
After graduation, McPherson and his bandmates took their music seriously. After playing extensively live in the Twin Cities, they became a full-time touring band in the early 2000s. They played 250 gigs a year and opened for Ja Rule, Cake and Lyrics Born. The band’s third album, “A Tiger Dancing”, was released in 2004.
The following year, McPherson was driving the band’s van, returning from a show in Idaho, when he hit a patch of ice and overturned the vehicle. Everyone was fine, but the van was destroyed. It was time to take a break.
“It was a reality check,” McPherson said. “Things were going well, but not enough to be full-time.”
Heiruspecs continued recording, but focused on the region for their live broadcasts. The band members pursued other projects, went to college, and/or started families.
“I’ve since pivoted into other things that interest me,” McPherson said.
FROM BAR TRIVIA TO CURRENT
In early 2007, 331 Club co-owner Jarret Oulman introduced McPherson to Chuck Terhark. They were both interested in hosting a quiz night at the Minneapolis club and Oulman thought they could do one together.
The pair hit it off and began to grow, first in the Twin Cities, then in Iowa, Nebraska, North Dakota and Wisconsin. After years of growth, Trivia Mafia began billing itself as “the largest and most popular bar trivia company in the Midwest.” Before the pandemic, the company hosted more than 150 quiz nights a week. (They’ve since rebuilt it to over 100, with more to come.)
And it was anecdotes that brought McPherson to the radio. A dozen years ago, he was asked to do a Q&A segment for The Current’s Morning Show. And he realized he was good enough to be on the air.
“I’ve always loved going to radio stations (with the band) and talking to people on the radio,” he said. “I discovered that I both had skills and really enjoyed the work.”
In early 2015, McPherson scored a part-time gig at the station. At first, he worked various shifts — including a stint as co-host of the morning show — and went full-time in 2018.
He is most proud of his work on Radio Free Current.
“I’m really happy with it,” he said. “It’s a time of the week when some stations are essentially dropping listeners.”
He took a humble approach to the show from the start.
“I brought that kind of willingness to learn with the listeners,” McPherson said. “I didn’t have the ability to act like I knew everything, so I didn’t.”
McPherson also played a key role in the development of Purple Current, an online streaming station dedicated to all things Prince, from his own music to his collaborators to his influences.
“The big goal was to connect with Prince superfans and enthusiasts across the country and around the world,” he said. “We had fans from Australia. I mean, they came for Paisley Park, but stopped at the train station. It was a really fun project and I learned a lot.
FINDING PEACE IN JAZZ
McPherson wasn’t looking to leave The Current, but when O’Connor left Jazz88 he knew he was interested in taking his place. He had come to know O’Connor over the years as a listener and friend, as O’Connor did fill-ins for MPR’s classic station.
“One thing that drew me to this work is that they look to new frontiers,” he said. “I don’t want to do the standard thing. This is an opportunity to develop the resort while celebrating its long history.
“And I find jazz radio particularly satisfying. Many people listen to the radio to slow down and calm down while driving. Nothing better for me than jazz. That doesn’t mean he’s sleepy. It’s soothing in a way that’s more focused on serenity and insight when I’m stressed. And I’m very stressed.
McPherson has two young children at home, ages 2 and 4, and her new job will allow her to spend more time with them. At The Current, many of his shifts ended at 10 p.m. and, of course, he was at work every Saturday night.
But his Jazz88 position is weekdays, including a 3-7 p.m. shift.
“I’m going to miss a lot of dinners,” he said. “But on the other hand, I will have weekends for me and my family.” (That said, he still co-hosts trivia with Terhark on Sunday nights at the 331 Club.)
“I’m really happy with my time at The Current and I’m going to continue to be a supporter of The Current. I’m also really looking forward to seeing what’s to come.”