A Little ‘Light’ Music

Minister, manager, and friend

by Virginia Lindauer Simmon

light_radio0118In 2014, Sean Troland left his position as board president of Christian Ministries Inc. to become general manager of The Light Radio Network in Essex Junction, a nonprofit owned and operated by Christian Ministries.

In Sean Troland’s office at The Light Radio in Essex Junction hangs a large picture of Crocodile Dundee. Troland chuckles as he tells about being at a conference where a woman approached him, insisting, with enthusiasm, that God had inspired her to tell him, “You’re Crocodile Dundee!”

He confesses to having been worried about her sanity, and relieved when she hurried on. Still, back at home, he decided to watch the film, thinking that God might, indeed, have a message for him. He recognized a connection with Dundee, who had left the comfort of his home country to come to the United States without fear, much as Troland had left his comfort level to take on the management role at The Light. The picture was a gift commemorating that experience, from his wife, Maria.

Christian Ministries Inc., an independent nonprofit, owns and operates The Light, a non-commercial Christian radio network of 13 radio signals covering most of Vermont and surrounding communities in New York, New Hampshire, and Canada. EMF Broadcasting of California uses three of those signals to broadcast Air1 Radio.

Troland was named general manager three years ago, but the 47-year-old’s history with the network dates to 2000. “I was driving down the road” he says, “and my wife called me. She said, ‘Hey, I found this radio station and this teacher who’s really interesting. She’s talking about God and stuff.’ We had discovered Christian radio — The Light Radio Network.”

He and Maria had met in 1997 at an ALANON 12-step intensive weekend in Randolph, which Troland had been attending for several years. She was Maria Farinaccio, the daughter of Italians who immigrated to Montreal in the ’60s. He was a Walpole, Massachusetts, native, who grew up “about 10 minutes from Gillette Stadium. Boston sports are in my blood. I’m a Christian now,” he quips, “so I don’t hate them like I once did.”

After graduating from Xavierian Brothers High School, he entered Wentworth Institute of Technology with the aim of becoming an architect.

Troland had been drinking heavily since he was 16. “I always had a good, God-given brain,” he says, “so I never failed out of school, but on the weekends and at night, I was drinking and causing trouble.” At the end of his sophomore year at Wentworth, the school suggested that he was in over his head and that he reconsider architecture.

That summer, driving his father’s truck, he blacked out and drove into a building. “It was, like, one of the first times in my life, especially as a teenage driver, that I put my seat belt on!” He survived with only minor injuries from glass and bruising.

He joined Alcoholics Anonymous, and returning to school, entered a new program called technical communications. “It was nothing to do with radio,” Troland says, “but was more public relations — how to communicate technical stuff. I learned how to project my voice.”

Before losing his driver’s license from the accident, Troland had sold Cutco knives for a while. Following graduation in 1993, unable to find a job in public relations, he embarked on a path of sundry jobs that included telemarketing for Wentworth, a year and a half as a real estate appraiser, and sales — of $300 credit cards to college students, pagers, insurance, and moving estimates. In 1996, he took a cross-country trip to California with friends, all the while attending his AA meetings.

After he and Maria met, they began a long-distance relationship — he in Massachusetts, she in Montreal. “How I describe it,” Troland says, “is ‘God pushed me.’” He gave her a hope chest for Christmas in 1997, and on February 7, 1998, he proposed.

They chose to settle in Burlington, “the biggest city between Massachusetts and Montreal,” he says. He chuckles as he tells about reaching out to the Burlington Free Press for employment information. “I said, ‘I can’t find your website, and they said, ‘We don’t have one, but we can mail you a copy of the Sunday paper.’”

He found a job with Contact Communications, an answering service and paging company that was seeking a sales rep. Jim Garbelotti, now one of the company’s three owners, was sales manager at the time. They have remained friends. “Sean is a great guy — an extremely competent manager,” Garbelotti says. “We were sad to lose him. He’s been as good a friend — or better — as he was an employee and coworker.”

Troland moved to Vermont, and after a couple of days to settle in, started work on May 6. Maria arrived in September, a week before their marriage, and found work at the Ramada Inn, now Trader Duke’s Hotel. “She had a heart for dog grooming,” says Troland, so became a certified dog groomer and, eventually, a stay-at-home mother to their two daughters, Gianna, now 16, and Sofia, 14.

In 2000, the Trolands began listening to The Light daily, setting their alarms to catch David Jeremiah at 5:30 each morning. “He would say, ‘Hey, find yourself a good church.’ So we did.” One of his pager customers suggested they try her church.

That year they joined Maranatha Christian Church, the name of which eventually changed to Living Hope Church and is now known as Ignite Church (name changes correlated with new leadership). In 2002, the Trolands attended an event at The Light, then called WGLY, and met the then-new general manager, Ric McClary. McClary began attending services at Maranatha, and he and Troland became friends, meeting occasionally for lunch.

Unhappy with the Vermont climate, McClary would threaten to leave the state, Troland says. Early on, says Troland, “He said, ‘Sean, if I leave, I’m going to make a recommendation that you take the job.’ I was a new Christian, didn’t know anything about radio. I said, ‘That’s nice; let’s pray you don’t leave.’”

The friendship blossomed, and McClary asked Troland to consider doing a short feature on air. “I said, ‘Nope. I don’t think I’m ready for that.” But in 2005, when McClary asked him to consider being interviewed for board membership, he agreed.

“With my experience with radio communications, through paging and the fact that I really came to know God through the radio station, I was a lock,” he says. “By 2007 I was president of the board.”

In 2009, Troland began doing an on-air feature. He continued working for Contact, having been promoted to sales manager. In 2010, he turned the board presidency over to Ed Chase but remained on the board. And when, in a couple of years, Chase expressed a desire to become the station’s administrative assistant, Troland stepped up to be president again.

In 2014, just before Troland would be term-limited off the board, McClary called and asked him to lunch. “It was a Friday,” Troland says, “and I was heading out on vacation on Monday; I didn’t have time. He said, ‘Well, can I stop by your office?’”

Troland was pretty sure what was coming, and planned to say no. “Ric said, ‘I’m leaving, going back to Minnesota where I’m from, and I want you to take my place.’ We prayed, of course, and it got presented to the board.” After a good bit of deliberation, they decided that if Troland said yes, they would hire him. He started that October.

One of the first things he did was make some changes. “Some of the programming was kind of political,” he says, referring to a particular commentator whose one-minute feature was filled with negative personal criticism of certain politicians. “I would say, ‘You know, that’s not helpful. It’s not like Jesus. ... That guy’s not bringing people to Jesus, he’s repelling them.”

Troland was shocked to receive 26 calls from people angry with the change. “But all but two completely understood when I explained why we were doing it,” he says.

A major aim is making sure the station abides by FCC rules, which prohibit any commercial statements promoting for-profit businesses. About 75 percent of The Light’s income is from individual listener donations, mainly through two short annual pledge drives. “My goal is not to be manipulative,” Troland says. The rest comes from underwriting support and shared income from programs that air.

Recent years have brought enormous changes in radio as the Internet has created instant availability of music, weather, news, and information. Troland’s goal is to make a heart connection with listeners. “We still provide that information, but the most important thing is the personalities — people who will make the listener say, ‘I like them; I don’t want to miss what they say.’”

“I think he’s passionate about people,” says Steve Austin, CPA, an audit partner at Gallagher, Flynn & Co. and board president of The Light Radio. “He’s a very gracious leader, very easy to work with, and competent, as well. He was fairly new to the industry as a general manager when he took this role, even though he was board president. He’s working well with other industry leaders.”

Troland earned a degree in theology in 2008 and took on a part-time endeavor as associate pastor of his church in 2012. In summer, he enjoys hanging out with his daughters, and he’s “a pretty avid exercise enthusiast. We have a 1969 Pontiac Catalina convertible, and purchased a camp about a year ago in Georgia that has taken up a lot of my time.” He shares a love of music with his daughters. He and Sofia play guitar, and Gianna plays piano. Maria is a natural health enthusiast.

He marvels at how his life has progressed: “Don’t underestimate the things God might want to do for you. Just because somebody, maybe a parent, said, ‘You’ll never amount to anything,’ that’s a lie. Look at me: I was an alcoholic, drinking, drugs. People said to me, ‘You’ll die before you’re 20 years old.’ God wants us to be in a love relationship with him. That’s the crux of who I am.” •