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Songwriter and former public radio veteran Dan Modlin's "Sara Gets a Second Chance" addresses the importance of organ donation

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Dan Modlin
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Singer-songwriter Dan Modlin lives in Bowling Green, Kentucky

Singer-songwriter, musician and former public radio news director Dan Modlin has become a favorite performer at the famed Bluebird Cafe in Nashville, Tennessee. His unique music career began in the 1970's when he and fellow songwriter Dave Scott formed the country rock and Americana duo Modlin and Scott. Their album "The Train Don't Stop Here Anymore", released in 1976 on the late Moe Whittemore's 700 West Label, has experienced a major resurgence around the world.

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700 West Records/Modlin and Scott
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Modlin and Scott's 1976 album is now a collectors item for music fans around the world selling for as much as $600

Modlin has always been a storyteller. The Indiana native and Bowling Green, Kentucky resident was the news director for WKU for 23 years. He retired from public radio in 2013 to pursue his songwriting career full-time.

Modlin has gained such a repetition as a songwriter that a couple recently approached him and asked if he could write a song that would help create more awareness about organ donation. As a former public radio veteran, Modlin had written many stories about such emotional topics, but coming up with lyrics and would be extremely challenging.

Dan Modlin joined host, long-time friend and public radio news colleague Doug Doyle on the WBGO Journal to talk about his latest single "Sara Gets a Second Chance", which tells the story of a young girl waiting for an organ transplant.

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Doug Doyle/Zoom
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Singer, songwriter and musician Dan Modlin (left) chats with long-time friend and colleague Doug Doyle

"Honestly, when I was first approached, my first reaction was just to say that's an awfully tough subject and I don't know if I can do that. I didn't promise anything on the spot, but I went home and tried it. I'm glad I didn't say 'no'. Like many of the songs I work on, it just kind of evolved. I work at songwriting everyday. Sometimes things move ahead, sometimes they don't. But with that song it seemed pretty quickly to me that it was a song that needed to be written. That kept me motivated. I just kept going back and moved the lyrics around and tried to do it in a way that's sensitive to the issues, but still sensitive to the families who are living through these problems. The verses are fairly descriptive. I tried to imagine myself sitting in a hospital room with that family. With the chorus, I tried to be a little more hopeful and uplifting. The music changes accordingly."

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Courtesy of the artist
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Dan Modlin performing at Lost River Cave in Bowling Green, Kentucky

Modlin says the couple that had requested Dan write a powerful song was very pleased with the results.

"I learned pretty quickly with "Sara". I don't look in the eyes of the crowd when I play that live. I'm looking just over their heads because quite a few of them are pretty emotional. I can't get through the song, I don't think, if I looking right at the people who are reacting to it. That was true at the Bluebird Cafe in Nashville. Another thing I have found really interesting about this song is how many people come up after the performance and want to talk to me about their own families experience with organ donation. It makes people want to share their story."

"Sara Gets a Second Chance" is already making a difference.

"A little bit of airplay and I've also had some interest from organ donation organizations around the country which is real exciting. Some of them have expressed interest in putting it on their website and helping get the word out about this song. We're all in favor of that. More than anything, I was a little surprised when I went back and checked in to this that there are still many people who are waiting for organ donations who die everyday in the United States. We've done a very good job across the country in getting people to register as organ donors through driver's license branches and activities like that but there are still millions of people who are not on the registry as donors that could be. Everyday there are kids like the 'Sara' portrayed in the song who are waiting for help."

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Courtesy of the artist
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Dan Modlin performs live regularly in Nashville, Tennesse and Bowling Green, Kentucky

A graduate of Ball State University, Modlin worked for several years in the news network business in the Midwest, specializing in agricultural and political coverage, before coming to WKU Public Radio. His reports have earned numerous national and state awards for documentary production, public affairs reporting, and enterprise reporting.

Modlin admits his background in public radio news has sharpened his music, but what goes through his mind when he's crafting a new and interesting song?

"It's still kind of a mystery to me to be honest. It comes from hard work. It comes from other writers. It comes from recognizing a good song when someone presents it to you like the one on "Sara" The Bluebird Cafe is the ultimate place for songwriters to play. The crowd there is receptive. They come to listen. They appreciate what the writers have done. It is an honor to play there. That club has actually played an important part in what I've been able to do with the Water Wheel Round Songwriters in Bowling Green, because I've met so many writers when I played at the BlueBird over the years and have become friends with many of them, and they are willing to drive up 60 miles to play a Songwriters Round with their friend they met at the Bluebird. Just this week, I've got two number-one-hit writers coming in the same night. Brady Seals and Paul Jefferson are two of the best in the business. They come up their because they like the crowd and they like the atmosphere. There are little things you pick up watching a great songwriter but when you're actually playing in the same round with them, you get a little different perspective."

Dan and his wife Debby are enjoying life together. Both of Dan's sons are college educators. His son Kevin performs with his dad at many gigs.

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Kevin Modlin/Dan Modlin
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Dan Modlin and his some Kevin (left) often play live music together

Modlin says he wanted to play guitar chords all the way back when his father showed him how to strum. Eventually, his father gave Dan his 1961 Gibson J-50 guitar. Dan then wrote an emotional tune about their relationship titled "Gold in the Strings".

"He had faith in me that I would do something worthwhile with it (the Gibson J-50). That meant a tremendous amount to me. I had a chance to play it ("Gold in the Strings") for him the day before he died, he wanted to hear it."

You can SEE the entire conversation with Dan Modlin here.

Doug Doyle has been News Director at WBGO since 1998 and has taken his department to new heights in coverage and recognition. Doug and his staff have received more than 200 awards from organizations like PRNDI, AP, New York Association of Black Journalists, Garden State Association of Black Journalists and the New Jersey Society of Professional Journalists.