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'Bad' Brad Wheeler leaves KRCL as some say station has turned too commercial

Published June 8, 2017 11:05 am

Station exec denies behind-the-scenes drama, but critics say a shift toward "monotonous" programming helped hasten host's departure.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2017, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

This past Friday, "Bad" Brad Wheeler, KRCL 90.9 FM community radio's popular host of the afternoon drive-time program "Little Bit Louder Now," stunned loyal listeners — and some station employees — with the on-air announcement that he soon would be leaving.

It has resulted in some public criticism of the station's general manager, Vicki Mann, and a debate over whether the station has become stale and too commercial.

Wheeler did not respond to a request for comment, though on Sunday he posted to his Facebook account a famous Edmund Burke quotation: "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing."



Mann, who initially confirmed the move in a blog post Saturday, said there was no behind-the-scenes drama.

"He came in and said he'd thought a lot about it, and he felt it was time to move on. It was very cordial. He did not expound upon that and I did not ask him to," Mann told The Salt Lake Tribune in a phone interview. "I had a good working relationship with Brad. As is the case with any boss and employee, there were things we disagreed about. But there wasn't anything specific this was related to. Really, I was in shock the rest of the day after he turned in his resignation letter."

Mann acknowledged rampant rumors in the aftermath of the announcement by noting, "Everything that has transpired after that is very complicated. There are a lot of people with an ax to grind." However, she declined to address Wheeler's job performance, saying, "I can't talk about personnel issues."

Wheeler has been a paid employee of KRCL for the past seven years and worked as a volunteer for the station before that.

Stephen Holbrook, one of KRCL's founders and a nonvoting "board member emeritus," suggested in an email sent out to both KRCL's board and various media members throughout the state that philosophical conflicts between Mann and other station employees had created impediments to carrying out core objectives.

While he noted Mann "has made operational improvements at KRCL" and that "the station has good listenership, has no debt, and has had its own building for many years," he added that changes made under her leadership have led to an environment fundamentally at odds with big personalities such as Wheeler.

"She has programmed weekdays to a semi-commercial sound with an over-reliance on automation, which turns our on-air personalities into broadcast bureaucrats," Holbrook wrote. "KRCL's place in the community should be locally derived, not a duplicate of other radio stations from around the country."

Chip Luman, the station's board chairman, told The Tribune, "Those are Steve's personal opinions, and he doesn't speak for the board. … He made a lot of unwarranted personal attacks."

"He's certainly entitled to his opinion," Mann added.

Holbrook is apparently not alone in that opinion, though.

Steven Sheffield, a Holladay resident, a listener for the past 15 years, and a donor to the station, wrote a letter to the board of directors in April complaining that "daytime programming has become monotonous and boring."

After Wheeler's announced resignation, Sheffield launched a change.org petition seeking Mann's dismissal: "Vicki Mann has successfully drained all the lifeblood out of the station," Sheffield wrote.

Sheffield added in texts to The Tribune, "I can't tell you how many times I've texted Brad to tell him that I hated the music he was playing, BUT that I loved that he was playing it. That he was taking chances, and challenging himself and his audience."

He argued Mann "has destroyed almost everything that was good about the station" by steering it toward "inoffensive soft rock."

"It's not about Brad," he concluded. "That was the straw that broke the camel's back, but I consider his leaving a symptom of the much larger problem, not the problem itself."

Luman took issue with that narrative in a prepared release.

"As a community station, we are a tight-knit and dedicated family. … Staff remain committed to bringing our passion, talent and focus to delivering exceptional and relevant programming to our valued listeners every day," Luman wrote. "Serving the interests of our community and our listeners is our top priority."

Mann said she was not worried about how Wheeler's departure would affect the financial pledges the station depends upon, adding that picking a potential successor would be the job of a not-yet-hired program director.

"Certainly, he's going to be very hard to replace and, honestly, he can't be replaced," Mann said. "… Brad is a major personality, and he'll be missed in the community."

ewalden@sltrib.com

Twitter: @esotericwalden

 

 

 

 

 

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