Bill Wheelhouse is retiring after over 20 years at NPR Illinois.
If you've met Bill, you know he's a character who has a lot of character. His no B.S. style in reporting and managing served listeners well with statehouse coverage and the station's evolution to a news focus. Yet, he knew how to have fun. He started the Bedrock series with Sean Burns and Lisa Stott and enjoyed commiserating with fans at shows. It was all, "In his wheelhouse."
Many general managers in radio come from a sales background. Bill came from news. After eight years of advancing the cause as manager, his heart drew him back to reporting and he started on the Harvest Desk as its first reporter. At the same time, he turned the GM position over to me and was gracious and always available to provide perspective and assistance in the transition. When we needed to add gravitas to Morning Edition, Bill disrupted his sleep pattern and has kept you informed in the mornings since.
As the note below indicates, Bill has been at this since he was very young. I was shocked when my peer realized he could retire so young but his many years of service qualified. One of the things I learned about Bill is that he's a tremendous Kinks aficionado. He and his spouse Margie will soon be seeing Ray Davies' Kinks play, Sunny Afternoon, in the U.K. to celebrate his retirement. All the best, Bill, and enjoy your newfound freedom.
Yeah, I get up
And I see the sun up
And I feel good, yeah
'Cause my life has begun
You and me we're free
We do as we please, yeah
From morning, till the end of the day
Till the end of the day
- Till the End of The Day, Ray Davies, The Kinks, 1965
NPR Illinois' student worker John McMillan put the following together for the Insider e-newsletter:
If you've been listening to WSSU, WUIS and now NPR Illinois through the years, you know Bill. In 1995, Bill started with the station as our Statehouse Bureau Chief. In 2005, Bill was the WUIS General Manager until he became your Morning Edition host in 2013.
Radio is what Bill knows and radio is how he lived. At 16, still in high school, Bill began working at a commercial radio station Beardstown, Illinois. Following graduation from Western Illinois University in 1985, he worked as a TV & radio reporter in Quincy and Macomb. He would later work as a news director for WIUM in Macomb before coming to Springfield.
He was first drawn to Springfield by an interest in covering state government and the desire to cover the capitol. To this day, that was his favorite part of working at the station.
During his time with the station, Bill feels the highlight was the station’s thorough coverage of the Rod Blagojevich impeachment. That included the interruption of regular programming to carry all of the proceedings live.
“We heard from listeners at the next fund drive, how much they appreciated the thoroughness of our coverage,” he said.
To the members, he wanted to mention how impressed he was as the GM with the love and support for the station, whether it be through compliments, financial support, or for caring enough to offer criticism. "A special thanks to those supporters who encouraged and increased their support for the station since we moved to news and information."
Bill will be starting his retirement with a trip to England next month. I asked him what else he'd be doing and he responded with making playlists in iTunes, or as I like to think of it, the lifelong pursuit of the perfect playlist.
While recording member messages in November and December John spoke to many long time listeners. Bill's name came up often and with praise. It's evident that Bill's influence has shaped NPR Illinois into the station it is today. On behalf of the staff and all our listeners, thank you Bill.
Please leave your favorite Bill Wheelhouse memories in the comment section below: