Jeff Wheeler died last Friday. In 2002 a massive stroke left him unable to speak or walk and he spent the past 13 years in an assisted living facility in Kennett, MO.
When I applied for a job at KBOA in 1972, Jeff set me up in a studio with some copy and a tape recorder for my audition tape. I got the job and he showed me what I needed to know to work at a small town radio station. We worked together for most of the next dozen years.
I never met anyone who knew more about music. He built and maintained a huge record library (with double-entry card catalog) for the radio station. Like many in markets that size, Jeff did everything: DJ, news, sports, commercials, etc.
The stroke that took Jeff’s voice (and mobility) left his cognition in tact. He understood what other said to him, he just couldn’t respond.
A few weeks (?) after his stroke, Jeff’s wife died suddenly of cancer. That, my friends, is some Old Testament shit. I doubt anyone knows how Jeff really felt about the hand he was dealt ‘cause Jeff wasn’t talking. Never again.
His daughter and brother-in-law got in touch to see if I had any recordings of Jeff. Like a lot of radio guys, Jeff never got around to saving air checks and such because, well, he thought he’d always be working in radio.
I found an hour-long “History of KBOA” Jeff produced in 1976 and pulled out 4 minutes they played during his funeral. First time in 13 years anyone had heard Jeff’s voice. First time ever for a few, I suppose.
What you could hear in those few minutes was how much Jeff loved what he was doing. How much he liked talking on the radio. And you could hear how painful it must have been these last 13 years to be unable to utter a word.
But he’s back on the air now. Somewhere. Probably. Doing play-by-play, the county spelling bee, Trading Post, the Hometown News. Never sounded better.