The region’s National Public Radio (NPR) station, WVIK-FM, is in transition as the general manager and CEO is retiring and its founder and longtime beloved host is going on hiatus.

The station (a service of Augustana College, Rock Island) held a farewell reception Tuesday afternoon for Jay Pearce, GM and CEO for 11 years. He moved his retirement up two months (from a planned Dec. 31), because he’s anxious to spend more time with his two grandkids (one will be 2 in December and the other 2 in March), in Champaign.

Station manager Jared Johnson is interim GM through the end of the year, as a national search for his successor will be held. Augustana likely will make an announcement in the next couple weeks, he said Tuesday.

Jared Johnson, left, and retiring Jay Pearce at the front desk of WVIK on the campus of Augustana College, Rock Island, on Tuesday, Oct. 25, 2022 (photo by Jonathan Turner).

Pearce has worked in broadcasting for 49 years. Before embedding himself in the QC community as an advocate for local news, arts, and entertainment, he served as station manager and program director at WILL-AM/FM in Champaign, part of Illinois Public Media.

Since he’s been in the QC, he served six years as a member of the NPR Board as a national representative of stations with similar reach to WVIK. Members are limited to two three-year terms. Pearce’s dulcet tones are most well-known across the listening area as former local host of “Morning Edition.”

Serving on the NPR board really raised the station’s visibility, he said Tuesday.

“There’s probably some street cred attached to having an NPR board member in the community. The most asked question I got asked from people was, ‘The national board?’ Yeah, NPR. We were the smallest station on the NPR board.”

“Importantly to here, it let me know a lot of the inner workings of NPR and I could bring that stuff back to the station,” Pearce said.

Pearce is not completely retiring, since as of Oct. 1, he’s working part time as executive director of the Illinois Public Broadcasting Council, representing public radio and TV stations (like WQPT) across the state.

“It’s to promote our efforts regarding marketing, funding, collaboration,” he said. “I’ll be working with the Illinois Arts Council, state agencies, and lawmakers to tell the story of public broadcasting,” which hopefully will boost funding, Pearce said.

The Illinois Arts Council is recommending increasing that state funding.

Pearce, 66, has worked in public broadcasting for 49 years.

“I still care so much about it,” Pearce said of staying connected to public radio. “This is a really good time for public broadcasting. The more I get into the stories of the stations throughout the state, gathering stories from them, it’s just an incredible amount of stuff that we do.”

“We’re the only news station in our market,” he said of QC radio stations, also praising WVIK’s support of the arts.

Tracy Singleton, executive director of Davenport’s TMBC at The Lincoln Center, is the new local host of “Morning Edition” on WVIK, weekdays from 5 a.m. to 9 a.m., 90.3 FM, 105.7 FM or the WVIK app.

Tracy Singleton is the new WVIK co-host of “Morning Edition,” weekdays 5 a.m. to 9 a.m.

“One thing about me…I’m always going to do my best to learn more, evolve more,” Singleton posted Oct. 17 on Facebook. “This is a completely different format, culture, and experience for me. And I’m grateful!”

Johnson said Tuesday said he knew Singleton had a radio background and has volunteered for KALA at St. Ambrose for years. Singleton also is a member of WVIK’s Community Advisory Board.

“I knew she had that skill set and we were talking about potential short-term replacements, because we’re probably not going hire for that for a while, and she was willing to get up early in the morning and come in and do that,” he said.

The station is planning to move all its classical music programming to a secondary station by next March, Johnson said.

The 42-year-old station at Augustana College, broadcasts at 90.3 FM, mixing the news/talk format with classical music three times a day, sometimes more on the weekends. WVIK made the decision to separate the two formats, putting news/talk onto 90.3 FM and its HD1 signal while launching a 24/7 classical music format on its HD2 signal at 105.7 FM (which started in late 2019).

No new staffing will be required to run both stations, Johnson said.

Doing more in the digital space

Pearce also helped usher WVIK into the digital age, launching WVIK HD2, 105.7 FM, the WVIK app, and a large portfolio of locally produced podcasts: “Good Morning from WVIK,” “LOVE Girls: The Podcast” with LOVE Girls Magazine, “A Real Piece of Work” with Junior Achievement, and more.

WVIK is at 815 38th St., Rock Island.

“We’ve done a lot in the digital world, with our website,” Johnson agreed. “We knew a lot of that was coming before that rolled out. We had some insight from the (NPR) board, which was helpful.”

The Oct. 19 Michele Norris event (“Intelligent Conversations”) was a long-awaited community conversation, which attracted 310 people after being postponed from March 2020.

“Essentially, our real goal was access and impacting the community on important topics,” Johnson said.

Norris said that due in part to WVIK’s “Hidden Conversations” series (on equity, race and social justice issues), the station should be held up as a role model for others, Pearce said proudly. “That’s so gratifying, and that falls on Jared. I didn’t do this – it’s him.”

NPR veteran Michele Norris was featured in WVIK’s long-postponed “Intelligent Conservations” event Oct. 19 at the RiverCenter.

The station may revive the series (originally hosted by LaDrina Wilson) in person, Johnson said, noting they may have multiple hosts and smaller events.

“What became obvious to us last week was, the idea that there are 300 people who were willing to be canceled and canceled and canceled, and still show up – means there’s a demand for the project,” he said. “People are interested in those conversations.”

WVIK founder going on leave

Station founder and mainstay Don Wooten (now 93 years old) is planning to take the winter off for the first time, leaving the station starting in early November, Johnson said.

Years before he started WVIK at Augustana in 1980, Don Wooten founded Genesius Guild in 1956.

Longtime WVIK veteran Kai Swanson will fill in for him by hosting “Saturday Morning Live”; Wooten has pre-recorded several episodes of “Jazz After Hours,” and it’s unclear what will happen to the weekly writing show “Scribble” that Wooten hosts with Rebecca Wee.

“I don’t have an answer on that,” Johnson said, noting Wooten’s audience will understand him wanting to step back and are equally enamored of Swanson.

“Kai is about the only person I can imagine carrying on that show,” Pearce said. “When you have somebody like Don, how do you succeed them? Do you just end the show? I think Kai can pick it up and do it. I can’t think of anyone else in the community as beloved and well-known, and connected, and has radio experience from here.”

Kai Swanson, executive assistant to the Augustana president, has served as WVIK interim general manager in 2011.

Swanson also was the interim GM for WVIK before Pearce started.

Wooten – who founded Genesius Guild in 1956 — started WVIK in August 1980. Retiring after 22 years of service as general manager in January 2003, he’s continued to serve the station since on air. In addition, he has penned weekly columns for the Dispatch and Rock Island Argus; has been a frequent guest lecturer in area schools, and served as a board member for a number of local, state and regional arts organizations.

The station is also doing much more on social media with the addition of Marc Zyla this past May as director of community engagement, Johnson said, adding he’s also become an on-air host.

Zyla previously worked as director of education and community engagement with the Quad City Symphony Orchestra, where he continues to perform as Principal Horn.

For more information on WVIK, click HERE.