On November 27, 2010, the broadcasting industry in Newfoundland and Labrador lost one of its golden voices, with the passing of Dave Wheeler. He was a respected veteran of the local media scene, having worked with VOCM, CJON and CJYQ.
I didn’t know Dave Wheeler – had never even met him – though I knew, just from listening, that he had one amazing radio voice.
Being unable to write any personal recollections of my own, I contacted people who worked with Dave Wheeler, and asked them to write a brief tribute. The fact that people responded so quickly and eagerly speaks volumes about how highly people regarded the man.
Here are their tributes:
“Dave Wheeler was a real pro, a gentleman, and you could always count on him. He was a great friend. I worked with Dave, at CJON, CJYQ, and VOCM. One event stands out in my mind, at the St. John's Regatta one year. The races were underway, it was mid-morning, a ladies race was in progress. Up until that year the ladies would row to the center buoy and turn and return to the finish line. Well this year there was a change – the ladies would row to the foot of the lake and finish the race. Here's where it got interesting. When we finished a previous men's race, Dave was doing commentary for VOCM at the foot of the pond, and I was with CJYQ in the same location. Dave and I decided we would get the full hour break, so we locked the vehicles and headed up to centre pond and sat in with Bob Banfield, who was calling the race from his position. We were having a coffee break with Bob and then it was Bob's turn to do his bit on air, and just as Bob said that the ladies crew were about to turn the buoys at center lake, guess what, we noticed they were not turning and continuing down the lake! We just assumed the race would turn at centre pond, as in previous years. So Bob was motioning to us to get down to the foot of the lake. Dave and I ran all-out to get back to our vehicles. Bystanders were wondering who these two guys were racing full tilt down the side of the pond. Luckily, we got back to our vehicles with maybe 15 seconds to spare, as the commercial break ended. We were both out of breath, trying to sound composed, calling the winner of the race on different radio stations. I can remember Dave's booming laugh when the race was over... Dave Wheeler was one of Newfoundland's premier broadcasters, we'll miss his great spirit.”
“Dave was actually a good friend of mine and a mentor. He had some of the best pipes in the business and loved to tell stories about his lengthy career in television and radio. We got to know each other when he was operating for VOCM Niteline (George MacLaren hosted) while I produced. He'd regale me at that time about his time as a talk show host with CJON, and his many years and experiences at VO, and we'd often laugh about funny calls, and ‘characters’. He also offered helpful advice about the business and how to read, project, etc... he sort of took me under his wing so to speak. We also talked often about our mutual love of Newfoundland history, and often exchanged books on the topic. After he left VOCM, his health deteriorated significantly, but he never complained, never showed how much he suffered. Although he often spoke of his calamities, he always gave it a humourous twist, and his spirit remained positive until the end, despite many, many setbacks.”
“I first met Dave Wheeler when I moved back to St. John’s to take over the evening slot at CJON. I arrived from CFBC in Saint John, a ‘Boss Radio’ Top 40 station, and wasn’t in touch with the local scene so I approached Dave and asked him for a bit of advice and some background of what was going on at the station. I was used to a very tight format and CJON was more open. Dave was most gracious and gave me the low down on the happenings in and around town – he was quite tuned in – and of course the usual station gossip (there was lots!). We’d chat regularly and talk about how radio in Newfoundland was different from the mainland. Those differences did lead to my leaving CJON six months after I arrived (evening announcers came and went a lot in those days). Many years later we met again while I was working with Yamaha Motor Canada (Toronto) and he was still in radio. I was most curious about the local radio environment and he was most curious about life after radio. I don’t know how Dave was with everyone else, but with me, he was kind, caring, helpful, encouraging and funny. I suspect he was like that with everyone else too! Many of our radio friends are gone, so say ‘Hi’ to everyone for me Dave, and how about cueing up a tune or two for us…we’ll see you later.”
“Dave was the quintessential great colleague. Always pleasant. Even with a paper stack of commercials to voice - enough to ‘bust a vein’ as we used to say - he remained as good-natured and helpful then as he did first thing when he arrived each day. He and ‘Uncle Lou’ (Len White, long-time producer at VOCM) would get through those radio spots like no man's business. His voice was always natural, velvet-like. Never pulled. A rarity indeed in a business (in)famous for ego, pulled voices and incessant racket. (When one ‘pulls’ their voice, it sounds unnatural, and over-executed.) His was the type of voice that would make you stop... and listen. He was a dear friend, and is so very missed.”
“I worked with Dave for nearly 6 years at VOCM in the '90's. (He was a 4th cousin, as near as we could figure it.) When I remember Dave, I always think of how relaxed he was. All hell could be breaking out around him but he never seemed to get flustered. And in an industry often filled with clashing egos, Dave always seemed to rise above that sort of thing. He was well-liked by everyone and a real professional.”
“Dave and I worked together at VOCM back in the late 80's. I had been transferred in from Grand Falls to work the All Night Show. Helen (Cleary) Escott had left to work at NTV, and I was given her old job. In the back of the VO control room at that time, were cupboards (bunks) for announcers to secure their belongings while at work. There weren't many of those, so I had to do without… that was until Dave realized that I was bunk-less. He gave me a key to his cupboard and told me to use it whenever I needed. (Cupboard space was at a premium, so this was a huge deal.) Well, the first night I worked after getting that key, I opened the cupboard to find a roll of loonies and a note on the shelf Dave had given me. The note mentioned that he knew I was probably pretty broke, being away from home for the first time, and thought I might want/need some change for the vending machines at the office. I rarely used any of the money, but occasionally would take a loonie or two for a pop and a bar. Every night there was a fresh roll of loonies on my shelf, along with a note of advice, or praise. This seems like such a simple thing, but it meant so very much to a young, broke and homesick girl. Dave was a genuine, caring man. I shall miss his, ‘Yo!’ and his warm, yet booming, voice.”
But there’s more. Dave Wheeler touched the lives of many people over the years, and if you’d like to read more tributes, check out the messages of condolence at his online guest book, here:
The people on the cover of The Herald are (top row, from left) Fred Greening, Mack Barfoot, John Day, Dave Wheeler; (next row) Pat Murphy, Dave Maunder and Chris Morgan (his real name was Dave Hay). Herald cover supplied by John Day.