WHQR’s station manager will step down at the end of February, sending the Wilmington, N.C., station on its third search for a leader since 2017.
Kurt Wilson joined WHQR in March 2020, just before staff went remote at the beginning of the pandemic. Wilson and his wife will return to Michigan to be closer to their family, according to a WHQR press release. He has accepted a position as station manager of West Community Education Television, a cable-access station serving the communities of Hudsonville and Grandville, Mich.
“This is a great place and a great opportunity for someone,” Wilson said. “This was going to be my retirement place.”
WHQR’s board of directors began initial recruitment discussions this week for the open position. Morning Edition host Ken Campbell will serve as interim station manager.
Wilson succeeded Michelle Rhinesmith, who left in September 2019 after two years. Wilson attributed his own departure to the pandemic, which made him realize he wanted to spend time with his two new grandsons, he told Current.
“The pandemic has opened our eyes to what is important in our life right now,” he said. “We love it here. We’ve been very successful. We’ve had record-breaking fundraising years, we’ve done so many great things, but I need to be involved in my kids’ and grandkids’ lives again, and that’s the only reason.”
During his tenure, Wilson expanded WHQR’s local news presence by securing three years of funding for a community fellow. The station also added new shows and hosts to its classical programming in January.
Both the station’s content and financial state are in better shape now than when Wilson joined, according to Board Chair Jon McLamb. Although station leadership worried in March 2020 that the pandemic would stymie fundraising, Wilson had a keen eye for finding grants and utilizing government programs, such as loans from the Small Business Administration, McLamb said.
“I’ll give him credit for looking at ways to make our station resilient for the long term,” he said, adding that as a community licensee station, WHQR has not had financial support from a university to fall back on.
“The station’s been in good financial shape for the whole time he’s been here,” McLamb said. “It’s just been in a little bit better position after two years of Kurt Wilson’s leadership.”
As the station moves forward with its search, the board will focus on finding a station manager who can ensure WHQR’s long-term financial stability and engage the community, which has become more difficult since the beginning of the pandemic. McLamb acknowledged the recent turnover in the position but hopes that Wilson’s work has created a more appealing place for potential candidates.
“I think that his presence has been kind of calming and building a better culture at the station,” he said. “And it was a shock to us on the board when he announced his resignation to us, but we definitely understand and can empathize with his motives for that.”
“Resigning to spend more time with his family,” huh? That sounds familiar.
A station doesn’t burn through three CEO’s in that short a time period unless it’s got really serious problems with the staff or the board. Or both.