July 19 editorial
July 18, 2008
Running for public office or taking a government paycheck in Park City takes a lot of guts. That is due in large part to the fact that every public official for the last 28 years, from planning commissioner to dogcatcher, from U.S. senator to public works manager, has had to survive an on-air interview with Blair Feulner.
Local news has been a centerpiece of the station’s programming from the day Feulner opened his mic on KPCW, giving the town its first taste of home-grown public radio. Feulner’s idea of covering city and county government was nothing short of Meet the Press. The only difference was that, instead of Washington, D.C., Feulner’s fodder was Main Street. He grilled city council candidates, hosted pre-election debates and wired the city council chambers in order to broadcast particularly controversial public hearing. Woe to the unprepared candidate who thought Feulner would be too polite to ask the tough questions.
Suffice it to say that KPCW’s entrance into the media scene served to ratchet up the competition between Park City’s news organizations including The Newspaper, owned by Jan Wilking, and The Park Record, then owned by Dick Buys. The competition was fierce and not always friendly. Feulner’s fury was hard to avoid when a source spilled a scoop to one of his rivals.
During the years that Park City was polishing its rough edges, Feulner aggressively surveyed listeners and shaped the station’s programming to match the survey statistics. In response, some described his efforts to tame the volunteers’ quirky music tastes as dictatorial, while others said it made the station sound more professional. In the same vein, Feulner’s relentless efforts to expand the station into Salt Lake City and beyond were seen by some as a sellout to commercial interests while others saw it as a smart business move.
This week in a surprise announcement, Feulner said he was taking a six-month sabbatical. Apparently the station’s board of trustees and staff were unprepared for his sudden departure and listeners were left wondering, as Feulner himself would have asked, "So, the man on the street would probably want to know, ‘What’s the bottom line here? Are you coming back?’"
The answer, it appears, is still being negotiated. After guiding KPCW through 25 years of steady growth and finally recognizing his dream of establishing a sister station in Salt Lake City, Feulner’s driving ambition, once unquestioned, has become a source of controversy.
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This is what we do know: Through KPCW, Feulner set new standards for civic participation in Park City. He helped to guide Park City’s transition from a small town to an Olympic venue by shining a light on local government and forcing citizens to participate in the decisions shaping their destiny.
Feulner lit the community’s campfire and it is now our responsibility to keep it going.
In the interest of full disclosure, the editor of this paper and author of this editorial worked as a reporter for KPCW for five years and learned a ton from Blair Feulner.