Don’t Touch That Dial!
KUAA and Brad Wheeler Groove a Mix of World Music
Tune your radio dial to 99.9 FM, and if you are within range, you will hear the unique sounds emanating from Utah’s newest radio station, KUAA.
Founded by Derek Dryer and now headed by (Bad) Brad Wheeler, this non-profit station broadcasts a diverse mix of multicultural and bilingual music spanning genres and styles. Originally, KUAA (the Utah’s newest radio station) broadcasted from within a closet at the Arts Alliance building on 663 West and 100 South. In late 2017, Dryer wanted to really establish KUAA and brought in Wheeler shortly after he departed from KRCL. Initially, Wheeler was hesitant about getting involved and says, “I wasn’t really sure if his audience would embrace me.”
However, Wheeler offered to take over for 72 hours to see if he could make the station live up to Dryer’s expectation. After Wheeler programmed a multilingual mix for KUAA, the station began attracting attention. “I don’t really feel like I did it so much — I feel like the music did it on its own,” Wheeler says.
Music is the Universal Language
KUAA is broadcasting shows representing the diverse communities that live in Utah. “Music is the universal language. There are some tunes that borrow concepts from Africa or Europe, or South America, or the Caribbean Islands, that I feel like it doesn’t matter where you are in the world, you can relate and understand it,” Wheeler says.
For Wheeler, music is the light that draws people in to inspire a deeper human connection that goes beyond borders or walls. “I think it’s cool we are trying to give a place for all people, no matter what their language family; a place to tune in and listen,” Wheeler says. “It reminds us we don’t live in a white vacuum. “Listening to music in foreign languages makes you aware there are other cultures out there.”
According to Wheeler, experiencing other cultures can influence people to imagine and create changes in their communities, and to an even larger extent, the world. For him, music is a powerful vehicle for these ideals. “There are certain times where songs transcend people and they are a catalyst for change, the catalyst for thought [and] a catalyst for compassion. I believe compassion is important. We’re all on this planet to help each other. We’re all here walking each other home. All we have is each other.”
Wheeler has expanded KUAA from beyond the confines of the closet. “It’s changed a lot since I’ve come on, he says. “Now the station is supported by several businesses including 5 Wives Vodka and City Homes Collective. KUAA has evolved to boast not just a computer and a transmitter, but also a soundboard, four different microphones in the studio, two turntables, two CD decks, and an even an emergency broadcast system.
Although KUAA radio station is still only powered by a hundred watts, it can be difficult to tune into. So dialing 99.9 FM requires a keen intention to do so. Wheeler slyly says, “I secretly might enjoy a little bit that you have to try and listen to the radio station.”
Moving forward, Wheeler has recruited several DJs to host programs on KUAA. This includes DJs Sneaky Long and Chase One 2, who host The Long Walk Home, and Eric Jensen. “The DJs I have on right now are DJs I have a lot of respect for. They’re people who, when I’m not listening to music on my own, I’m curious about what they are listening to.” Wheeler adds, “Eric is the only one at the station who has had previous radio experience. I’m so grateful for him.”
For Wheeler, being a DJ is more than a job, it is a calling. These lessons include practicing humility and gratitude. Wheeler believes a DJ is a kind of public servant and must reflect humility and gratitude. “I’ve been telling the other DJs at the station there is something about the microphone and the radio station that has power. When you turn it on and talk into it, it’s going to pick a part of your personality you don’t get to choose … and it’s going to amplify it.”
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