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James Nevin Beeler | 1963-2012

Jim Beeler, WMNF host and Tampa man-about-town, dies at 48

PARKLAND ESTATES — From the fluorescent meeting rooms at Tampa City Hall where people in suits discussed the technicalities of municipal policy to the dimly lit clubs where young folks in thrift store clothes listened to alternative bands, everyone in town seemed to know Jim Beeler.

He was a hard man to define. Although he was widely known and highly driven, he wasn't the kind of guy who could be identified by his career.

"We called him a Jim of all trades," said his sister, Noel Beeler Suders.

Mr. Beeler passed away on Aug. 28 at age 48. He had AIDS but didn't know it until a couple of months ago, and then it was too late. He exhibited a collection of symptoms, including fatigue and some pain, but didn't consult a doctor until June, his sister said.

Mr. Beeler lived virtually his entire life in Tampa. In fact, at the time of his death, he was living in the same Parkland Estates home where three generations of his family had grown up. His great-grandfather built the house in the 1920s. Mr. Beeler's mother still lives there.

His one extended period away from Tampa came just recently, when he moved to Gainesville to earn a master's degree in urban planning from the University of Florida. He returned home and started sending resumes all over the country.

But with municipal budgets being cut everywhere, he was unable to find work. It was an uncharacteristically sad time for the man known for his almost constant smile and cheerful disposition.

"It just wasn't a good time to start a career as an urban planner," his sister said.

He thought the lethargy in fact caused by his disease may have been because of his depression over not being able to start his career, she said. That may have delayed his seeking medical help.

Mr. Beeler may have been most widely known as one of the early on-air hosts for community radio station WMNF. He played obscure contemporary music — techno, electronic music, trance, industrial — on a show he called Culture Shock.

"He was a pioneering DJ at WMNF," said Laura Taylor, the station's director of development. "It wasn't just that he got into it in the very early days of station, but also by bringing underground music, for lack of a better term, to that station's programming."

Taylor also hosts WMNF's show Surface Noise, and said Mr. Beeler was one of her mentors.

She first met him in the '80s and was a bit starstruck because he was already a fixture in Tampa's alternative music scene and had a show on WMNF that she listened to.

"I was just so incredibly flattered when he invited me to come on his show and do a half-hour of music," Taylor said.

He was a local celebrity, at least among the alternative-music crowd, but he was also active in local political and civic circles. He served on Tampa-Hillsborough County Planning Commission and worked on several campaigns for area politicians.

People in the local music scene knew him for his ultraconservative political views, which were unusual in that crowd.

"To this day, all my friends range from very progressive to moderate," Taylor said. "Jim was the one Republican."

He knew that his music friends didn't share his views, but he still loved discussing politics with them. Debates may have been passionate, but they never became personal, Taylor said.

Ideas were discussed, ideologies remained unchanged, and everyone always left smiling, thanks to Beeler's bonhomie, Taylor said.

He never lost his passion for music. In his final days, as he was on his deathbed, he asked his family to play nothing but albums by Depeche Mode and the German industrial band KMFDM.

Besides his sister, Mr. Beeler is survived by his mother, Helen, his brother, Paul, and his former wife, Barbara Oosting.

Marty Clear writes life stories about Tampa residents who have recently passed away. He can reached at mclear@tampabay.rr.com.

Jim Beeler, WMNF host and Tampa man-about-town, dies at 48 09/06/12 [Last modified: Thursday, September 6, 2012 4:30am]
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