© 2023 Peoria Public Radio
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Former Peoria TV GM is now Mr. Tambourine Man


Kevin Harlan may have left his beat as general manager of Peoria’s WMBD-TV Channel 31 but he’s still keeping the beat.

When Harlan left his TV post earlier this year to retire to St. Louis, he went fulltime into Harlan Percussion, a home business devoted to making tambourines and other percussion instruments for symphony orchestras around the world.

“Prior to getting into television many years ago, I was a classically-trained percussionist. I had my own drum shop in St. Louis and developed a line of instruments for symphonies. I merged with a company that did all the drum work for a guy named Neil Peart, the drummer for the Rush rock group,” he said.

Harlan did two tours of duty as GM of WMBD, the CBS affiliate in Peoria, and sister station WYZZ, first from 2002 to 2006 and then from 2015 through 2021.

Taking over for Harlan at 31 is Shaun Newell, the former news director at the station. “Shaun’s the first news director to be elevated to GM in the Nexstar Broadcast Group,” noted Harlan.

“About five years ago I got inquiries regarding the Harlan tambourine. Now that I’m retired, I’m doing it full-time. It fills in those days you wake up in retirement and wonder what you’re going to do today,” he said.

“I know what I’m going to do. I’m going to make drumsticks, tambourines and things like that,” said Harlan, who works out of two workshops in his home where he completes the final assembly on tambourines made to his specifications.

“I’ve got a machinist in California who makes the jingles for the tambourine and a company in Vermont that make the wooden tambourine shells,” he said.

Getting orders from far-flung spots around the globe still fascinates Harlan. “They pay almost as much in freight as they do for the instruments,” said Harlan, whose list of recent clients includes the St. Louis Symphony, the London Symphony as well as symphonies in Barcelona, New Zealand, Japan and China.

If you’re wondering what a Harlan tambourine costs, figure on spending $220, he said.

Making the instruments has another benefit. “My wife and I will go to Paris and London and we always get together with percussionists there,” he said.

“The timpanist of the Rotterdam Symphony was a student who worked in my drum shop in the 1970s in St. Louis. He’s been with that orchestra for 30 years,” said Harlan.

When he’s not traveling or making instruments, Harlan said he’s catching up on old TV shows. “For a while it was ‘Wanted Dead or Alive’ with Steve McQueen. Now I’m watching Jack Benny shows from the 1950s. Great writing is great writing whether it’s 1950 or 2020,” he said.

We depend on your support to keep telling stories like this one. You – together with donors across the NPR Network – create a more informed public. Fact by fact, story by story. Please take a moment to donate now and fund the local news our community needs. Your support truly makes a difference.

Steve Tarter retired from the Peoria Journal Star in 2019 after spending 20 years at the paper as both reporter and business editor.