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February 14, 2017 12:39 pm  #1


What Would CHUM & CFRB Have Done If This Had Happened?

You may have heard that there was a rare 6-alarm fire at Yonge & St. Clair on Tuesday, a blaze so fierce and black smoke so thick, it prompted evacuations from the surrounding area.
 
As we all know, both CFRB & CHUM used to have their studios in that area and if they were still there, there’s a chance that the evacuations may have applied to them, as well. Which leads me to wonder – if this fire had happened back then and they were forced to get out, what would they have done on air?
 
I suppose they could have aired a reroll and with today’s automation that could go on for a while. But clearly they would have wanted to go live with the story and get back up and running ASAP.
 
So I’m curious – what is the protocol for a radio station if they’re forced to flee in an emergency? If you work for one, has anyone ever talked to you about it, beyond the occasional fire alarm practice? Is there another place they could have broadcast from?
 
I only remember one instance where it took place and it wasn’t handled especially well. It was at least 20 years ago when City TV was still on Queen St. W. I turned on my television to watch what was then called CityPulse Tonight with Mark Dailey, only to be greeted by a rerun of Life on Venus Ave.
 
I thought it was strange and was so curious, I decided to call the station and ask them what happened to their newscast. When no one answered the phone, I knew something big was going on. And when the Venus Ave. tape ran out and rewound on air, leaving nothing but black on screen, I actually became alarmed.
 
They never mentioned what happened and I only found out because I had a friend that lived directly across the street from the place. He went out at 11 PM and discovered there had been a bomb threat phoned in, one that authorities apparently felt was extremely credible. As a result, the place was emptied of every single employee and once the tape running on air was finished, there was nobody to roll or switch to anything. So it went to dead air for well over an hour, until the all clear was given and programming resumed around 12:30 AM.
 
I wonder what other stations would do? Are there back-up places to broadcast from in case the worst happens? (Dan Ingram famously went to the transmitter in New Jersey to help keep WABC New York on the air during the great blackout of 1965. And of course, Fort McMurray, Alberta stations went on auto-pilot or were programmed from Calgary during the terrible fire evacuation of last year.) Has it ever happened to you? Does anyone ever talk about this stuff in radio or TV stations?

Frankly given how big the city is, it amazes me that it hasn't happened more often.

 

February 14, 2017 1:18 pm  #2


Re: What Would CHUM & CFRB Have Done If This Had Happened?

Now with TV being mostly on hard drive, and digital, I'm sure they could remotely control master control and/or go live to their LIVE truck if need be.

As for radio, most would simply throw their stations into automation.   They also would likely have the ability to send voice tracks into their automation system remotely to get something on the air from a remote location if need be after they get plans in play.

Most transmitter sites now have digital links too, so if they lose connection to their studio, they can also connect remotely to their transmitter if needed using digtal streaming boxes. 

 

Last edited by radiokid (February 14, 2017 1:23 pm)

 

February 14, 2017 1:23 pm  #3


Re: What Would CHUM & CFRB Have Done If This Had Happened?

When a radio station in the city experiences a crisis, and can't broadcast from their own studios, I believe the idea is that the competition can offer up an extra studio for temporary use.

Not sure if that's set in stone somewhere in the Canadian Radio Constitution or what.

 

February 14, 2017 1:25 pm  #4


Re: What Would CHUM & CFRB Have Done If This Had Happened?

Fjiri wrote:

When a radio station in the city experiences a crisis, and can't broadcast from their own studios, I believe the idea is that the competition can offer up an extra studio for temporary use.

Not sure if that's set in stone somewhere in the Canadian Radio Constitution or what.

I would also say too with BIG companies, they would likely just move to the nearest jointly owned station down the road.   It's not like it use to be.  Most are interconnected in some way.

 

February 14, 2017 1:44 pm  #5


Re: What Would CHUM & CFRB Have Done If This Had Happened?

It happened, and as fate would have it, just a few months before the 'big blackout' in Aug. 2003.  

It was one of the reasons 'RB and CKFM were so well prepared for it.  May 16th 2003, A hydro transformer blew up right in front of the building.  The generators kicked in, and we had power, but the flames were shooting out of the sidewalk and up the side of the building, being radio morons, we were standing in the sales department watching the flames outside the windows .  Anyway, the fire marshal told us to get out.    

We had all types of contingency in place anyway, with bomb tapes and backups, and Bill Carroll ended up going live from his cell-phone while we prepared to zip up to 40 Eglinton.  Studio 1010 was going to be put to good use, and CKFM would have gone from the EZ production room.  Just as we were all assembled in the back parking lot ready to go, the fire marshall allowed 'emergency' staff back into the building to keep the stations on-air.    So we kept the station on-air via Bill and his Cell phone, or Studio 10-1.  .

The power was off for an extended period of time though, which allowed the engineers to know where any weakness' were with routers, UPS, etc.   When the 'big one' hit later that year, it was a piece of cake.  We knew where to string extension cords, what cable-TV amps needed 'external' power, etc.   The biggest concern on the night of the big blackout wasn't 2 St. Clair, it was 301 Front West .

There were broadcast lines between 2 St. Clair and 1331 Yonge but I don't believe they were ever used.

There were also obviously lines between everywhere via the Bell radio board, so you could get anywhere from anywhere in an emergency anyway.

ig.
 


Madness takes its toll.  Please have exact change.
 
 

February 14, 2017 3:51 pm  #6


Re: What Would CHUM & CFRB Have Done If This Had Happened?

As Iain mentions, back in the last century, CHUM and CFRB had a mutual assistance agreement if one facility had to be shut down that the other would provide studio space until the emergency ended. 
To my knowledge, it never was needed.
However, in the 90's, vandals set fire to the abandoned apartment building just north of CHUM on Yonge and our building air conditioning system started sucking toxic smoke into the building.
It got so bad that it was down to desktop level and no one could get in to shut off the air intake because it was behind a locked door.
The on-scene Fire Chief from the Fire Station across the street ordered the building evacuated but someone with keys showed up in the nick of time to shut down the air handling system and the evacuation was cancelled.
Both AM and FM had what we called "doomsday" tapes, generic recorded programming that could roll while the building was evacuated but it they weren't needed.
Many stations also had an emergency studio at the transmitter site but those likely were scrapped years ago.

Last edited by Mike Cleaver (February 14, 2017 3:54 pm)

 

February 14, 2017 5:45 pm  #7


Re: What Would CHUM & CFRB Have Done If This Had Happened?

Those stories about 'RB and CHUM were fascinating. But I can’t help wonder what would have happened, despite their mutual agreement to help each other out, if both stations were sent packing by toxic smoke. Then what?
 
A friend of mine reminded me of another much lesser known incident and since he was there that night, I’m pretty sure it’s a true story. And it involves someone who is now a very well known Toronto radio personality.
 
It apparently happened sometime around 1981, when Telemedia-owned CJCL was still at 1430, doing that weird hybrid music-talk format, and located on the top floor of 464 Yonge St. near College. But it was what was on the floor below that caused all the problems.
 
One evening, the newsroom and the night guy noticed a strange odour gradually wafting into the studios. At first, they ignored it, sure it was just temporary. But as the night wore on, the place began to get more and more cloudy, as if a fog had rolled in. Eventually, it was impossible to ignore and it got into the throats, noses and eyes of everyone left in the place, causing them to cough repeatedly. 
 
It turns out the business downstairs was a restaurant of some sort that may have found some unwanted guests in their kitchen. As a result, after hours, they closed down and had the place fumigated using a toxic pesticide. But nobody told anyone in the station upstairs, perhaps forgetting that radio doesn’t close at 7 PM. The fumes slowly began wafting upwards and it just got more and more intense as the hours passed.
 
Shows were still live in those days and it got so bad that eventually a call was put in to the program director, who I believe was Clint Nickerson. His advice – you can’t breathe it in, it’s dangerous and you’ll have to leave.
 
“But we’re on the air,” he was told, “what are we going to do – sign off, leave dead air?” It was a weird dilemma, one I’ve never heard of before, but it was decided the overnight man would cue up a few reel-to-reel tapes with pre-recorded programs (the station wasn't set up for automation back then) and come back every half hour to an hour to start the next tape. Where he went during that time isn’t known, but I’m sure it was a very, very long night for the guy.
 
You know him well, although I wonder if he remembers that strange shift. His name: John Oakley and hopefully he’s in a more healthy environment these days. 

     Thread Starter
 

February 14, 2017 6:29 pm  #8


Re: What Would CHUM & CFRB Have Done If This Had Happened?

30 years ago, I was on-air in Vancouver one night when the fire alarm went off in the building, went out to the lobby and the restaurant across the hall was on fire.  Their ice cream freezer thingy had gone up and the fire had started crawling up the walls.  I have no idea why but I just went back inside, called the fire department and kept on going.  Started playing Oowatanite and various renditions of 'fire' and having fun with it on-air till the chief showed up at the scene and ran me out of the building by the scruff of my neck.  

They made quick work of the fire and I went back inside.  It was incredibly stupid, but it just never crossed my mind to leave the station and since we had no bomb tape or anything like that, I didn't want to have dead air.

I've been in similar situations quite a few times since, and the reluctance to leave the control room by me and those around me is mind numbing but it's real.  Fire officials and 'floor' captains screaming their heads off at us to 'get the F out', and we'd shrug and keep going.

Life is funny .
 


Madness takes its toll.  Please have exact change.
 
 

February 14, 2017 7:55 pm  #9


Re: What Would CHUM & CFRB Have Done If This Had Happened?

I love these kinds of stories. Here’s another one, although it doesn’t really involve an evacuation. More like an unexpected dislocation.  
 
It happened during the same August 2003 blackout Iain mentions in a post above. The staff at the CityPulse newsroom was trying to get ready for the 6, when the lights – and everything else - went out around 4:12 PM. They managed to get their one generator going (the bare-to-the-bone-financed station wasn’t really prepared for anything like what happened) pulled all their equipment, including the U-matic tape machines, out into the parking lot, and used the generator and their Live Eye to produce a rudimentary newscast.
 
The problem? The power was out everywhere so absolutely no one saw this hour long show that they struggled so mightily and against all odds to get on the air. And even if you were one of the few with electricity, cable was out so you couldn’t see it that way, either. A colleague who was there that day told me everyone kept asking each other, “why are we killing ourselves doing a show that no one can possibly watch?” But they did it anyway, and sure enough, nobody but those involved in the production ever got the chance to actually see it.
 
If memory serves, I think they actually uploaded this show to their website a year later on the first anniversary of the outage. Probably more saw it there than ever saw it on air.    

     Thread Starter
 

February 14, 2017 11:06 pm  #10


Re: What Would CHUM & CFRB Have Done If This Had Happened?

I'm pretty sure boom 97.3 and 93.5 the move are still broadcasting from 2 St Clair west. So what did they do today?

 

February 15, 2017 10:20 am  #11


Re: What Would CHUM & CFRB Have Done If This Had Happened?

Hi from 2 St. Clair!!  Yesterday the building was evacuated at 1 PM as we were told the power would likely be completely shut off on the affected grid.  I'm not sure if that actually happened but we have had power outages in the past and our generators have kicked in as they should.  We maintained a skeleton on-air staff through it all.  Between music harddrive, voice tracking and back-up CD's, both stations can withstand unusual situations for probably a day or so. Anything longer than that - I imagine - would become a bit more of an adventure. Also, it is my understanding that in a dire situation, our transmitter sites can be used as a master control.

 

February 15, 2017 6:18 pm  #12


Re: What Would CHUM & CFRB Have Done If This Had Happened?

How many radio stations in the Toronto area have an alternate transmitter site?
Bruce Carnegie built a 3 thousand watt alternate site for CHUM FM on the roof of a nearby high rise apartment building, complete with generator during the late 80s.
Most of Toronto's major FMs are on the CN Tower and the signals run through a combiner into one antenna or did when the Tower originally went into operation. 
There were generators there that could power everything if the regular grid went down.
But occasionally overnight, the transmitters were shut down for maintenance to either transmitters, combiner or antenna.
All of the stations on the Tower would go dark if it involved the combiner or antenna.
CHUM FM was able to stay on the air, using the auxiliary site, until the Tower came back up.
CHUM FM had a number of transmitter sites,  first on top of 1331 Yonge, then on the Confederation Life Building on Bloor and finally, The CN Tower.
 

 

February 15, 2017 6:33 pm  #13


Re: What Would CHUM & CFRB Have Done If This Had Happened?

Not quite .  During the last 'big blackout' the CN tower ended up having to divert generator power to the emergency nav. lighting from the stations, forcing them to lower and finally shut down their transmitters, and rely on those backup ones.

Mike Cleaver wrote:

Most of Toronto's major FMs are on the CN Tower and the signals run through a combiner into one antenna or did when the Tower originally went into operation.   There were generators there that could power everything if the regular grid went down.  

 


Madness takes its toll.  Please have exact change.
 
 

February 15, 2017 9:32 pm  #14


Re: What Would CHUM & CFRB Have Done If This Had Happened?

at one time, going back to the 80s, the CRTC expected radio stations to have back up generators.

Except that one time, when a terrorist group "Black Monday" called in a bomb threat to the station.  The GM was out of town, so the decision was made to move everything to the Tx site while the police swept the studios.  They found nothing, but Johnny continued finger tapping on the toolbox until it turned out the threat was actually at the Tx.... Then it was a race to get the DJ's out of there....

 

February 16, 2017 2:42 pm  #15


Re: What Would CHUM & CFRB Have Done If This Had Happened?

splunge wrote:

at one time, going back to the 80s, the CRTC expected radio stations to have  back up  generators.

Except  that one time, when a terrorist group "Black Monday" called in a bomb threat to the station.  The GM was out of town, so the decision was made to move everything to the Tx site while the police swept the studios.  They found nothing, but Johnny continued finger tapping on the toolbox until it turned out the threat was actually at the Tx.... Then it was a race to get the DJ's out of there....

Damn, you beat me to it. 

Last edited by Hansa (February 16, 2017 2:43 pm)