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September 23, 2021 3:05 pm  #1

Why There Was 15 Mins. Of Dead Air On CKTB's Drive Home Show Wed.

When most stations make a huge mistake, the instinct is to bury it and move on, hoping the audience will forget. 

Not on CKTB's Tom McConnell Show, the afternoon drive program on the station. The longtime host signed on at 2 PM Thursday, determined to explain to his audience why there was a sudden and unexplained 15-20 minute gap of dead air right in the middle of the rush home at 4:40 PM Wednesday. And it sounded like a tale out of WKRP. 

Because of COVID, McConnell has been broadcasting from his home for over a year. The only one in the studio is his producer, who I believe is a guy named Greg Campagna. (By the way, he's a very talented producer and contributes a lot to the show. Which is what makes what follows all the more embarrassing.)

According to the story they told Thursday afternoon, McConnell threw to a 4-minute spot break at precisely 4:40 PM. His peckish producer then decided he had time to dash out into the parking lot and get a small snack he'd left in his car, parked right by the front door. As he explained it on air, he knew he had four minutes and it takes about 30 secs. to go from the lot and back to the control room. So if all went as planned, it would have taken 60 seconds or less. The spots, controlled by computer, are set to play back-to-back, so he didn't need to be there. 

When he got to his car, it was pouring buckets of rain. Because of COVID, there was almost no one in the building - the FM rock station was on auto-pilot, the "promo girl" was out on assignment and the engineer had left for the day. As Campagna tells it, he always feels for his key card before leaving the building. Even for a second. 

Except this time. 

You can guess what happened next. The door closed and locked behind him as he retrieved his pepper stick from the car, when he suddenly realized he'd left the key - and his cell phone, which was charging - inside. Knocks on the door were useless because there was no one there to answer them. A feeling of dread washed over him harder than the rain, and when the spots ended, they were replaced by dead air. 

Meanwhile, McConnell is sitting in his basement studio at home, turning on his mic but realizing his pot at the studio was turned down during the break. There was no one there to bring it back up. To make matters worse, he can't hear the feed, and asks Campagna through talkback to turn it up. No response. He phones his cell. Nothing. He tries to text him. No reply.  

He then figures there's either a power outage or an internet interruption. But no, despite the raging monsoon outside, everything is fine. A back-up generator would have kicked in by then and the station still had carrier current. There was just nothing to fill it. 

A back-up tape - filled with stand-up comedy - apparently did not come on, either, leaving listeners with nothing but a lot of white noise. 

The saving grace in all this is that the engineer on duty gets an emergency page if the station is off the air for more than a few minutes. McConnell also called him and asked what was going on. Luckily, he was near the station and quickly zoomed off toward Yates St. When he arrived, he saw a dejected and very wet Campagna near the front door, hoping he'd come to rescue him. 

The op raced back into the control room, played a few more spots that were scheduled for 4:56 PM, and then hit the news at 5. From there, the show resumed. He told McConnell while he was embarrassed, no commercials had actually been missed and everyone who paid for airtime got it. 

I think we've all heard about the guy who locked himself out of the studio going for a smoke or a bathroom break. It's just that we don't often get to hear the story told live on air by the people who went through it. Fortunately, it was only the second time in 16 years it's ever happened to Campagna and it sounds like they've forgiven him.   

Maybe it was all those years I spent in radio, but I laughed out loud during the whole sordid tale. And I think anyone's who's ever been on air or in a control room can picture themselves in that nightmare. 

It's one of the reasons I like their show so much - they're very honest with the audience. I suspect most hosts would never have explained it at all. 


September 23, 2021 5:12 pm  #2

Re: Why There Was 15 Mins. Of Dead Air On CKTB's Drive Home Show Wed.

By the way, this was the same duo who, a few weeks ago, went into an explanation of what "hitting the post" means in radio. And they spent the next 15 minutes on air demonstrating it, playing one intro after another, with McConnell and Campagna both taking turns on a plethora of songs. It was terrific and neither one of them literally missed a beat!

     Thread Starter

September 23, 2021 6:01 pm  #3

Re: Why There Was 15 Mins. Of Dead Air On CKTB's Drive Home Show Wed.

There was a time when this didn't happen.


September 23, 2021 11:28 pm  #4

Re: Why There Was 15 Mins. Of Dead Air On CKTB's Drive Home Show Wed.

Then why have I heard stories like this from mostly older people in the industry?  It happens less now than ever before because you don't have to cue up a record every three minutes.  The automation keeps on rolling in most cases.


September 23, 2021 11:39 pm  #5

Re: Why There Was 15 Mins. Of Dead Air On CKTB's Drive Home Show Wed.

The late Larry King used to tell a story like this on his old radio show. He was doing all nights at WIOD in Miami when he went outside for a smoke during a song. He locked himself out of the place and of course, couldn't get back in. As luck (or bad luck) would have it, the record started to skip and for about an hour, all listeners heard were the same words over and over and over. 

He somehow got back in and the next night, the phone rang in the control room as he was playing another tune. It was a very old man, who started saying, "Where the nights, where the nights, where the nights," over and over. King asked him what he was talking about. 

The elderly man told him he was an invalid, whose care nurse left him at night with the radio on - which he couldn't reach - playing King's show. "All last night for an hour, all I heard was some guy singing "where the nights." I couldn't get up to change the station and it drove me crazy."

If I recall the end of the story correctly, the guy said he couldn't get it out of his head after hearing it for an hour, and asked King to play it again!

So it does happen - at least if you believe the guy who would go on to become a huge star at CNN and then promptly became almost a caricature of himself before he passed away last January. 

     Thread Starter