Controlled Chaos

Rundowns and lineups are the lifelines of live TV news broadcasts, sports highlight shows, and talk radio programs. Designed in a similar style as Microsoft Excel sheets, they are used to itemize everything from segment times, video elements, on-screen graphics and fonts, and sponsorship information. Talk Radio lineups are a little less sophisticated, but include many of the same detailed elements included in TV rundowns – commercial break times, sponsor mentions, and of course, guest information.

Show producers, associate producers, and TV directors among others compile rundowns as they prep their shows, adding to them as show elements are filed or completed. Everybody on the crew keeps a close eye on the lineup as the show is on air, following along with each item on the list. It would be complete chaos without them. On Tuesday afternoon around 3:15pm ET, rundowns and lineups in TV sports departments and sports radio stations in Toronto were about to be thrown into garbages or virtual trash cans when TV and radio hosts and producers heard the news of a plane crash in Florida. Broadcasting chaos ensued.

What you are about to read is, in journalism parlance, a ‘Tick-Tock.’ It’s a detailed behind-the-scenes scramble that was Tuesday afternoon for a television producer, two radio talkshow hosts, two sports radio producers and a sports columnist. This is their story. In their own words.

For context, you’ll need to know a few things here. The Scott MacArthur Show airs weekdays on TSN 1050 Radio in Toronto from 1-4pm and is followed by the show OverDrive. OverDrive airs from 4-7pm. Prime Time Sports with Bob McCown airs weekdays from 4-7pm on The Fan 590 Radio in Toronto.

The story begins with Scott MacArthur, who just wrapped up an in-studio interview with Canadian race car driver James Hinchcliffe.


 

Scott MacArthur – Host of The Scott MacArthur Show, TSN 1050: (Hinchcliffe and I) chat for a couple of minutes off air and then I escort him out of the studio. I walk back in and I had noticed right as I threw to commercial break that there was a new direct message for me on Twitter (from a family friend). I click it open and it’s effectively, ‘There’s word out there that (Roy) Halladay’s plane has gone down. Have you heard anything about this?’

Matt Marchese – Producer, Prime Time Sports with Bob McCown, Fan 590: (At) 3:15, Alex Seixeiro, who does our (sports) updates, sent out an email that said, ‘This (plane crash in Florida) is something to monitor.’

Scott MacArthur: The Sports Director of (CBS), the local tv station down in Tampa had linked a story that a plane owned by Roy Halladay had crashed in the Gulf of Mexico and one person was dead. I’m sitting there still in the commercial break, and this feeling of nausea just came over me. (Producer) Shawn (Lavigne) was talking to Hinchcliffe outside the studio. I got in (technical producer Mike Skrzyniak’s) ear and I said, ‘Where’s Shawny? I need to talk to him.’

Shawn Lavigne – Producer, The Scott MacArthur Show, TSN 1050: I was talking to (Hinchcliffe), next thing you know Mike Skrzyniak yelled to me to get into the studio, ‘Scott needs you.’

Steve Argintaru – Senior Producer, News and Information, TSN: We have a thirty minute show at 5 and a full hour at 6. I was getting ready to walk over to the other building for our regular afternoon meeting. We meet twice a day to go over the shows, go over lineups, content.

Matt Marchese: We get emails all the time. Some are more important than others. And you kind of look at it and (say), ‘Oh, this isn’t good.’

Shawn Lavigne: Scott (asked), ‘How do we do this?’ I said, ‘Just report the facts. Just report what you see.’ And that’s what he did.

Scott MacArthur: I read news at 580 CFRA (in Ottawa) for the better part of a decade. One thing my News Director told me came right to the front of my head. And that is, ‘You can’t un-kill somebody.’ Which is to say, make it very clear that we don’t know who has died but this is a plane owned by Roy Halladay.

Steve Argintaru: I was leaving my office and I walked by the TSN.ca area and I heard one guy, I heard a couple of words but it was PLANE and CRASH and HALLADAY. I said, ‘What?!

Scott MacArthur: I then went on air and I said, ‘Here’s what we know.’ That was a short segment so I threw to traffic and Scott Ferguson’s (sports) update.

Shawn Lavigne: The whole time Scott (MacArthur) reset the situation of the details that we knew of. There was nothing else we could go on or say.

Steve Argintaru: At that point you start thinking through scenarios. ‘What if? What if?’ And how you’re going to react. So these thoughts are with me as I continue to walk toward the meeting. By the time I got to the meeting less than five minutes later I got a couple of calls saying, ‘Hey, just wanted to make sure you heard about this report.’

Shawn Lavigne: Immediately I just started scouring Twitter. CBS Tampa tweeted the story out that the plane had the same tail number as Halladay’s plane. My heart sank.

Matt Marchese: When they say one unidentified deceased, it’s terrible to say, but you’re kind of holding out hope that it’s somebody else.

Shawn Lavigne: I called Tyler Hunt, (producer) of OverDrive and said, ‘You may have to blow up your show because Roy Halladay’s plane may have crashed and he may be dead.’

Bryan Hayes – Host of OverDrive, TSN 1050: I was voicing something in the studio in the back, behind the (main) control room. I came out around 3:30, Shawn Lavigne said, ‘Hey, heads up. There’s breaking news out of Tampa, apparently a plane has crashed, and it sounded like it was Roy Halladay’s plane.’ My mind was racing immediately thinking, ‘It’s gotta be him.’ We’re on the air in a half hour so we all just convene. Myself, (TSN 1050 Program Director) Jeff MacDonald, Tyler Hunt, (Jeff O’Neill and Jamie McLennan).

Shawn Lavigne: We had one more segment left in our show. We had Alex Marvez, our NFL analyst, and I said, ‘If we need to bail on you halfway, we may.’ I explained that Halladay’s plane had gone down potentially and we’re waiting for confirmation.

Scott MacArthur: I do the Marvez interview. I couldn’t tell you, outside of my little Kirk Cousins conversation off the top, what the hell we talked about because I just felt like the worst was coming. I love Marvez, but I wanted the interview to end. It didn’t feel right to me that we were talking football. It felt right in the sense that I don’t know what the proper alternative would have been because we didn’t have anymore news than what I shared at 3:27. But it felt wrong. I felt terrible. I couldn’t listen to what Alex was saying. I wanted to puke.

Steve Argintaru: In the meeting we were just talking about, ‘Ok, if the reports are true, if it comes out that it was in fact Roy Halladay that was in the plane, how do we react? Who do we talk to?’ We started compiling a list of guests for the show.

Steve Simmons – Sun Media columnist & TSN contributor: I was having a day off and at about five to four (TSN producer) Mike Lane called me and said, ‘Have you seen what’s going on?’ By that time I had seen on Twitter – “Plane Missing.” I hadn’t seen anything after that. (Mike) said, ‘Can you get here?’ I said, ‘Well, I’m 35-40 minutes away, in traffic. I’ll put a suit on and get in my my car.’ He said, ‘If you can be here as soon as possible. Get here.’

Matt Marchese: We found out there was going to be a (police) press conference, originally scheduled for 4:15, and then they changed it to 4:30 and then they changed it back to 4:15.

Scott MacArthur: We went to break. Jeff MacDonald walked in in that commercial break and said, ‘Scotty, we need you to stay. OverDrive will start as normal but if this police press conference reveals the worst anticipated news, we’re going to get you on with the guys.’ I said, ‘Absolutely.’

Steve Argintaru: Your thoughts are kind of put on hold for a little bit at that point because you’re still planning but you’re still kind of waiting for the news. The Jays fan in you, the human being in you was obviously hoping that it’s not what you think the outcome is.

Bryan Hayes: We got on the air at 4. We had a cold (show) opening and immediately just acknowledged (the news). We said we’re going to play the press conference live and we transitioned into something else that was sort of light hearted, but it was really difficult to transition into anything. It was difficult to joke around. We stopped each other after a couple of minutes and said, ‘Let’s be honest.’ And we’re on the air talking it out. It was really difficult to do.

Matt Marchese: (Hockey analyst) Greg Millen was our first guest and we didn’t end up moving him because we didn’t know if it was Roy or not.

Steve Argintaru: While all this is happening we’re talking internally (about) at what point do we break into programming because we weren’t scheduled to go up until 5 o’clock. We knew there was this announcement coming from the Sheriff’s office, and at what point do we go?

Matt Marchese: By 4:15 the press conference had started and we were sitting in the (control) room and the Sheriff comes to the podium and starts talking, and then when he says, ‘I’m saddened to tell you that it’s one of our close friends.’ And then when he says Roy Halladay’s name, I let out a massive expletive, because I don’t care about the show at that point.

Shawn Lavigne: Usually those types of press conferences are very standard. There’s not a lot of information other than the specifics, but obviously Roy had a relationship with the police department, and it was actually pretty powerful.

Steve Simmons: As I’m driving there, the news conference comes on the radio and you’re hearing the fact that Roy Halladay is dead and some of the details.

Steve Argintaru: As soon as we heard they announce that it was in fact Roy Halladay that died in the crash, we immediately went up live and that kind of changed everything.

Shawn Lavigne: Jeff MacDonald made the call that we were going to go commercial free until 6 o’clock, which was the right call I think. Everything was so fresh and so new.

Matt Marchese: Bob comes on after the press conference is done. We blew up the whole hour with no breaks. We didn’t take a break until 4:58, which we don’t do. As he is coming back from the press conference, Bob’s voice cracked.

Steve Argintaru: Everything that we were going to do in the shows basically fell on the cutting room floor. It was all about the coverage of the plane crash that killed Roy Halladay.

Shawn Lavigne: When it’s commercial free like that you have to have a lot things in place. You had to be a step ahead every time.

Matt Marchese: Your head goes into work mode. You can’t get emotional here. He was my favourite baseball player growing up. You can’t get emotional because in the job that you’re in, you have work to do right now.

Steve Argintaru: When you go up (live) in a situation like this, you don’t really think about immediately how long you’re going to go up for and what the impact is on the rest of the day. You do it as long as you think that it’s the right thing to do. The right thing for your viewers and the right way to cover a story.

Steve Simmons: I got to TSN at about 4:40 and walked straight into the studio. They almost put me immediately on the air. No make up or anything. That’s the first time I can ever recall that happening.


Reaching Out

Shawn Lavigne: I stuck around, Scott stuck around on set with the Overdrive guys. From then on it was just gathering player names and numbers who we had and who we thought might be available and Tyler and I started making calls.

Matt Marchese: You start going to lists of people, ‘Ok, who did he play with? Who did he play with for a long period of time? Who managed him?’ So you start going through this list in your head. The names that we started blurting out, it became almost a blur, ‘Try this person. Try that person.’

Matt Marchese: The first two guests we had on were (baseball writer) Bob Elliott and Gregg Zaun and because they were the first they didn’t really have time to grieve, and they both had near breakdowns on the air.

Shawn Lavigne: A lot of people didn’t pick up.

Matt Marchese: We had called Pete Walker. Originally he had agreed to do it. My co-producer (Jeff Azzopardi) could tell in his voice that he was a wreck, and then (Walker) called back minutes later and said, ‘I’m sorry, I can’t come on.’

Shawn Lavigne: Scott texted Ricky Romero because he has a relationship with Ricky. Ricky texted back and said he was able to (come on).

Matt Marchese: Alex Anthopoulos said, ‘I can’t. I don’t think I can speak today.’

Scott MacArthur: That’s the tough part. We all know why I’m texting, and you feel dirty doing it but you also know you have to do it. You have to ask, ‘Will you come on and talk about Roy?’ Some say yes, and you allow them to do that and I think maybe it’s cathartic for them. Others say no and you give them that grace.

Steve Simmons: Your phone is blowing up at this point in time. You’re trying to get people. People are trying to get you, and I’m trying to provide some phone numbers for some of the TSN (producers), for people they may want to get on or contact. It was just sort of a whirlwind from that moment on.


Under Control

Shawn Lavigne: I always call it controlled chaos. The listener doesn’t really know what’s going on behind the scenes. You have guys making calls. You have guys coming in with information. You have Jeff MacDonald making (decisions) on the fly on what he wants to see and hear, but it was professional. It was frantic at times.

Matt Marchese: As long as nobody on the air can hear that there’s a lot of running around behind the scenes, then we did our jobs.

Steve Argintaru: (The control room) was controlled mayhem, if I can use that term. There wasn’t a lot of yelling or anything like that. It was intense for sure. We didn’t sometimes know where we were going from one guest to the next. All at once we’re trying to think of where we’re going and trying to call guests to talk about their memories of Doc. But it was fairly controlled. The thing that stuck out to me was everybody was pitching in, from multiple producers in the control room to the anchors that stayed through for two and half hours to the control room crew to our guest bookers to our guests that came in and called in. It was a true team effort to work through this coverage.

Steve Simmons: There’s a lot of, ‘We need you here now for this.’ You’d go there and, ‘No, we need you in ten minutes.’ But in ten minutes they wanted you somewhere else. So, I went to radio, they didn’t need me. I went back to TV. Three or four times that happened where you went back and forth.

Bryan Hayes: It’s difficult when you’re trying to be on the same page with the people (in the control room) when you don’t have (commercial) breaks, because obviously you can’t come together and reset. You just have to rely on them finding the right guest or supplying you with a certain topic or a certain angle. You really have to lean on them.

Matt Marchese: I gotta give props to Bob and Damien and John because with everything that was going on, I told Bob, ‘Listen, you know how this works. We’ll get you guests,’ because at that point we don’t have any semblance of what a lineup is going to look like, at that point it’s a mess. But they roll with it, and from those guys I don’t expect anything different.


Time To Exhale

Shawn Lavigne: I said to Tyler after the show, ‘You’re exhausted. You want to feel good in terms of the job you did and your focus but then of course you realize one of the athletes you grew up with passed away.’ You have to treat that story with respect.

Steve Argintaru: There was a collective exhale that we made it through. There was definitely pride in what we did because to pull off two and half hours of live television that way under those circumstances really without any preparation is pretty rare on the news side of the business. Yeah, you do trade deadline coverage and you do all sorts of other things that you can do some kind of prep for, but obviously there was no preparation for this. Nobody saw this coming, so everything we were doing was completely reactionary. To be able to do that, to put together two and a half hours of news coverage that we were pretty proud of, it was a good feeling from that point of view.

Scott MacArthur: This is what this business is. When a day like this happens, it’s an abnormal day. It’s all hands on deck, and if you are asked to or required to contribute, you do, and you do so gladly. Not because you’re happy with the news, but because that’s the job.

Steve Simmons: I did TV, radio, CP24 (TV), CTV News and after all that was over, I went home a wrote a column.

Shawn Lavigne: It was surreal. I’ve had experiences covering deaths but this one really hit home for the Toronto sports fan.

Matt Marchese: It’s one of those days. When it happens, the whole day is a blur.

Shawn Lavigne: From a professional aspect you feel like you’ve done a great job. You’re happy with your performance, but you’re sad. It’s bittersweet. You’ve got your professional duty but you’ve got your real life emotion.

Steve Argintaru: When I look back, and I was able to watch back some of the coverage, just really proud of the guests we were able to (get) on and I think as a tribute to Roy Halladay, I think we really did the story justice and paid appropriate tribute to his memory.

Steve Simmons: I thought (TSN hosts Kara Wagland & Lindsay Hamilton) did a fantastic job under the circumstances. They’re rather young in the industry, to do what they did under the circumstances, I thought was really exemplary. And the producers who went and got people. They just went from one baseball person to the next baseball person to one journalist to the next journalist, people with thoughts and ideas and remembrances.

Shawn Lavigne: I’ve done a few of these. (Wrestler) Owen Hart’s death. (Golfer) Payne Stewart was another one. You do what you can do to the best of your ability.

Matt Marchese: Basically right after the show, we’re off the air at 6:52, by 7:05 I’m in my car. (On Tuesday) I finally got in my car, I hadn’t even had time to process what just happened.*


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Author: High Profile Sports Media

I'm Todd T. Hayes, the former producer of one of Canada's longest running, and most popular sports television talkshows - Off The Record with Michael Landsberg. In 2011, I helped launch TSN's Toronto based all sports radio station, TSN 1050. Before joining TSN in the late 90s, I spent four-and-half years producing talkshows at The Fan 590 in Toronto.

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