Winnipeg’s sports skyline has a hole in it today.
Bell Media has pulled the plug on TSN-1290, its all-sports radio station, and the way it went down Tuesday morning hit staff there like a blitzing linebacker, a crosscheck from behind – pick your metaphor.
The move came in an on-air announcement at 11:30 a.m..
It was followed by the Green Day song, Good Riddance (The Time Of Your Life), some silence, then a switch to music.
Like that, a 10-year run was over.
The news came as a shock not only to Winnipeg sports fans, but to staff who had no idea it was coming.
Those who weren’t listening to the radio at the time were blissfully unaware they’d just lost their jobs.
That is, until they began hearing from people who had been tuned in.
“I have not got a call or email,” one staff member said, responding to a text shortly after 11:30. “None of us know what is going on. Where is everyone seeing or hearing this?”
The company that reaps all kinds of P.R. with its annual Bell Let’s Talk campaign in support of mental health didn’t see the need to inform its workers they were toast. During a pandemic.
Social media ablaze with reaction, Bell Media finally made the news official on the station’s website.
“CFRW 1290 AM will no longer be a sports talk radio station,” the announcement read. “It was a difficult decision, but the realities of the quickly evolving broadcast media landscape in Canada have made this change unavoidable.”
The move came in conjunction with station shutdowns in Vancouver (TSN-1040) and Hamilton (TSN-1150).
TSN-1290 lost the radio rights to Winnipeg Jets games this season, but its sports talk shows had soldiered on.
Morning show co-host Troy Westwood said Tuesday’s move came out of the blue for everyone.
The former Winnipeg Blue Bomber sees how COVID-19 is affecting the industry, though, and took the news in stride.
“I grew up in an environment for 18 years where people come and go, and you don’t ever get surprised, and your best friend gets cut, that sort of thing,” Westwood said. “You just move on. I’m the luckiest guy in the world. I got paid to kick footballs for 18 years, and for the last 10 years I’ve actually been paid to talk about sports.
“This is a door closing, but there’s now a door soon to open with other opportunities. Whatever the future holds here, I look forward to it.”
Fellow Winnipegger Darrin Bauming took a similar approach, even if the news did briefly stagger him.
The station’s Blue Bomber reporter, Bauming also heard it from others, while dealing with a leaking air conditioner which caused his furnace to break down during Sunday’s Super Bowl.
Oh, and he needs a new hot water tank, too.
Did I mention his car wouldn’t start the last two days?
“And then the news of 1290 hit me like a brick wall,” Bauming said. “Came out of nowhere.”
Bauming had provided football coverage at 1290 for eight years, providing day-to-day reports, hosting game-day shows and a program that covered CFL news.
“I knew we could be successful as non-rights holders,” he said. “Because we’re all sports, all the time. That was our motto. There’s no waiting for sports. Tune in now, we are talking about the Grey Cup, we are talking about the Jets in the playoffs.”
Whether it was the Bombers or Jets, Goldeyes or Valour FC, even university sports and the rest of the amateur scene, 1290 filled a void in this town.
After losing the Jets’ rights, the station higher-ups had a plan, recently rebranding itself as the voice of the fans.
“We were a lean ship,” is how Bauming put it. “We had direction. I believed in the plan.”
Only to have the field turf pulled out from under him early in the game.
Yet, Bauming remained philosophical and optimistic about the career interruption.
“Who knows what the future holds?” he said. “Fingers crossed, something will come together. You’ve got to keep your chin up. Because if you wallow, you miss that next door that’s opened. And then it’s going to be even worse.”
To return to the sports analogy, you never quit.
In a year as trying as the last one has been, that’s a good motto for everyone.
“When is the end ever pretty, and gentle?” Westwood said. “This is adversity. Just like in sports. How you respond to adversity defines us as human beings.”
Andrew “Hustler” Paterson, his colleague on the afternoon show who recently returned from seven weeks in the hospital after emergency surgery to repair a massively herniated disc, chimed in with a similar message on Twitter.
“I’ve come back from worse!” Paterson posted. “I’ll be back!”