There are some things at CHOM that will always be constant: The name, the format, the listeners complaining that the same songs get played over and over, and every decade or so the program director deciding to shake things up by putting Terry DiMonte back on mornings.
DiMonte began his first shift back at Montreal's Spirit of Rock on Monday, and I managed to score an invitation to see it from the studio (even if it meant pulling an all-nighter after a late shift at work). This is the story of that day.
It's hard to imagine someone like Terry DiMonte being nervous about going on the radio. So I didn't take it too seriously when he warned me the week before that he would be a nervous wreck on his first day.
But as he walked into Astral Radio's Fort St. offices just after 5am, it was apparent he wasn't quite 100% back in his chair and it would take some time to make him fully comfortable. He knew he would be judged from the moment he pressed the button that turns on his microphone, that thousands of people who knew about him coming back (either through the promotional campaign Astral put on or through the full-page piece in Saturday's Gazette) would be tuning in just to hear his voice again.
He was worried about screwing up, absent-mindedly referring to Q107, the station he left a month earlier, instead of CHOM. Thankfully for him there were posters with CHOM's logo and frequency all over the studio, so he needed only look up if he forgot.
In the end, he didn't screw up. He got the call letters right, and the frequency, and the motto. He needed to be reminded of the phone number at one point, but mostly it was like he never left. And if he was nervous at all during his first break ("break" being how radio types refer to "the part where I'm on air"), he didn't show it as he said hi:
The first song for DiMonte's first show was Back in the Saddle by Aerosmith, which came as a suggestion on Facebook when overnight host Ronny Mack asked fans which should be the first song. DiMonte hadn't thought of that song as an option, but considered it very appropriate considering he's coming back from Calgary.
Shortly after the show began, DiMonte was joined in studio by Maureen Holloway. Holloway
hosts is a big part of the morning show at Q107 in Toronto, and contributed to his former morning show at (a different) Q107 in Calgary. Both are owned by Corus. Because Corus no longer has a Montreal station with the sale of CFQR and others to Cogeco, she wasn't on the air here and Astral managed to reach an agreement to bring her on to do a segment just before 6am and have it repeated at 7:15.
But because Holloway was just finishing a vacation and happened to be in Montreal, she came into the studio and joined DiMonte for a few hours, giving him someone to chat with on air. His actual cohost, Heather Backman, doesn't start until Jan. 16.
Holloway's arrival, a surprise for DiMonte, resulted in a reunion for the two friends who have worked together for many years, going back to when DiMonte hosted the morning show at Mix 96.
The show has two other regular contributors, both of whom come in studio to do their bits: Eric Engels with his once-daily Habs report and Trudie Mason with news on the hour.
Mason did her first newscast at 6am:
DiMonte did some sports news after that, and got in a mention of Calgary Flames captain Jarome Iginla scoring his 500th career goal. It was a legitimate sports story of national interest, but a bit of a reminder that there's still a bit of Calgary in DiMonte.
Engels only comes in once a day. You can listen to his first Habs report here (MP3).
The last contributor to the show is the guy behind the scenes, board operator Esteban Vargas. I recognized the name, but I didn't know where I'd heard it. He suggested it might have been when he was doing odd shifts as a traffic reporter, which might have been true. But I think I actually recognize the name, oddly enough, from the Kelly Alexander Show podcast, even though I haven't listened to that in quite a while.
Though he's been at Astral for six years, and clearly knows what he's doing, there were a few jokes about child labour when DiMonte posted a photo of Esteban online.
Terry needs a clock
It was one of those things. If you see in any of these videos DiMonte looking ahead and up as he talks, he's looking at a non-existent analog clock. There used to be one on the opposite wall, but it disappeared some time after he left in 2007. There's one on the wall behind him, but that's incredibly awkward to try to look at when you're on the air from that chair.
DiMonte explains the reason best in the video, but the clock provides a reference not only for the time (which he can just read off his computer screen), but also how much of the show is left, and how long until the top of the hour. After decades in radio, it's become second nature to him to see an hour in terms of the analog clock and to mentally plan accordingly.
DiMonte was repeatedly assured that a clock would be acquired and installed.
There were quite a few people around to witness DiMonte's return. In addition to myself, the studio was visited by cameras from:
The CHOM video of DiMonte's first day has been posted online. It includes his first and last words on his first show. The latter part includes a specific thank-you to me, which I didn't expect. My mom heard it, but in case you want to listen to just that part, here it is (MP3).
A complete list of DiMonte's news coverage is at the bottom of Monday's post. So far it includes a Saturday feature and live chat with The Gazette, a story and later in-studio interview at CTV Montreal (they've produced a behind-the-scenes video vignette), and a brief on Global Montreal, plus wherever Astral's press release has been republished.
But DiMonte has also been talking to non-traditional media. Besides me, he's talked to Gazette blogger Bugs Burnett and the Cornwall Free News, besides one-on-one chats with people on Twitter and Facebook.
Terry appreciates you calling
Plenty of DiMonte's critics say he has a huge ego and everything is about him. While I'd never accuse any successful media personality of not having an ego, DiMonte spent quite a bit of time his first day answering calls from listeners, even with the studio filled with people and everything else going through his mind.
The calls were relatively short, and some had to be interrupted because DiMonte had to go back on the air. In general, they went something like this:
Even Andrew Carter at CJAD was getting calls from people welcoming DiMonte back, one Astral employee walked into the studio to report with a laugh. (I tweeted that, resulting later in Carter coming in and asking "who's Fagstein?" - after a bit of nervous panic, we introduced ourselves, and it turns out he likes the blog.)
A special "welcome back Terry" cake was brought in, much to DiMonte's surprise. That missing bit on the left is where he stuck his finger in to taste the icing. "I bet that's fantastic," said the guy who continues to be worried that his return to Montreal is a one-way ticket to extreme weight gain.
In case there are still people in Montreal who don't know about DiMonte's return, the big promotional push will come next week when Heather Backman joins the show and things start moving on all four wheels. I haven't been told of any extreme promotional plans, just the usual contests (including their "man cave" watch-the-Super-Bowl-with-Terry deal) and advertising/marketing.
UPDATE (Jan. 16): CHOM's website has some audio clips from DiMonte's show. They include more episodes of Holloway's Dirty Little Secrets, Engels's Habs Report and Pierre Houde of RDS talking about Michael Cammalleri, as well as interviews with visiting artists like Martin Short, Mark McKinney and Demetri Martin.
There's also a short-answer get-to-know-Heather segment, in which we learn they haven't yet decided whether they'll call her Heather Backman or Heather B.