There's a saying in radio, says longtime host Kelly Parker of 94.3 The Drive, that you're not really in radio until you've been fired.
"It took me 33 years to break in, and now I'm here," he quips.
Yes, make that Kelly Parker, formerly of 94.3 The Drive. Parker, along with morning show hosts Tom McGouran and Vicki Shae, as well as fellow on-air host Alix Michaels, found out Wednesday they would no longer be working at the classic rock station, owing to what many suspect is an upcoming format change.
"That all stays very close to the vest," McGouran says.
Station general manager Mark Patric confirmed their releases — along with that of Dez Daniels — via email, and said that an official announcement about the station is coming Monday.
When the foursome meets for lunch and a few tipples on Thursday afternoon, they are in remarkably good spirits. There's a combined 112 years of broadcasting experience around this table, enough to know that it's not personal, it's radio.
"We all know that — other than Kelly, maybe, since this is his first time around the block," Shae says with a laugh. "But the rest of us have been through it before."
"This one is a living legend in radio, never having been fired before," McGouran says of Parker. "It's unheard of."
"I think I might still be numb, and a little bit in shock," Parker says. "From the moment you get into radio, you feel like you're on borrowed time for any job. I'm optimistic about everything — it's gonna work out OK. And I'm grateful for everything that has happened so far. I just have gratitude for a 33-year run. Just nothing but gratitude for that."
McGouran, on the other hand, has been fired over the course of his 40ish years on Winnipeg radio stations. In 2012, he was let go from 92 CITI-FM along with his co-host of 18 years, Joe Aiello. Earlier this year, he celebrated his fifth anniversary at 94.3 The Drive. For him, the question is less "what now?" as it is "what's next?"
"I've been let go before. Your formats change, things change, and that's fine — sometimes it's economics," he says. "But this is the death of nothing at all. It's not the end of anything. It's in my blood. I've done this for 100 years. And I will do it until it's done. Until I'm done. Like, I'm dead. Vicki and I have way too much fun together and have a show that I think there's some place for, here. I know there's a place for it. We just got to go out and look for it now."
Shae became McGouran's on-air partner in 2019. "Sometimes in a morning show, you're put with people and they force you, 'OK, be friends now, be be fun together,'" Shae says. "And with Tom, there was never any effort that needed to be put forth. It was an instant chemistry, instant comfort. And so to not have that anymore — when it's like, 'Oh, finally, this is what we waited for' — to have that taken away is disappointing, because we did have a lot of fun."
Michaels, meanwhile, says getting let go may be a blessing in disguise.
"I'm kind of almost at the point where radio's changed so much, I'm not sure about it anymore," she says. "Maybe it's a good thing to point me into something else. For me, that's voice work, which I've already started. But what I'm going to miss is just talking to Winnipeggers. Hanging out with the crew. That's what I'm going to miss, that connection with the city."
They don't know what change will come to 94.3 FM, only that there will be one. The station has gone through several iterations since it was known as Q94, relaunching as Curve 94.3 in 2008, Fab 94.3 in 2010, and 94.3 The Drive in 2016.
Some have speculated on social media that a series of cryptic billboards that have popped up around the city in recent weeks, bearing N, then No, then Now, might be teasing out the format change.
"I thought that the the anti-vax and anti-restrictions lobby had actually got some money behind it to buy billboards," Parker says.
"I don't see billboards," McGouran says. "I have to keep my one good eye on the road."
It's obvious, from their easy banter, that these four aren't just co-workers, but friends. And, if you ask McGouran, they'll find their place on the dial.
"We were joking, on our last show, actually... about rock stars going on their final tour, the last tour — and then of course it's not their last tour," McGouran says. "There are three groups that it's never the final, final: rock stars, boxers and us in radio."