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Photo Credit: Sanaah Dodhia

Inside the decision to have Mark Donnelly on TSN 1040 hours after his firing from the Canucks

It’s suppertime, and Rob Fai picks up his phone to make a phone call to Shantelle Chand, the producer of the late-night show on TSN 1040, Rob Fai Nation Radio.

It was this tweet from Francesco Aquilini, the owner of the Vancouver Canucks, that caught his eye and prompted the call to his producer:

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The tweet above is referencing a story that was published late Friday afternoon in the Vancouver Sun. The story, penned by Harrison Mooney, was originally titled: COVID-19: Canucks anthem singer Mark Donnelly to perform at anti-mask rally.

Shortly after Aquilini’s tweet, it was changed to: Canucks cut ties with anthem singer Mark Donnelly over plan to sing at anti-mask rally.

“Shantelle Chand is an absolute bulldog for chasing stories and I’m so impressed by her. She was my first call,” said Rob Fai.

“Everyone saw Aquilini’s tweet on Twitter,” said Chand. “Just a few minutes after, Rob hits me up and is like ‘hey, I would really like to get Mark Donnelly on the show tonight’, and without thinking about it, I was on top of it. It was the biggest news story in Vancouver, I would say.”

Donnelly had serious reservations about coming on the show originally, and him actually making an appearance on the late-night program didn’t look promising basically right up until the moment it happened.

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“We tried to get a hold of him, but he was hesitant,” added Chand. “He said he had to write a statement first, and it took us a little while to get him on the air.”

The big turn of events came roughly halfway into the second hour of the show at around 11:30 PM when after still not having gotten an answer from Donnelly, Fai stepped out of the studio and told Shantelle to run commercials while he called Donnelly personally.

“I didn’t think that he was going to pick up,” said Chand. “We hadn’t heard from him. We texted him and called him around 8:30, so at this time, it’s already been three hours, and I’m like ‘there’s no way,’ there’s only a half-hour left for this show. I can see Rob talking to him on the phone, and Mark was saying so much stuff. At one point Rob just looked at me and said he was going to need more time, so I had to add more commercials onto that break because Mark had so many reservations.”

Fai managed to ease the former Canucks anthem singer’s mind during that phone call, and with under 30 minutes remaining in the show, Shantelle put him on the line.

“My goal was to not be a typical interviewer and sandbag him,” said Fai. “He has an opinion and I’m at least giving him a chance to explain his opinion. My goal was to give him a shovel and some rope. Either he digs himself out of it, or he hangs himself.”

The interview itself was a real rollercoaster and began with Donnelly revealing that he hadn’t actually been told directly about his firing, that he had heard about it through the grapevine since he’s not on social media.

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Fai said he had two main goals with the interview; to find out if Donnelly booked the gig at the anti-mask event himself or if a booking agent had done it for him; and when taking the job, if he was aware that it could jeopardize his job with the Canucks.

“Those were the only two questions from the whole night that I wanted answered. I could care less about his philosophies on masks, I just wanted to know if he knew, by this action, that this would be the likely reaction and if he was aware of it. Once he admitted it, the rest of the stuff was just wallpaper,” said Fai.

Here was Donnelly’s answer to the second of those questions:

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This interview was unlike any other that’s taken place on Vancouver sports radio in recent memory, and Fai knew that heading into it.

“I didn’t want it to just be meat and potatoes, I wanted him to be passionate, but I wanted to make sure that the questions that I asked were accurate. It’s so easy to get a rise out of a guy that’s passionate about something that’s maybe not popular, but I think over the years the one thing I’ve learned is that those people, whether they’re right or wrong, they just want to be heard. I feel I gave him 15 minutes on a late-night radio show to have a platform and put his thoughts out there, which is all I wanted. Cause now, you can take his actions and his thoughts, and put it together as fact, and I don’t think you could have done that without it, to be honest, so in that essence, I feel great, because now people can hear the whole story. At least now you have all the facts,” he said.

Both the story and the interview caused quite the buzz late Friday night on Twitter and I asked Fai the most burning question of all: is he happy with how the interview turned out?

“I haven’t really digested it all to be honest, but my goal is to have people say, ‘I didn’t learn anything more about Rob Fai, I learned more about Mark Donnelly’ because that interview is not about me at all, nobody gives a [expletive] about my opinion at all. They want to know what his thought process was and I think I got that out of him.”

You can listen to the full interview here. It begins at the -28:27 mark.