Changing of The Guard

By Amy Jeanroy


For 27 years, listening to WQDY was synonymous with hearing the voice of Tom Mclaughlin, "The Firedog." With his retirement looming at the end of this week, looking back on his years at the station, it's been a career that was clearly more than a job. 

As a news reporter, he seemed to be everywhere. Mclaughlin was immersed in the community and accepted at meetings, accidents, and any news story - not easy for a media person who can get to the most uncomfortable parts of a story within minutes. Asked why it seems that media isn't always welcome, it's not always comfortable to ask questions of public officials, says Tom. But transparency is part of a public official's job, and the public has a right to know what they are doing, he says.

He was more than a disk jockey, although he can tell tales of any number of musicians across all genres. When he started out in radio, it was working with turntables, and 45's “I was working the oldies back then,” he says with a grin. Those songs were 2-2 1/2 minutes long, and you had to keep ahead at least three steps from what was playing on the air. It was crazy, but really fun!”

Then, behind the scenes changed to cassette tape and then CD. A little easier to manage, he says, but still extremely busy. 

“Remember, every time a song changed, there was a person actually touching that CD and starting/stopping the music.”

When asked how he managed to keep abreast of the news flow in the area, McLaughlin said that his dad was a firefighter in Boston, and listening to the scanner was just a part of their family life. “I went to sleep listening to it all my life.” Having the scanner going in the background was second nature for him, even as an adult. 

“Last year when the breakwater happened in Eastport, it took me seven minutes to get there.  I had the scanners on all night. I was getting ready for work and having coffee when I hear the breakwater thing. I looked out my window and didn't see the light that I usually did, that lights up at the end of the breakwater. Then I thought ‘did they say collapse?’

Being that involved in the news cycle can also interfere with your personal time. "Even if I had a week's vacation if something happened, I heard about it and knew I had to go.”

The rules of reporting were ingrained in McLaughlin at a young age by his father as well. “I know how my dad felt about media people getting in the way at a fire,” he says of his technique to get the story. “I know that I have to stay out of the way so they can do their job. The Fire Chief's priority is to put out the fire, not talk to a reporter. There have been times when I just hand my card to someone and say “call me when this is over.” Then I get out of there. 

What's Next For The Firedog?

“I would like to get back to my drawing and painting," he says, gesturing out of the studio, to the two pieces of his artwork displayed on the entryway walls of the station.

“I have been missing that part of myself and it's time to get back to it.”

Perhaps a catalyst to his retiring was the death of his sister a year ago. "She was ten years older than me, and I always thought of her as my 'older' sister. When she retired, I thought that maybe she should have retired earlier to have had some time to do some things she wanted to do.”

“Nothing at The Station Will Change”

Quick to dismiss his impact over the years, McLaughlin was adamant that nothing at the station would change. "Everything stays the same." He says with a wave of his hand across the radio board and piles of notes he has prepared for the morning news. “We will have the same music, the same news, be there for the listeners.” 

Lupe Soto, the current weekend jockey, will be moving to the morning. 

“Lupe will do great! He knows so much already, and although the two jobs aren't just the same, he has a radio background from Florida, so I think he will transition really well.” 

I Loved This Job

Not everyone can look back at his career and say nothing but positive things. McLaughlin looks at his time at WQDY as some of his best.

“This has been probably the best job I have ever had in my life. I've done so many things and experienced so much from being at WQDY. It's just time. I want just to do something for me. I've had a great run, and it's time to do something different. There aren't too many locally owned radio stations left. If I need an executive decision, all I have to do is walk down the hall.” 

Bill McVicar, in that office at the end of the hall McLaughlin speaks of, had this to say of the change,” Obviously we are going to miss Tom.  His dedication and commitment to his work and this company were second to none.  After 27 years of great services to WQDY Inc., and the surrounding communities, we wish Tom all the best in his retirement, as he moves on to the next phase of his life, and we too look forward to the changes ahead.”

Tom McLaughlin, The Firedog, will be a much-missed voice for so many in the Calais and surrounding communities. His ethical standard, his humor, and most of all, his presence, will be a much loved and respected part of our area's history.