The Life and times of John McCance

Posted on Jan 23, 2022

As I’ve gleefully told a lot of folks, the first really meaningful job I ever had was at a Radio Station. We had a few different radio stations there – one was more Mainstream/Contemporary Hit Radio (CHR), one Country, one was more Adult Contemporary, and one was more Standards oriented. I worked a lot of ball games and babysat equipment, for lack of a better term, and eventually, I’d pick up the Sunday morning “Hangover” shift full of religious programming on the AM Simulcast of the FM Standards station.

Early on, I showed an interest In helping manage the computers and the technology at the station – be it RF, be it the audio path/audio chain, be it the satellite receivers: I just wanted to learn so that I could be a better programmer/better nerd.

Fortunately for me, the engineer at the station, John McCance, was always receptive to my weird questions, and always more than willing to show me more of what he was working on – even If it was something mundane (like changing lightbulbs on the tower), If it was something that was a problem (like a satellite receiver not firing off a contact for automation), or, If it was something that was new and emerging (like showing an Interested 16 year old Linux and VAX/VMS), John was there, offering to buy the two of us Pizza and bring In some soda, helping me figure it out until it stuck to the point that I got it.

John taught me about how to repair Radio transmitters, how to check to make sure that they were on frequency, how to change out tubes, how to short out capacitors to make sure I don’t get fried, and showed me the sheer power of some of our equipment by holding up a fluorescent light bulb in the presence of one of our AM transmitter lines and watching it light up like it was attached to the mains. He taught me safety around the towers, safety around the feed lines, how to calculate how far a signal could carry, and how to be safe around the transmitters and showed me the radio astronomy setup he had on an old satellite dish that wasn’t used around the station anymore. John built the celestial navigation systems for nuclear weapons when he was in the military many years ago, and provided me my first real Insights Into the command and control structure used In the military for the safeguarding of the weapons and provided me some really Interesting Insights Into the control words used to secure our EBS (Yes, still manual at the time) activations.

One of my fondest experiences was him taking me to a Hamfest on a weird, cold, and wet Saturday afternoon. After the hamfest, we went to the Big Ear Radio Telescope in Delaware Ohio, where I got one of the last public tours before it was demolished…and we walked out with a full-sized van full of VAX/VMS hardware after a happy donation to NAAPO. On our way back to Cambridge, our van stopped on the highway near in between Buckeye Lake and Zanesville Ohio – had some issues getting the van started again. John, always the resourceful guy, walked to a house off of the interstate, knocked on the door, introduced himself, and asked if he could make a few collect calls (Long distance calls were expensive then!) so that he can get us a towtruck and an alternative vehicle. The husband, weirded out by the old man and my 16 year old self at the door, moved us to the garage (where, I’m assuming, he can better keep an eye on us), where John and I provided some entertainment for a little bit.

John tried to throw a $50 (in 1996 bucks) in the guy’s hand as a way to say “thank you.” The man refused, John put it on the shelf In the garage, and we walked out to the tow truck there to help us get home.

I wouldn’t where I am at today if it wasn’t for John. And others on the Internet seem to have fond memories of him as well.

Big John was a heck of a guy. Always went out of his way to help folks who wanted to learn radio and engineering. I recall one night - a bitterly cold winter night - near the FM’s midnight signoff the xmtr readings went to Argentina. The coax snapped at the top of the tower - there was John at nearly 1ai 208 feet up in the air working on the situation with the wind howling and the wind chills well below zero. He’s a better man than I!!

Unfortunately, John passed in the early 2000’s – the remnants of a hurricane hit Southeastern Ohio fairly hard, and his landlord’s (an woman older than John) basement flooded. John, went Into the basement to figure out what was wrong, and got electrocuted and suffered a heart attack.

I don’t really have a lot of good things to say about David Wilson (the former GM) of AVC communications, but, Grant Hafley (the former owner) gave Muskingum College a 25K endowment for a scholarship In John’s name: John helped set up Muskingum’s Radio station at a substantial discount, and still had a university email address/ISP account up until he passed. I believe that the fund’s been exhausted, but, maybe this year, I’ll give them another 25K.

John was a blessing to me as a young adult, a young engineer, and a young nerd. He is missed by many, including me.