For 15 years, Gaston Doiron has been known as Mr. Bingo.
Every Tuesday night, residents up and down the Acadian Peninsula have gathered their Bingo cards, tuned in to CKRO-FM in the northeastern New Brunswick of Pokemouche, and listened as Doiron calls out the numbers.
His warm voice and jovial manner have charmed hundreds of people and kept them company throughout the pandemic, and he says they've done the same for him.
"Fifty-two weeks a year, I'm there," Doiron said. "I rarely missed one night."
Beginning at 6:30 p.m. sharp, Doiron calls the Bingo numbers and listeners call in when they've won. Or when they have a question. Or a complaint.
Lately, Doiron said, the complaints have been creeping up.
"I don't think COVID helped things," he said. "People were so frustrated that at one point, [some] were even complaining about the music" played between each number he called.
Finally, last Tuesday, Doiron had had enough.
In a dramatic, live and on-air finale that no one, not even Doiron himself, saw coming, Mr. Bingo scolded the complainers and quit his hosting gig.
"Maybe I had a bad day, I don't know," he said.
"I just snapped, directly on the air."
Doiron didn't know when he headed in to CKRO-FM on May 3 to host his Bingo gig that it would be his last night.
But the warning bells soon began going off.
"It started with Game 2," he said.
Each Bingo night consists of seven games, with playing halted when someone calls the station to say they've got Bingo. A verifier then checks the numbers against the computer and takes the caller's contact information, and then it's on to the next game.
But a few recent rule changes implemented by the station have caused some confusion, Doiron said.
For example, he used to say, "We have a winner, Game 2 is now closed."
He's since been asked to stop saying that — in part because players were programming their phones to automatically redial the station if they'd won. But that had led to innumerable delays, misdials and other complications.
Doiron blames that rule change in particular for last Tuesday's "bad night."
In the aforementioned Game 2, for example, a player called in to protest that Doiron hadn't told players that he'd moved on to Game 3.
That led to a protracted disagreement, stalling the game even further.
"So I said 'Listen, I don't have the time,' and I just hung up on him," Doiron said.
There was more of the same confusion in Game 4.
And then in Game 6, callers again lit up the board when the game was paused to check the numbers of a caller who said he'd had Bingo in Game 5.
Meanwhile, Doiron said, "the phone is ringing. 'Why is Bingo stopped? Bingo is stopped. Why?' "
At this point, he said, he reached his breaking point.
"I said, directly on the air ... and I said it in English: 'Enough is enough,' " Doiron said.
Then, addressing the caller he'd argued with earlier, he said, "The person who is very smart, smarter than me, you come for the job next week because I'm not going to be here."
"And that was the end of it," he said. "I'm not proud that I did that. But I'm just human, that's all."
No plans to return
CKRO-FM general manager Donald Noël was unavailable for an interview late this week, but in an earlier interview, he told Radio-Canada New Brunswick that although Doiron will be missed, he accepted his decision.
"He is an exceptional and very generous person. He decided to move on," Noël said.
In the meantime, a temporary replacement has been found to call Bingo on Tuesday nights.
For Doiron, it's only been a week and a half, but when asked if he misses Bingo, he didn't hesitate.
"Yes," he said quickly, noting "the majority" of his listeners have been wonderful.
Hundreds of them have reached out to express their shock at his departure and to urge him to come back, but at age 70, he said, he wants to spend his precious time doing things that bring him, and others, pleasure.
Bingo "is a thing of the past now," he said. "I have to go to something else."
He still has a Thursday night radio show at CKRO-FM, where he plays music till midnight – "anything from Beethoven to rock 'n' roll" — and shares personal anecdotes with listeners.
"It's my therapy of the week," he said with a chuckle.
He is actively involved in fundraisers and charity work in the community, including the Tree of Hope campaign in support of Moncton's Dr.-Léon-Richard Oncology Centre and cancer research in New Brunswick.
And then there are his annual holiday gigs.
On Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve, from 6 p.m. till 2 a.m., Doiron leaves the family dinner table and heads to the radio station to host an all-night music show.
"My family is all right with that, my wife is all right with that," he said.
"We always say, life has been good to us. So it's my way of spending Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve with people who are alone in their home. It's my way of giving back … because life was good to me."