KBKW talk show host Doug McDowell is recovering well from a medical event that occurred on the air Tuesday morning between 8:50 and 9.
McDowell was hosting his weekday morning program, “Coffee Talk,” when he became disoriented while speaking with a caller. At one point, obviously frustrated by his sudden inability to converse, he said, “Boy, I’m not doing a good job here to make it the right thing to say at the moment.”
Calls flooded into the station with listeners alerting Jodesha Broadcasting staff that McDowell needed assistance. He was taken by ambulance to Grays Harbor Community Hospital, where he remained as of Wednesday afternoon.
But the prognosis is good. According to his wife, Lorie Alkire McDowell, doctors have determined that the episode was caused by a potassium deficiency — not a stroke or cardiac event, as many had feared.
“He’s been wired for sound, and they’re doing some more tests to cover all the bases,” she said on Wednesday morning. “But he’s not being cranky about it. He’s being a good patient.”
She’s very thankful to the concerned listeners who recognized the problem and called in.
“It was scary,” said Bree Burgher, Jodesha’s lead receptionist. “I got a call on our office line, and somebody said, ‘Hey, you need to go in and get Doug. …He’s not talking right, he’s got something wrong. You need to get him off the air right now.’”
She said she went and listened at the door of the KBKW booth, and he was stammering; so she rushed to get Gabby Jordan, the general manager.
Sunny 102.1 morning-show host Rhys Davis was in his own booth at the time. He had music playing on the air; so when KBKW’s second line lit up, he answered it intending to greet the caller and put them on hold for McDowell to pick up when he finished his other call.
But he went on full alert when the woman on the other end said: “Get in and check on Doug, he’s having a medical situation!”
He ran over to McDowell’s booth and opened the door to find him confused and struggling to speak on the air.
“I said, ‘Do you know who I am?’ and he went, ‘Yeah.’ … But he couldn’t say my name,” said Davis. “Now, I have known Doug for 35 years, and we’ve worked together most of those 35 years. He KNOWS who I am.”
By then, he said, Jordan and Burgher had arrived at the booth. Jordan immediately called 9-1-1.
All of this was happening while KBKW was still on the air. Davis asked McDowell if he could “shut it down” — and when he couldn’t, Davis reached over and flipped the switch for him.
At that point, those who had been tuned in were left with a short period of “dead air” while McDowell’s colleagues guided him to the couch in the front office to await the ambulance.
“From there, it was all all kind of a blur,” said Burgher. “Lots of people were calling to check in to see if we were taking care of it and if he was OK. And there were people stopping out front to see if they could help in any way.”
“Boss Bill” Wolfenbarger, president of Jodesha Broadcasting, arrived shortly after that and got KBKW back on the air with a different program, according to Davis. He had received a “silent sensor” notification that the station had gone off the air, as well as several phone calls alerting him to the situation.
Alkire McDowell received the news from her pastor, who called at about 9 a.m. to let her know what he’d heard on the air. She rushed to the hospital, where she was told her husband had actually gone into cardiac arrest before the ambulance left the radio station. “They thought he was a goner,” she said; but they revived him and transported him to the Aberdeen hospital.
After numerous tests, she said, doctors determined that McDowell had not suffered a stroke or heart attack. By Tuesday afternoon, she was able to speak with him — but only by phone from the hospital’s quiet room, because of visitation restrictions due to COVID-19.
“It was so good to hear his voice,” she said. “He had been intubated most of the day, and they had just taken that out. His voice was kind of rough, but he was able to hold a conversation and seemed aware.”
She has talked with him several times since, and as of Wednesday afternoon it was looking like he would be allowed to go home by Thursday.
“They’re pretty sure his potassium level tanked, and that’s what was causing everything,” she said, noting that that can be a life-threatening situation.
She also noted that she would have left for work shortly before her husband normally would have gotten home that day. “I’m very thankful it happened there (at the station),” she said. “Because if he had made it home, and this had happened to him at home without me here, we could be looking at a totally different outcome.”
McDowell’s colleagues at Jodesha are equally relieved to know he will be all right.
“It’s really thanks to his listeners,” said Davis, echoing Alkire McDowell’s sentiments. “They were on top of it. They knew Doug well enough to know that wasn’t Doug.”