TORONTO (July 13) — I had a good phone–chat on Tuesday with my long–time radio pal, Andy Frost.
Many of you know Andy as the public–address announcer for Toronto Maple Leafs games at the Air Canada Centre — a position he held for 17 years (and 16 National Hockey League seasons), beginning in 1999–2000. He has also been a fixture at mainstream–rock station CILQ–FM (widely–known as Q–107) since 1985; his noon–6 p.m. Psychedelic Psunday (featuring music from the “psychedelic” era, beginning in 1965) long a staple here in town. Andy and Paul Morris, now 78, are the lone P.A. voices for the NHL in Toronto dating to 1964 and Maple Leaf Gardens. Doubtlessly, you are aware by now that Andy will not return to the ACC sound booth for an 18th year — news he made public via his Twitter account back on June 27.
My initial reaction was one of disappointment — for me; for the entire generation of Maple Leaf fans that grew up listening to Andy… and for Andy, himself, whose boundless energy and enthusiasm was evident each time he flipped on the arena microphone. In his unexpected Tweet, Andy wrote: “After 17 years and roughly 700 games, [my] contract with Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment as P.A. announcer for the Leafs at the ACC won’t be renewed for 2016–17. Cool with me!” His message garnered 833 re–Tweets and 875 “Likes”, along with personal notes from such media–industry colleagues as Barb DiGiulio (Newstalk–1010); Bruce Arthur (Toronto Star, TSN); Liza Fromer (Global–TV The Morning Show); Paul Hunter (Toronto Star); Jason Kay (The Hockey News Editor–in–Chief); Terry Koshan (Toronto Sun) and prolific hockey author Kevin Shea.
I considered the “cool with me” remark in his Tweet as simply Andy being Andy — taking the high road in a difficult situation. But, I also wondered how being removed from such a high–profile assignment with the most popular sports team in the city could generate such a passive response?
I got my answer on Tuesday.
ANDY FROST HAS BEEN A MAINSTAY ON TORONTO RADIO AT Q–107 FOR THE PAST 31 YEARS.
“Y’know, Howie, if I were younger and had been handling the P.A. thing for only a couple of years, perhaps I’d be really disappointed today,” Andy said. “But, remember, it was never my full–time job. I’m a music and radio guy, first. I was when I got the ACC gig in 1999, and I still am today. To be honest, a large part of me is actually looking forward to a different kind of Saturday, in particular. For all my time with the Leafs, I would do my 6 a.m.–to–noon shift at Q–107. Then, I’d come home for a few hours in the afternoon and — like most ‘hockey’ people — try to take a nap. Which was often difficult after the nine cups of coffee that got me through the early part of the day. By 4:30 p.m., I’d be at the ACC for a sound–check, then I’d have a meal downstairs. After talking with the visiting–team broadcaster about name pronunciations, I’d head back up to the booth [in the main press box] and start doing my thing. Then came the post–game call–in show [from 1996–97 to 2014–15] on Talk Radio–640. So, it was a long, long day. And, I did that for 17 years.”
As such, a rather cryptic email from an employee at MLSE — copied to Maple Leafs president Brendan Shanahan — did not induce panic. “It came out of nowhere, but when I saw it was c.c.’d to Brendan, I knew something was in the works,” Andy recalled. “It indicated that Brendan wanted to talk to me — which he did a day or two later. And, typically, he was very gracious and professional when explaining that MLSE wanted to go in a different direction with hockey game presentation. If I was being replaced, I couldn’t have asked for anything more than a call from the man at the top. I honestly had no problem with the decision.”
Andy’s friendly, outgoing demeanor is quite a magnet, as I discovered while on a Leafs road trip to St. Louis in 1995. He and I both remembered — in our phone conversation on Tuesday — the MetroLink train–ride downtown from Lambert International Airport. The rail system had just opened and provided, for three dollars, quite an alternative to the $35 taxi fare. The Leafs and Blues encountered one another frequently back then, as both were in the Western Conference. Toronto and St. Louis met in the playoffs in 1986–87–90–93 and ’96. Leafs moved to the Eastern Conference in 1998–99. In February of that year, the club also moved from the Gardens to the Air Canada Centre. Paul Morris continued in his P.A. role for the balance of the schedule and a determination was made to audition a new voice for the 1999–2000 Maple Leafs season.
Andy was among those requested by MLSE to submit a demo–tape, and his hopes began to soar when he made it to the final–five applicants. The next day came a memorable telephone–call from Leafs president Ken Dryden offering him the job. For the next 16 NHL seasons (excluding the lockout year of 2004–05), Andy provided the announcement of goals, assists, penalties, pre–game and intermission tidings at the ACC. His thick, baritone voice — the envy of most others in radio — became familiar and comfortable to a full generation of hockey fans at the arena, and those watching on TV. It was therefore unsurprising that a deluge of condolence and well–wishing on social media quickly followed the Tweet that Andy’s contract with the Leafs would not be renewed. Though he clearly noticed the out–poring, it had only a marginal effect.
FOR 16 NHL SEASONS, ANDY’S PERCH WAS IN THE UPPER ROW OF THE ACC PRESS BOX.
“To be honest, I didn’t expect much of a reaction at all,” he confessed. “So, I really appreciated every message… and the fact people weren’t indifferent or ambivalent about my situation. It softened whatever blow I felt. But, again Howie, I was fine with [MLSE’s] decision. I didn’t go into mourning or start to wonder what I’d done wrong. Nothing like that arose in the talk I had with Brendan. My contract was up and they chose to go in a different direction. Which was their prerogative. As mentioned, I still have my ‘day’ job.”
If anyone showed remorse, it was Andy’s son, Morgan Frost, who played as a 16–year–old Junior last season with the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds of the Ontario Hockey League. “Morgan was a bit upset because he has the memory of coming with me to the ACC for his entire life,” Andy said. “But, he’s a big boy now with an awful lot on his plate. I’ve been taking him to Barrie [Ont.] virtually every day this summer so he can skate and train for next season in the Soo. Being able to follow his exploits more closely is another reason I wasn’t particularly upset over losing the Leafs P.A. gig. Family time took quite a hit with both of my jobs.”
In reaching out to Andy on social media, people often mentioned they “felt sorry” he was losing his P.A. role at a time when the Leafs appear on the verge of an upswing. Though he fondly remembers the good teams of Pat Quinn early in his days at the arena (2000–2004), Andy has spent many–a–lean night in the past decade drumming up emotion for the abysmal product down below. “Oh, yeah, I can still close my eyes and see Aki Berg, Dmitri Khristich, Rikard Wallin and others,” Andy laughed.
“But, you know what? It never mattered. And, that’s what I’ll miss most about the Air Canada Centre. Regardless of where the Leafs were in the standings or which opponent came to the arena, there was always that unique feeling on a game night. The excitement in the air. The anticipation from the fans. I fed off that during all of 17 years in the building. And, I’ll take the memories with me for the rest of my life.”