A disembodied voice introduces players and officials, announces goals, assists and penalties, reveals the Three Stars as well as delivers special announcements such as pre-game ceremonies. These faceless public address announcers are known solely by their voices and their unique deliveries. The Toronto Maple Leafs introduced a new p.a. announcer to start the 2016-17 season; just the fourth of the team’s storied history.
“A new feature will be inaugurated at the Arena Gardens tonight,” wrote the Toronto Daily Star on November 20, 1929. “A running commentary of the game, play by play, will be broadcast by ‘Hap’ Watson and amplified to all corners of the building. The idea is to keep fans informed of what penalties have been given for. It is also likely that ‘Hap’ Watson will provide some amusing interpolations during the intermissions.”
Harold ‘Hap’ Watson was the “ponderous, good-natured coach” with the Toronto Oslers of the Ontario Baseball Amateur Association. The Oslers were a powerful amateur baseball club that turned professional in the 1920s. The team travelled to western Canada on barnstorming tours which disrupted their league schedule but garnered great attention and some funding by challenging teams across the country. Because they couldn’t always be sure of their opponent’s level of talent, they resorted to stunts to entertain the crowds, which often numbered as many as 4,000. One of their pre-game stunts was called “shadow ball,” whereby the team members would pantomime action without a ball, diving and fielding imaginary balls in the infield. This game was borrowed from the Negro League ballclubs, which had used “shadow ball” to entertain the crowds for several years.
Hap Watson, the “rotund” first base coach and occasional pitcher, “kept the crowds in stitches” by joking, juggling and performing skits along the baselines. He’d often enter the field in costume, dressing once as a football player and on another occasion, while playing the Asahi, a Japanese team based in Vancouver, Watson wore an Oriental costume, much to the delight of his opponents. Often, Watson used outfielder Cecil ‘Teedle’ Walker as a foil. Watson had never performed any of his antics in Toronto until the Oslers turned semi-pro, when his popular routines became another way for the club to ensure spectators got their money’s worth.
There was a great deal of interaction between the baseball Oslers and the Toronto Maple Leaf Hockey Club. While Watson would be the team’s first public address announcer, Teedle Walker served as an off-ice official for the Maple Leafs for a number of years. And star forward Babe Dye had a mental tug-of-war deciding whether he wanted to commit to a baseball career or one in hockey. Fortunately for the Maple Leafs, Dye juggled both for a while, including playing outfield with the Oslers for a season, beginning in the summer of 1927. Other hockey stars who played for the Oslers included Jesse Spring, who joined the team in 1929 for two seasons, and Lionel Conacher, who played an occasional game with the ball club during those same two years.
Although the public address experiment at Toronto’s Arena Gardens was short-lived, the idea later took hold in a more significant way.
The first p.a. announcer for the Toronto Maple Leafs at the newly constructed Maple Leaf Gardens was Walter ‘Red’ Barber. “I started the night the Gardens opened,” said the long-serving Leafs employee. In a 1964 Hockey Night in Canada interview, Barber recalled his very first announcement: “Ushers, take your position. The Gardens’ gates are about to open.”
A salesman by trade, Barber assisted with the installation of the original sound system at Maple Leaf Gardens, which led to his role as the public address announcer beginning with the opening ceremonies at the Gardens in 1931. Barber’s voice was not unfamiliar to Torontonians – he served as the announcer at the Canadian National Exhibition, adding “word-pictures” to descriptions of various events, including swimming races. Barber served as the p.a. announcer at Maple Leaf Gardens until the conclusion of the 1963-64 season, including the team’s third consecutive Stanley Cup championship. Using what Foster Hewitt called his “clear-cut tone,” Barber was remembered for his signature closing at the end of every game: “Ladies and gentlemen, when you leave the Gardens, please drive and walk safely.”
There was a new announcer for the 1964-65 season. It was Paul Morris, who had been at Maple Leaf Gardens since leaving Ryerson Polytechnical Institute in 1958 to work with his father, the building’s superintendent. Paul became the head sound engineer at the Gardens, but it wasn’t until the home opener on October 17, 1964 that he assumed the announcing role from Red Barber. “We had Lester B. Pearson (who’d become Prime Minister in April 1963), and when Red Barber introduced him, it sounded like, ‘Lister Beer Person,’” recalled Morris. “Staff Smythe, who was running the place, blew his stack. He appointed me on the spot.”
It would be difficult to argue over the impact Morris had on Canada. His distinctive, oft-imitated delivery was heard every Saturday evening for 35 years on Hockey Night in Canada. While the action on the ice could be wild and woolly, the smooth tenor of Paul Morris never changed – just one more reminder that fans were witnessing Canada’s game in a sporting cathedral. “I’d feel silly trying to be something I’m not,” he said. “I copied Red Barber, and it seemed right.”
When the team moved from Maple Leaf Gardens to Air Canada Centre in February 1999, Morris was not offered his full-time job as the sound engineer. Instead, he was offered a per-game fee to continue as the p.a. announcer. He decided to finish the season at Air Canada Centre and then retire, having never missed an assignment. “Nothing goes on forever,” he shrugged. “The streak is a source of pride, but I’m not going to be shattered if it comes to an end.”
The Maple Leafs made the decision to go with a new announcer in 1999-2000, and Andy Frost, an announcer at Toronto radio station Q107, was hired. “The Leafs were at training camp up in Barrie, and I was approached,” he recalled. “They said, ‘We’d really like you to put a demo(nstration tape) in to replace Paul Morris.’ I submitted a tape and included the most difficult names I could think of. Ken Dryden (Leafs president at the time) phoned me a couple of days later saying that I had the job. He said, ‘That voice of yours will shake the foundations of the Air Canada Centre!’”
Frost’s first game was October 4, 1999. “It was tough to fill the shoes of a guy like Paul Morris, who was legendary,” he stated.
Andy’s voice had first been heard on commercial radio in 1979 at CITI-FM, a rock station in Winnipeg. While there, he also did a Winnipeg Jets radio show on CITI’s sister station, CKY. Andy moved to Toronto’s Q107 in 1985, and 11 years later, added a second role doing a post-game radio show called ‘Leaf Talk’ on AM640, Q107’s sister station. When AM640 lost the broadcast rights to Maple Leaf games in 2013, the name changed to ‘The Post-Game Show with Andy Frost,’ and it ran until the end of the 2014-15 season.
After 17 seasons as the public address announcer for the Maple Leafs, the team decided not to renew Frost’s contract for the 2016-17 season. Andy looked back at his time as the voice of the Leafs with great pride. “It was a tremendous thrill to be a part of it,” he admitted.
Andy’s life tied to hockey was far from over. His son, Morgan Frost, has been starring with the OHL’s Soo Greyhounds, and he was drafted by the Philadelphia Flyers in the first round of the 2017 NHL Draft.
As the Maple Leafs skated out to make their 2016-17 debut, a new announcer introduced the Blue and White. Broadcasting veteran Mike Ross stated, “It’s a tremendous honour to have been chosen to fill this role with the Leafs. Growing up a Maple Leafs fan, I admired Paul Morris and Andy Frost. They are legends in the public address announcer world. To even hear my name mentioned in the same sentence as them is quite humbling.”
Mike Ross began as a PA announcer in the mid-1990s handling Carleton Ravens university football games. He moved to hockey and in 1998, handled the position for the OHL’s Ottawa 67s. For six years, starting in 2010, Ross served as the back-up PA announcer for the Ottawa Senators. During this time, Mike was also working with Sirius/XM satellite radio, starting as a producer and reporter and, by 2008, co-hosting ‘The Power Play’ with Hall of Fame member Phil Esposito. From 2009 to 2015, Ross hosted ‘Hockey This Morning’ on the satellite radio network.
Mike has found his own unique niche at Maple Leaf home games. He suggests, “I do whatever I can to help our Game Presentation team energize and engage the greatest fanbase in hockey, as we cheer on the biggest stars at the ACC — our players.”