Another legendary broadcaster has ascended to the ‘Sky Studio’ of the local radio-television industry.
In his 84th year, Paul Leonard Sr. passed away on September 23, 2021.
It was he who gave me my first media job back in October of 1975.
He was a character, Paul was, that is for sure.
He worked hard as a news director, sports director, play by play announcer and sales person. And he liked to play hard, too.
I will never forget the day that he hired me to become a part-time sportscaster at Sault Ste. Marie radio station CKCY 920. The hiring took place on a Wednesday, in the mid afternoon, over a tray of draft beer at the Algoma Hotel, which was a honky tonk bar that was located across the street from CKCY in the Sault’s downtown.
The interview was anything but formal. It began with Paul asking me if I wanted a beer, to which the answer was in the affirmative. The interview ended several hours and several beers later, just before 5:00 p.m., with Paul asking me if I could begin work on the upcoming Saturday by doing the noon sports.
And so it began for me at CKCY, with Paul as my boss. There was no actual training; it was more like on the job learning. And every once in a while, Paul would offer some positive advice relative to how to deliver a sportscast and how to write a story in condensed form.
But if my hiring day experience over a tray of draft beer at the Algoma Hotel was one for the ages, I was soon to be treated to another memorable get together with my boss Paul.
Out of the blue, one Saturday, he showed up at the radio station just after I had finished my noon sportscast and asked me if I wanted to head to Blind River with him to broadcast a Junior B hockey game that was scheduled to take place that night.
Somewhat nervous at the thought but anxious to learn, I said yes. And so, just after one o’clock on a Saturday afternoon, Paul and I headed off to Blind River ahead of a 7:30 play by play broadcast of that night.
Since Blind River is only a 90 minute drive east of the Sault, I wondered why we were leaving so early. I was soon to find out.
Arriving in Blind River at about 2:30 p.m. — a full five hours before game time — our first stop was at the Lincoln Hotel on Blind River’s main drag. Four hours and several beers later, we were off to the rink to get ready to be the play by play/colour commentator duo on CJNR Radio — which was an affiliate station of CKCY — for that night’s game between the home town Beavers and the visiting Wawa Travellers.
Before we got to the rink though, there was another stop — the Beer Store, where Paul sent me in to purchase 12 cans of ice cold Labatt’s Blue. He then instructed me to place the 12 pack of beer into the broadcast equipment suitcase — and off we went to the rink.
It was my first time on a hockey broadcast and what an adventure it was. Paul did the play by play and I did the colour commentary. While he did a superlative job of calling the play by play action — it was as if he had been sipping tea all afternoon instead of quaffing beer — I talked very little, afraid that I might slur my words if I opened my mouth.
On and on the game went, with Paul quickly getting into the 12 pack of Labatt’s Blue and barely missing a beat while calling the game. Finally it ended, Paul patted me on the back, and said “good job” even though I had barely spoken a word on the air, instead keeping myself occupied by recording stats of the game. (Um, by the way, in the third period, while expertly calling the game in the broadcast booth, Paul made use of an empty styrofoam cup in the absence of a urinal.)
Once we left the rink, at about 10 p.m., I thought for sure that we would be headed home to the Sault. Nope. Instead, it was off to another Blind River bar, the Riverside Tavern, where more beer was sampled.
I am guessing that we made it back to the Sault at about 2:30 on the Sunday morning — which was about 12 hours after we arrived in Blind River and had our first beer on Saturday afternoon.
I had to do the noon sports that Sunday and I recall walking into the radio station at about 11 a.m. and feeling (and looking) rather haggard. Upon entering the CKCY news room, newscaster Joe Petrolo looked at me and said something like: “what the f— happened to you?”
I recanted my adventure with our boss Paul from the night before and Joe and I had a few laughs and chuckles and shakes of the head.
A couple of days later, I wandered into the radio station just to hang around and see if I could be of any pro bono help to anyone. I saw Paul in the hallway and thanked him for taking me to Blind River and then asked him how he felt on Sunday after our marathon drinking/broadcasting session of Saturday.
He looked at me kind of funny, patted me on the shoulder, and then with a chuckle said to me: “That was child’s play, my boy.”
I will always have fond memories of Paul. His work ethic and versatility as a broadcaster and sales person were truly admirable and inspiring. I would see him often over the years as our paths often crossed as members of the local media, even when I left CKCY and got more into the newspaper and print side of the media business.
Along the way, I got to become hockey friends with one of Paul’s grandsons, Ryan Leonard, who has made a good career for himself as a junior hockey owner, general manager and coach.
As for the inimitable Paul, when I think of him, I smile and chuckle to myself and think: “wow, what a beauty he was.”
Rest easy, good sir. You truly were one of a good kind.