Don Chevrier, seen here in a 1973 photo, was the first television voice of the Toronto Blue Jays. (CBC Handout photo)
Lunch with Chevy
A young sports producer recalls meeting Don Chevrier for the first time
Last Updated Tues., Dec. 18, 2007
I don't get excited about meeting athletes or broadcasters anymore, but in January 2002, I was very anxious as I drove from Ft. Lauderdale to Palm Harbor, Fla., to meet one of the greatest broadcasters and one of the classiest individuals.
I was meeting Don Chevrier for lunch and I couldn't wait.
I had never met Don before, but I had spoken to him over the telephone every day for one week in 2001 while we were both working for the TEAM 1050 Sports Radio station in Toronto. I was an evening and weekend producer, but was lucky enough to be asked to fill in for the midday producer for five days.
I didn't realize that I would have the opportunity to work with Don as he was a part-time co-host and did the show from his home in Florida. I was excited to be working with Don, who I remembered from his days calling Blue Jays games on CTV with Tony Kubek. Hearing Don's voice on the radio that first day brought me back to those games at Exhibition Stadium. Don has the most distinctive voice in the business and he sounded as great as ever on the radio.
I took the opportunity to talk to Don as much as possible that week, especially during commercial breaks. I felt like a kid talking to him. For those five days I was working with one of the true legends in sports broadcasting. I can't say enough about his knowledge and professionalism. He was so smooth and always had an interesting question or comment for our guests during the three-hour show. It didn't matter that we were in Toronto and he was speaking to us for three hours a day from his home in Florida. He was always willing to answer my questions and help me out with the format of the show.
I looked up to him and made the most of my opportunity to learn from him. He was laid back and never talked over you on the air like a lot of hosts. He knew a lot about every sport, but he did his homework. He would wake up every morning and spend hours reading many different sports newspapers on the Internet.
At the time I wasn't even aware of his many years of work on the CBC covering the CFL and the Grey Cup or his history with ABC and the Wild World of Sports. You would have to ask him specific questions about his career if you wanted the stories. He never dropped names or talked about how many great events he'd covered.
'He was always willing to help'
I liked that about him. I was just a young radio producer, but Don never tried to tell me how to do my job, like some of the other big-name hosts would do. He was always willing to help me and offer advice of what we should talk about. He would also offer to get some guests for us.
During the commercial breaks, Don would tell me about a book he was planning on writing about his career in broadcasting. He had started making some notes and had a lot of stories to tell, especially involving his old boss in New York at ABC Radio, Howard Cosell. I didn't realize that Cosell had given Don his first big broadcasting job. Don spoke highly of Cosell and I was looking forward to reading about all of those stories one day in his book. Don also had a lot of stories about Muhammad Ali whose fights he called for Wild World of Sports back in the 1970's.
One day that week I had mentioned to Don that I get down to Florida once or twice a year. He told me that I should give him a call anytime I'm in Florida. When I arrived in Ft. Lauderdale in the winter of 2002, I called Don up and he invited me to meet him for lunch near his home in Palm Harbor. I made the four-hour drive northwest one morning and met Don for lunch at a restaurant that he had suggested. I was looking forward to finally meeting him and talking to him about his life and the broadcasting industry. It was exciting to be meeting someone that I not only respected, but had called almost every major sporting event out there.
Our lunch lasted about 90 minutes and we talked about all sorts of topics. He told me about his life in Florida and how much he enjoyed living close to his daughter and spending time walking with his dog. Don seemed to have a great, relaxing life in Florida, but he also continued to work in radio and as a curling announcer for NBC during the winter.
He also was slowly progressing with his book. Don picked up the tab for lunch and I was on my way to the Tampa beaches before stopping off in Orlando to see a concert. Don told me to keep in touch and keep him posted on what I was doing. Little did we both know that seven months later, our sports radio station would be gone.
I kind of lost touch with him for the next couple of years. I always wanted to ask him how his book was coming along. I had been in Florida a couple of times, but never made the trip over to Palm Harbor.
This past October, I was assigned by CBC Sports to put together some short features for the Grey Cup pre-game show which featured former CBC broadcasters, including Norm Marshall, Don Wittman, Russ Jackson, Ted Reynolds and Don Chevrier. My producer and I chose 10 short stories that the former broadcasters told about some of their most memorable Grey Cup memories.
I wasn't at the shoot for these, but Don was my favourite. He asked the producer "How long do you want this (my story) to be?" The producer, Josh Wilder, told him to make it 30 seconds. Don nailed each story in one take and was always right on the mark at 30.
His story about flying home with Tommy Joe Coffey was classic, as was his informative bit about how the CFL and NFL would often bid on player contracts back in the day. I could listen to that guy talk sports for hours. He has this incredible delivery and storytelling ability. He would always pause and smile at the exact perfect moment.
Just watching him on tape during this shoot, I realized how cool he must have been in the broadcasting booth during any sporting event. It was a thrill for me just to work on something involving Don. I never thought I was going to have the chance to work with him again.
I was hoping I would get the chance to somehow tell Don that I put together some of his stories and that he would be watching the Grey Cup pre-game show to see the finished result.
A chance meeting in Toronto
A few days before the Grey Cup I made my way over to the Fairmont Royal York Hotel after work to catch the last part of the first CBC Sports Hall of Fame induction dinner. Don was not being inducted, but he had flown to Toronto to help celebrate the induction of some of his former co-workers, including Ernie Afaganis and Ted Reynolds. I didn't realize that Don would be there until I spotted him at the end of the night and decided to go over to say hello.
I hadn't seen him since that lunch in Florida over six years ago, but he remembered me and we spoke for a few minutes. I asked him about his book and he told me that it was a slow process, but that he had completed two chapters.
I was happy that I had decided to show up late for the dinner on a whim, because I had the opportunity to talk to Don again after so many years. He had definitely aged a little bit since I last saw him, but he seemed happy and looked to be in good health. I had the opportunity to tell him that I had put together some of his stories for the Grey Cup broadcast and how much I enjoyed listening to him tell stories about the CFL. I told him I was eagerly awaiting the completion of his book and he told me to make sure to keep in touch.
Last week, I decided to go back to Florida next month and was planning on calling him up to ask if he'd like to have lunch again. Sadly, I won't get the chance to talk to him just one more time.
I have worked in sports broadcasting in TV and radio for 12 years, and to this day, Don Chevrier is the person who I look up to more than anyone in the business and I only worked with the man for five days.
More on Don Chevrier
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- A young sports producer recalls meeting Don Chevrier for the first time
- WATCH NOW: Don Chevrier, 1937-2007
- WATCH NOW: Don Chevrier's Grey Cup memories - Money Talks
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- WATCH NOW: Don Chevrier talks about the history of the Grey Cup on CBC
- CBC Radio: Don Chevrier sets the stage for the Ali-Chuvalo fight in 1966
- CBC TV Archives: Don Chevrier on Curling's "Curse" of LaBonte (1972)