2000 – Bill Stephenson

Bill Stephenson

by George Gross

They call him “Golden Tonsils” — with justification.
Bill Stephenson, the veteran sports broadcaster with CFRB Toronto, has the most wonderful baritone voice which helped him in delivering play by play broadcasts, daily sportscasts, commercials and mobile broadcasts on radio and TV for more than five decades.
This youthful septugenarian is a fitness freak, who works out daily in the gym, plays golf and tennis and does everything broadcasters half his age do, including getting up at 4 a.m. when he’s on broadcast duty.
His gifted voice has covered the most demanding events from Olympic Games to the 1972 Super Series between Canada and the Soviet Union, from dozens of Grey Cups and Stanley Cups to world hockey tournaments, profesional soccer matches and the like.
The young Bill Stephenson was sports director of CKWX in Vancouver in the 1950s and in December 1960, Wes McKnight, then sports director of CFRB, offered him the play-by-play job on the Argonaut football broadcasts and the CFRB Sports Director post. The rest is, more or less, history
“I had a great life out west and covered some memorable events,” Stephenson said. “One of the biggest thrills was covering the Miracle Mile during the 1954 British Empire Games, when Roger Bannister of Britain and John Landy of Australia ran the first sub-four-minute mile.
“After coming to Toronto, I was sent to Switzerland to cover the 1961 World Hockey Tournament with the Trail Smoke Eaters representing Canada. They won the tournament and it took more than three decades before Canada won it again. That may have been the most memorable moment of my career.”
There were others, though, like the Soviet Union – Team Canada series with Paul Henderson scoring in the last half minute of an eighth and deciding game to bring life in the streets in a Canada transfixed by the series — to a standstill.
“There’s no doubt that it was a great moment in our lives,” said Bill. “Our national pride was at stake after the first four games and the team had to preserve our pride in the last four games in Moscow
“But the series also had its lighter moments — with Pete Mahovlich the leading prankster. We all looked for electronic bugs in our hotel rooms because we were told that the Soviets had listening devices in all rooms. Pete spread the story that his brother Frank thought that he had found one under the carpet — unscrewed it only to thave the chandelier in the room below go crashing to the floor.
“Then the next day, Pete Mahovlich hobbled into the media section of the hotel on crutches — one of his legs bandaged. We were scrambling to the phones to report the casualty when Pete stopped, started to chortle, threw the crutches away, took off the bandages and roared. He not only fooled the media, but also eased the tension prior to the final game.”
Bill, who was inducted into the Football Hall of Fame as a broadcaster and served a term as president of the CFL Football Broadcasters, made many friends during his career. Many were from charity organizations Bill supported in the past and still supports. They include Variety Village, the Hospital for Sick Children and the Canadian Associaiton for Community Living.
In football, for instance, he worked for years with Pat Marsden, Mike Wadsworth, Leif Pettterson and Johnny Esaw. They became not only co-workers but their business relationship developed into close personal friendship.
But, perhaps, Bill’s closest friend in sport was the late Punch Imlach, general manager and head coach of the Toronto Maple Leafs, who led the team to four Stanley Cups in the 1960s. The Leafs haven’t sipped bubbly from Lord Stanley’s jug since!
Punch, Bill and I used to have weekly lunches in a King Street restaurant, each of us enjoying a glass of red wine with lunch. When Punch passed away, Bill and I went to the same restaurant — sat at our usual table and ordered three glasses of red wine. We placed one in front of an empty chair. Then the two of us raised our glasses and toasted Punch. I’m sure he was pleased that we hadn’t forgotten him.
“Punch was the most loyal friend anybody ever had,” said Bill.
I couldn’t agree more.
Now I’m able to congratulate Bill on his much-deserved Sports Media Canada Achievement Award. I’ve been looking forward to sitting with him at the Awards Luncheon
Oh waiter — two glasses of red wine, please!
Here’s to you — Golden Tonsils.

By George Gross, Sports Editor, Toronto Sun