One of my teenage mentors died this morning.
Chris Andrews, known for the past decade and a half by his on-air name "Punch" Andrews, died of lung cancer after a public and very upbeat battle.
Chris had a growing Facebook support group that, I'm told, is still growing. I'm not on Facebook, but I'm told the group is at http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=24463005229.
Everyone there has his or her own story ... I have mine, so here it is.
I met Chris about twenty years ago, when I was in grade 9 and started volunteering at Rogers Cable 10 in Newmarket. My first gig there was pulling cables and changing tapes for cameraman Chris at the Miss Portuguese Cultural Centre Pageant in Bradford.
From there, I worked alongside Chris as he toiled on both sides of the camera ... producing, directing, shooting, editing and hosting virtually anything on Cable 10. While he's long been known as a high-energy party DJ, he was equally adept at hosting all the shows. He was the Swiss Army Knife of community television. Public affairs, politics, Christmas shows, community events. He was the complete package for that environment. And a real professional -- even on days when he'd arrive 15 minutes before showtime, rush into the little bathroom with an electric shaver and smear on a tube of foundation. Whether no one was watching or ... well, hardly anyone was *ever* watching, but Chris always performed as though that show was going on his demo reel.
Chris really seemed to hit a groove at Rogers when he teamed up with handsome and charismatic volunteer Thom Marriott to do a show called Around Town with Chris and Thom. They made it no secret that they had no budget and were making the most of a rinky-dink format. Their signature special effect was snapping their fingers to simulate a teleportation to the next location. They tooled around the town in the rusty orange Rogers mobile unit that had been decomissioned in favour of the new production truck. It became the Around Townmobile, and it took Chris, Thom and their mascot Hotline the springy rocking horse to wacky adventures around York Region. I spent some good hours riding around with Chris in that messy van, lugging gear as he smoked and talked and smoked and smoked.
As they met with resistance with Rogers management, Chris and Thom took up a show on struggling Newmarket AM station CKAN 1480. There was no listenership to speak of, so Chris was given carte blanche to do whatever he felt like doing with his time slot. From what I've seen, his show on Mix 99.9 FM in Toronto was a modern-day version of the same show Chris perfected at CKAN.
He even brought in his own records to play. I would drop in at the station while Chris was running commercials during the Blue Jays game, and man the cart machines while he went to another studio to cart up some 45s or cassettes. I remember a smoke-filled control room where Chris spent what was probably half an hour, trying to get just the right recording of "Five Long Years" by Colin James. He even carted up a copy of "Closer to the Heart" by Rush from one of my cassettes, which I'd call in and request now and then.
Even though he was on a station that was a rudderless sinking ship, working for rubber cheques and being managed by people who he didn't seem to get along with, Chris was a ball of energy and determination. To listen to his Energy 1480 Saturday Night Open Line House Party, you'd think he was working the prime time shift on 680 CFTR in the mid-1980s. And I think that's exactly how he wanted it. He was playing radio. Some people say they love their job so much, they'd do it for free. Well, Chris actually did so.
And he did it all without an op. He did all the production himself. He was more than just a guy who could turn on the charm when the mic was live. He had the vision to imagine what would sound good, and the technical chops to make it happen. He played the mixing console like a piano. By spending so much time with Chris, and absorbing technical know-how from him and the others at Rogers, I was able to cruise through two years of technical class at university.
I had my first alcoholic beverage at a Rogers crew party at Chris' family farm just outside Newmarket. I remember taking a hay-wagon ride out into a field where one of Chris' drunken friends did back-handsprings in the tractor headlights.
I was a lonely, kinda miserable teenager, and I felt like I didn't have close friends. Hanging out with Chris and being invited along made me feel like I had someone to listen to me. He heard my angst and lonely rants, and kept me optimistic.
I remember shopping for back-to-school clothes and wanting "Chris Andrews shirts" -- striped button-ups with collars -- and Dockers, so I could look like him. He was, in my eyes, a cool guy. Seemed popular with the ladies, always taking them out to his boat.
Chris helped me out a lot by writing me a letter of reference when I applied to his alma mater Ryerson University (then Ryerson Polytechnical Institute) for Radio & Television Arts. He coached me about what they'd be looking for in an applicant, who to talk to, and what to bring up in the interviews. I got in. I did well. I was aiming for television, but got into radio.
We lost touch when Chris moved out to PEI for a paying radio gig.
A few years later, back in Toronto and teaching, Chris invited me to speak to his class at Seneca College. What an honor for me to have the man who taught me so much believing that I had something to teach his students.
I think that might've been the last time I saw him in person. I seem to remember visiting him at the Mix. We've emailed here and there, and I sent him a DVD of a video I made of him at CKAN back in the day, plus some video of him hosting the Rogers Christmas Hotline in the early 1990s. When I heard the Jim Richards interview from earlier this month, and he said he was hoping to visit PEI one more time, I offered to meet up with him in the Maritimes. But that won't be happening.
I'm sad that he's gone, but ... hey, he wasn't sad. Chris said he had a good run. Always leave them wanting more. He went from an energetic kid volunteering at Aurora Cable, to a jack-of-all-trades/master-of-most at Rogers Cable in Newmarket, to bar DJ on Newmarket's Main Street and weekend radio host at CKAN, to PEI, then back to where he wanted to be -- on the air in Toronto, keeping the party going.
Some people leave this world never knowing how many lives they touched. Chris exited this life knowing that he was loved and appreciated ... and respected. He made a big difference in my world. There would be no Big Ass Superstar if there hadn't have been a Chris "Punch" Andrews.
So long, groovy boy.
For your consumption ... two videos from the archives. The first is a show opening from Around Town. I loved that show. I was a big fan. The second is a segment from Around Town in which Chris and a woman -- Lorraine, I think? -- filling in for the MIA Thom throw to a segment about Teen Pro Wrestling. Chris was kind enough to send Bubba out to do a story about a wrestling group I was involved in. I got to be on Around Town. What a hoot.
And one more post: Chris "Punch" Andrews before he was "Punch".
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