'The number you have reached is not in service' — Andy Walsh signs off after 65-year radio career

‘The number you have reached is not in service.”

There’s no mistaking the voice if you’ve happened to misdial a telephone number. It literally booms across the phone line with a blend of authority and warmth.

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And it belongs to Richmond (Seafair) resident Andy Walsh, who, on Feb. 13, retired from a 65-year-long career in radio.

Walsh, 85, launched his career in 1951 in Cornwall, Ontario and later worked in his hometown of Montreal for 15 years before moving to Vancouver in the early 1970s, joining CHQM. He moved over to News 1130 when it switched to an all-news format in the 1990s. And he signed off from there at the end of a mid-morning newscast last month with a characteristic, humble goodbye.

“I think it was the best day of my life at the radio station,” he said, “in the sense that I was up for it and everything went so meticulously well. And yet, I’ve enjoyed every day in broadcasting.”

And there have been many since he decided to give radio a try as a youngster working at an advertising agency in Montreal that was populated by a host of former broadcasters who, when they heard his velvet tones, encouraged him to send an audition tape around to see if he could get some interest.

Radio also beckoned Walsh as he followed his beloved Montreal Canadiens with the play-by-play call of Doug Smith.

“Back in the ‘40s, way before TV, I would listen to Doug doing the play-by-play and realized that radio was something I would like to try,” he said.

So, Walsh put together a tape and the response was almost immediate when a radio station in Cornwall, called him back.

“It was almost like, ‘When can you start?’” Walsh said. “I didn’t think about how quickly it happened, to be honest. But I wanted to do something in radio and I guess it worked because I was hired.”

The only problem was that he came with a family name – Woloshen  that was deemed hard for the average listener to digest.

“It wasn’t good to the ear of the guy I was working with, who asked me how to spell it,” said Walsh. “And he told me listeners would have trouble with it and it would have to change.”

So, since then he’s gone professionally by the surname Walsh.

“That’s what it’s been on air,” he said.

Along the way in his career Walsh has lent his voice to a number of other things than radio, such as the Telus “not in service number clip.” One was being the announcer at the appearance of Pope John Paul II at B.C. Place Stadium in 1984.

“They asked me to emcee his arrival with thousands of people there. The event just filled me with wonderful feelings.”

He was also present when Mother Theresa made a visit in 1988.

“I saw her coming down the aisle in this darkened place with thousands people watching. She was this tiny little figure who I had just introduced. And she was illuminated by this single spotlight. It was quite a sight,” said Walsh, who also used to be a regular scripture reader during masses at St, Joseph the Worker Catholic Church on Williams Road.

“I’m still getting called to do some things. In fact, I have to do an event at St. Joe’s in a month or two,” he said. “People ask you to do all kinds of things and you do them, if you can.”

Walsh said he plans on remaining active in his retirement, using a small, home studio set up to record his voice.

“It’s a computer with a nice microphone, so it’s pretty convenient,” he said, adding he still hears his voice on some commercials aired on CHEK TV in Victoria where one of his sons work as a producer.

“There’s work out there in a number of places, so I could probably stay pretty busy.”

But after six and a half decades behind the mic, he welcomes the rest, but quickly admitted he already misses the routine.

“No question, I loved what I did. That’s why I stayed so long in the business,” he said. “Plus, there was really nothing else I wanted to do.

“It’s been a fun ride.”

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