How the voice of the Jets took flight

It all began in Flin Flon for TSN’s Dennis Beyak

When you start a conversation with Dennis Beyak, you feel like you’ve just stepped into a broadcast booth.
With his enthralling baritone voice, knack for details and capacity to expunge extraneous words before they are spoken, he sounds no different on the phone than he does on the air.
For Beyak, the beloved TV and radio voice of the Winnipeg Jets, it’s all the product of a decades-long career – a career that began some 750 km to the north.
“That’s where I basically made my mistakes and learned what you could and couldn’t say on a hockey broadcast,” says Beyak, 62, referring to his days at Flin Flon’s CFAR radio station.
“It was tons of fun. We had a good crew there and it really was an absolute blast. It was old-time radio, it really was.”
Beyak was just 19 years old when he accepted a job at CFAR in 1970. A farm boy from Winnipegosis, he had just completed a one-year broadcasting course.
Earning a weekly salary of $57.50, Beyak, out of necessity as much as ambition, quickly became a jack-of-all-trades at CFAR.
“I did everything,” he recalls. “I did morning show, I did sports, I did deejay work, I did
programming, I did
production.”
Dream
Ironically, the one job Beyak didn’t take on, at least initially, was the one he had dreamed of since childhood – calling play-by-play for hockey games.
When the Flin Flon Bombers began their 1970-71 season, The Reminder and CFAR shared a reporter in Bruce Keddie, who would write for the newspaper and go on air for the radio station.
As Beyak’s luck would have it, Keddie, a future Flin Flon mayor, was forced to miss a game early in the season.
Beyak ably filled in, and when CFAR soon decided to employ its own hockey announcer, the duties were handed to the young man with the deep intonation.
To say sportscasting is in Beyak’s blood would be an understatement. This is a guy who, while playing ball hockey as a child, acted as both goaltender and play-by-play announcer.
“I was just one of those hockey nuts that I would get to a radio at night and I would just go around the dial,” he adds, “and I would pick up games from Yorkton, pick up games from Winnipeg, whatever, and just kind of listen.”
Nonetheless, when Beyak became the voice of the Flin Flon Bombers, he still had a lot to learn.
For one thing, his bias was as transparent as the Whitney Forum glass. He would regularly characterize penalties against the Bombers as excessive, or apply the “goon” label to opposing players who laid out a hard body check.
What Beyak didn’t appreciate was that while Flin Flonners may have lapped up that type of coverage, they weren’t the only ones listening.
Some fans of the Bombers’ opponents – including parents of the visiting players – weren’t entirely impressed with Beyak, and they told him so.
Beyak still appreciates the lesson he learned. While his broadcasts were geared toward a Flin Flon audience, he needed to be fair to both teams on the ice.
For his first playoffs in Flin Flon, Beyak was joined on the CFAR airwaves by a familiar partner. Flin Flon’s own Bobby Clarke, then starting to make waves in the NHL, was Beyak’s colour commentator.
Beyak never got to describe Clarke’s on-ice marvels, but he did get that opportunity for future NHLers such as Chuck Arnason, Blaine Stoughton, Ken Baird and Ron Andruff.
The atmosphere at the Whitney Forum was “wild,” Beyak recalls, as fans would stomp their feet atop the visiting team’s dressing room.
“Every team used to come up for the two games and the motto was to score some goals early in the first game and then start softening them up for the second game,” he says. “And [coach] Paddy Ginnell always had his rough and tough team, but there were a lot of character players that went through there.”
Moving on
As much as he loved his job, after two years at CFAR Beyak was ready to move on. He headed west to take a job that included radio play-by-play for the WHL’s Saskatoon Blades, among other duties, for the radio and TV station CFQC.
During his time in Flin Flon, Beyak had made a real impression on Bombers coach Paddy Ginnell. So much so that after Ginnell purchased the WHL’s Victoria Cougars, he offered Beyak a job that included team marketing and play-by-play.
Beyak’s stint in BC lasted two years only to see him return to CFQC in Saskatoon, this time as sports director. He would leave the station again in 1981, however, to work as assistant general manager for the Blades.
Since you can’t keep a good broadcaster down, in 1988, while still employed by the Blades, Beyak became the team’s TV play-by-play man.
He would go on to become GM of the Seattle Thunderbirds and Tri-City Americans, both of the WHL, before finding himself unemployed in the mid-1990s.
Fortunately, Beyak had two job offers to choose from: commissioner of the tiny West Coast Hockey League or television play-by-play announcer for the Edmonton Oilers.
Not surprisingly, he took the latter position. After 15 years in hockey and broadcasting, his dream had come true. The puck would finally drop on his big-league career.
Beyak was the voice of the Oilers for CFRN, an Edmonton TV station, just as the “Cardiac Kids,” as they were then known, began to come back to life post-dynasty.
His stint lasted two years, as CFRN lost the Oilers’ broadcast rights after the 1996-97 campaign. Beyak didn’t despair, however, since he already had a job lined up in Toronto – two of them, in fact.
In TO, Beyak’s main gig was doing play-by-play for Maple Leafs games for a local radio station called AM640. On the side, he would announce a number of late-evening NHL games, plus some playoff match-ups, on TV for TSN.
As Beyak split his time between radio and TV, something exciting was brewing back in his home province of Manitoba. Efforts to resuscitate the NHL’s Winnipeg Jets, once considered the longest of long shots, began to gather steam.
When the NHL announced in 2011 that the Jets would indeed return to Winnipeg that fall, TSN knew it wanted to be in on the action – and would need an experienced voice behind the microphone.
After 14 years in Toronto, Beyak was no longer sure how he fit into the AM640 and TSN puzzle in Canada’s largest city. He leapt at the chance to cover the Jets.
Three years later, Beyak has won a loyal following as the voice of the Jets. Between TSN television and radio, he broadcasts every single one of Winnipeg’s contests.
Passion lives
After all these years, Beyak’s passion for the game – and for his craft – has not diminished even the width of a skate blade.
“I just always found play-by-play a fascinating business, whether it’s any sport,” he says eagerly.
“It’s not something that you’re watching that’s happened before. You’re watching it as it’s happening.”
Beyak, who turns 63 on Sunday, isn’t sure how much longer he will sit in the broadcast booth, but he knows he won’t be one of those announcers who must be dragged out feet first, long after his talent has left him.
After all, Dennis Beyak has always held himself to the highest standard. He knows he owes that to himself – and to his listeners.

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