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First Hockey Broadcaster

Thursday, September 12, 2019 1:52:53 AM

The combined power of the Ontario stations totaled watts. Two years later, the number of stations had swollen to 33, with an estimated aggregate of 40, watts. The guesstimated audience for the debut waslisteners.

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Although hockey on television was new to most Canadians, transmission of hockey games had occurred as far back as October 29, when the 2nd and 3rd periods of a game from Harringay arena in London, England were aired.

In preparation for the televising of hockey in Canada, an experimental video transmission of a Memorial Cup hockey game from Maple Leaf Gardens in April of took place. But not everyone was convinced that televising hockey games was a good thing. In a March 9, edition of the Hockey News, NHL President Clarence Campbell charged that the new entertainment medium TV was a definite threat to hockey and would keep fans at home instead of at the rinks.

Campbell also thought that television's limited field of view would not be able to capture the fast end-to-end rushes that made hockey exciting to watch.

However, according to an Imperial Oil Review article from the Spring of , Conn Smythe, the president of Maple Leaf Gardens, disagreed that televising games was a menace to game attendance and he believed that hockey on television would eventually be a great salesman for the game.

Even so, due to the potential for a slide in attendance because of televised games, HNIC would sign on at pm each Saturday night that first season — one hour after the opening face-off.

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Games were picked up in progress midway through the second period. Today, the rights per game can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. George Retzlaff, a year-old technical director from Winnipeg was chosen to produce the hockey broadcasts in Toronto.

And in Montreal, year-old former print journalist Gerald Renaud was hired to be the pioneer of hockey telecasts in French only for that first season.

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Both Retzlaff and Renaud felt it was imperative that the right camera angles be used giving viewers at home the 'best seat in the house'. They both dismissed suggestions of extra high angle cameras as well as ignoring proposals to install cameras on both sides of the rink. For a new technology at the time, the telecasts produced via their television 'Production Trucks' were seamless.

Legends of Hockey

Thirty years later, long time executive producer of HNIC Ralph Mellanby maintained that many of the procedures pioneered by the two early producers were still in use because they just could not be improved upon.

Foster Hewitt, who had been calling HNIC games on radio since , was the obvious choice to be the play-by-play man for games from Toronto. Hewitt had been studying the telecasting of hockey for years since the early experiments from New York's Madison Square Gardens.

In Montreal, Rene Lecavalier, a former radio war correspondent and cultural commentator, was chosen to call the play for the French-language television production from the Montreal Forum. It was on October 11, that Lecavalier described the first televised hockey game in Canada between the visiting Detroit Red Wings and the Montreal Canadiens.

Three weeks later on November 1, , Hewitt called the first game from Toronto between Boston and the Leafs. Fortunately, part of that first telecast in Montreal was preserved on kinescope and the first televised Stanley Cup final cup game on April 16, , including Elmer Lach's overtime goal and cup celebrations, has also survived.

Prior to the advent of videotape in the 's, television shows including Hockey Night in Canada had to be preserved by the kinescope method. Filming the transmission off a TV monitor with a 16mm film camera produced these 'kines'.

The only surviving televised footage from the first season of English HNIC telecasts is the final Leaf home game on March 21, with the Leafs defeating the Rangers In that telecast, the long time radio tradition 'Hot Stove League' is the primary intermission feature.

The commercials in the intermissions were aired 'live' and Westgate and Robert rehearsed their ads while the game was being played. There were no time outs during game action and Esso commercials were superimposed on the screen.

Besides the radio 'Hot Stove' transition to television, the Imperial Oil '3 Star' selection, which originated as an Imperial Oil gasoline promotion was retained.

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The three star selections are still used on HNIC today. One of the more popular features of the Hot Stove intermissions in the mid's had artist George Feyer drawing caricatures and cartoons on a giant artist's easel to illustrate Imperial Oil's commercials and hockey related stories.

Christmastime intermissions usually had the President of Imperial Oil giving a Christmas message. But this radio intermission tradition was not as effective on television and was replaced in by hosts including Scott Young, Wes McKnight and Tom Foley who worked the national broadcast from either Toronto or Montreal.

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Intermissions then consisted of mainly player interviews. In fact, many hockey fans invested in the expensive sets at the time just to watch hockey. By , television sets in Canada were increasing by about 50, monthly with most of the sets in Montreal and Toronto where the pioneer TV stations were located.

A major step in the popularity of HNIC came with the introduction of successful coast-to-coast telecasts starting in , when the country was finally networked by microwave.

Prior to that, kinescopes had to be shipped across the country and shown on a delayed basis — a technical term known as 'bicycling. Because of the immense interest from hockey fans across the country, HNIC decided to show the game as a special Friday night telecast.

Foster Hewitt opened with "this is one of the best hockey games we've seen here in a while. The viewers observed a slick passing Soviet team with some players actually wearing toques while skating. The intermission feature was an opportunity to learn more about these visitors from behind the Iron Curtain.

Scott Young, in his first season hosting games from Toronto, had no luck obtaining any information about the Soviet players from an unsmiling Russian Colonel and his very grim interpreter.

By the late 's, HNIC began experimenting with the game coverage.

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After the final whistle of a playoff game in Toronto on April 4, , the CBC network switched live to the Chicago Stadium to join the Montreal vs Chicago game in progress.

Danny Gallivan, who had commenced calling the Montreal games in English since , welcomed the Toronto audience as the 2nd period was winding down. As it turned out, the 3rd period of that game happened to be one of the most tumultuous in NHL history with irate Chicago fans attacking referee Red Storey on the ice.

It was the last game for the beleaguered referee as he resigned after the game. This 'bonus' coverage was especially memorable for HNIC.

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Foster Hewitt continued television play by play until the end of the season. In the opening game of the next season on October 11, , Foster introduced his son Bill to the audience and announced that Bill would be taking over television play by play duties.

Foster stayed on television for the next 3 seasons as the first Toronto 'colour' man. At the start of the season, Foster switched back to radio only and Bill continued on television. By , HNIC brought back the colour commentator by rotating various newspaper writers in the booth with Bill.

Then for the season, Brian McFarlane became the regular colour man in the booth.

Sportscasting Firsts,

In Montreal during the 60's, Keith Dancy worked in the booth alongside Danny Gallivan giving his expert analyses. As HNIC moved into the 's, there were changes in the intermission content. By the start of the season, Ward Cornell had become the permanent host in Toronto and Ed Fitkin joined Cornell with the "videotaped highlights" for the first time.

At the start of the season, HNIC signed on at pm.

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With play being picked up near the end of the first period. In Montreal, Frank Selke Jr. A side note: although it could not use the name Hockey Night in Canada, CTV began televising Wednesday night hockey games featuring the Leafs or the Canadiens during the broadcast season.

There were two new technical advances introduced in the playoffs. Although a process called 'hot processing' was developed in the mid's for instant replay, it wasn't until that Ty Lemberg, a Retzlaff staffer from CBC Sports, developed a workable technique that enabled replays to become a regular, and very popular feature.

The replay was not very elaborate, as it would only replay a fixed number of seconds preceding the goal. In those same playoffs, another innovation was revealed in an intermission, when executive producer George Retzlaff gave the viewers a demonstration of the new hand held camera or 'creepie peepie' as it was referred to at the time.

Hockey Night in Canada

A long forgotten tradition in Canada for many years was 'Young Canada Night' that usually fell on the last Saturday prior to Christmas.

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