Hockey Nerd – Part II: Radio Active

Back in December, I titled a story Hockey Nerd in Canada – Part I. One of my nerdiest hockey nerd interests is the early history of hockey broadcasts on the radio – which I pursue as if someone’s going to give me a prize if I finally push it right back to the beginning!

For me, this pursuit began several years ago with confusion over the date of Foster Hewitt’s first game. Hewitt himself had long claimed that his first broadcast was a senior OHA semifinal playoff at Toronto’s Mutual Street Arena. He said the game was between Kitchener and the Parkdale Canoe Club to determine who would face the Toronto Granites for the Eastern championship. He said the date was March 22, 1923 … but on March 22, 1923, the Toronto Granites defeated the University of Saskatchewan in Winnipeg to claim the Allan Cup as the senior amateur champions of all of Canada. So, how could Hewitt have called the game he said he did on that day?

Obviously, Hewitt was wrong. Turns out, his first broadcast was actually made on February 16, 1923, on Toronto radio station CFCA (which was owned by the Toronto Star, where Hewitt was employed). It was a game between the Kitchener Greenshirts and the Toronto Argonauts. Hewitt never flat out claimed (at least I don’t think he did) that his broadcast had been the very first, but he certainly didn’t discourage people from thinking that either! In truth, CFCA had actually been on the air eight nights earlier, on February 8, 1923, with Norman Albert of the Toronto Star handling the play-by-play. (For more on all this, see the story I did for the Star on the 90th anniversary of that game.)

Star Broadcast

Given that several other radio stations in several different Canadian cities (Winnipeg, Regina, and Edmonton for certain) were on the air with their own broadcasts within a very short time of the ones in Toronto, I’ve often wondered if anyone, anywhere else, had actually broadcast a game before Norman Albert. The earliest stories I’ve found saying anything about hockey on the radio are from December of 1921 and January of 1922, but they only claim that Westinghouse radio stations (KDKA in Pittsburgh, WJZ in Newark, WBZ in Springfield, Mass. and KYW in Chicago) would transmit the scores of games played in those cities.

I’ve yet to find any earlier live hockey broadcasts then the ones in Toronto, but in March of 1922, the radio station owned by the Vancouver Sun was reading on the air the telegraphed reports they were receiving of the Stanley Cup games in progress between the NHL’s Toronto St. Patricks and the Vancouver Millionaires of the Pacific Coast Hockey Association at the Mutual Street Arena. The station operated by the Vancouver World was broadcasting score updates as they were received. Neither was actually providing live play-by-play, but people certainly seemed pleased … particularly with the Sun‘s coverage.

Van Sun 1922

Eight months later, on November 28, 1922, the Stanley Cup champion St. Pats were in Winnipeg to kick off a preseason western exhibition trip with a game against the Edmonton Eskimos of the Western Canada Hockey League. As had been done in Vancouver, the Winnipeg Tribune promised that its station, CJNC, would broadcast the results from the game “as fast as reports are received.” Again, not live play-by-play, but certainly comprehensive hockey coverage for the time.

Just recently, I came across another interesting hockey broadcasting story from Winnipeg two months prior to this game, from September 23, 1922, about Lester Patrick appearing on CJNC the day before.

LP 1922

The story states:

A pleasing surprise was given to hockey enthusiasts by the appearance before The Tribune’s radiophone of Lester Patrick, manager of the Victoria Pacific Coast hockey team, and part owner of the Pacific Coast hockey league, who was passing through the city on his way west, and who delivered a short address on hockey prospects for the coming season. Sporting fans expressed their appreciation of this addition to the program.

Though I’ve yet to check every other city with radio stations at this time, Patrick’s broadcast in Winnipeg may just be the first example of sports talk radio in Canada!

Connecting all this directly to modern times … In March of 1923 the radio stations owned by the Winnipeg Tribune and the Winnipeg Free Press both agreed to go out of business (they were likely losing money!) to clear the way for a new station in Winnipeg operated by the Manitoba Telephone System, which would later become Manitoba Telecom Services. Known both then and now as MTS, this is the same company that currently holds the naming rights on the MTS Centre in Winnipeg where the Jets play.

13 thoughts on “Hockey Nerd – Part II: Radio Active

  1. Interesting info Eric. The way I understand the February 8th game was only broadcast during the 3rd period between Midland and North Toronto at the Toronto Arena Gardens. Lionel Conacher scored 6 goals. Keep up the stories I really enjoy them.

    1. ALL the CFCA broadcasts in Toronto in 1923 came on the air just before the third period, with a recap of the first and second, and then live play-by-play of the third. The first full 60-minute broadcast was probably a senior amateur game in Winnipeg on February 22, 1923. The first full broadcast of a professional game is likely a Western Canada Hockey League playoff between Regina and Edmonton, broadcast in Regina, on March 14, 1923.

  2. There’s no doubt an obscure one buried out there somewhere…
    At some point I concluded that the first broadcast of an NHL game (albeit third period only) was Feb 14th over CFCA (Senators v St Patricks). I assume this is one of the three other games by Albert that you mention in the Star article.

    1. Yes, I also believe that Feb 14 game was the first NHL broadcast. CFCA appears to have done mostly Toronto Granites games (who were en route to their second consecutive Allan Cup championship) in 1923 but also did NHL games on Feb. 24 (vs Montreal), March 3 (vs Hamilton) and March 5 (Ottawa again) that Foster Hewitt likely called. These were all the remaining St. Pats home games following the first broadcast on Feb. 8.

  3. I do remember listening to Foster Hewitt when I was very young…I would play with my red & blue toy hockey players (they came in a plastic bag) & follow the game that way….
    On a different note: a suit with 2 pairs of trousers for $40…sign me up, lol…

  4. Your research never ceases to amaze me! Your love for sports surely comes forth! What patience and determination you possess!

  5. I lived in Toronto from 1959 to 1961. At that time the tv broadcast of hockey was for third period only. Please confirm so that I can prove it to a young friend who doesn’t believe me.

    1. To the best of my knowledge, at the time Hockey Night in Canada broadcasts went on television in 1952, they began at 9:00 … which was one hour after the 8pm start time. It’s my understanding that would actually be early in the second period, not the third. By 1963-64, broadcasts began at 8:30 (which would be late in the first period) and in 1968-69 the CBC broadcast the entire game beginning at 8 pm.

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