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.)
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.
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.
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.