Foster Hewitt (1902-1985)

Foster Hewitt
Young Foster at the mic

Year Born: 1902

Year Died: 1985

Year of Induction: 1989

Pioneer – Member of CAB Hall of Fame

Hewitt, Foster (1902-1985)

“He shoots – he scores!” – four words that became the trademark for Canada’s premier play-by-play hockey broadcaster – Foster Hewitt. Foster first started in radio by selling crystal sets, but found there was too much competition. Instead, he moved behind the microphone to become a reporter for the Toronto Star where his father was Sports Editor.

In 1922, the Star had established a radio station – CFCA – with studios in The Toronto Star Building, 18 – 20 King Street West. One of Foster’s jobs was to read news. On February 8th, 1923, CFCA introduced play-by-play hockey broadcasts, when Toronto Star sports reporter Norman Albert called the third period of an OHA intermediate game at the Mutual Street Arena. As did all hockey games broadcast during that era on CFCA, it began around 9:45 pm with a rinkside summary of the first two periods followed by a play-by-play description of the third period. On February 16th, with only a few hours notice Foster was given his first hockey broadcast assignment . . . to handle that evening an amateur senior game between the Toronto Argonauts and the Kitchener Greenshirts. He did the broadcast using an ordinary telephone of the era, cramped inside an improvised 4′ x 4′ glass booth at ice level. The game went into 3 periods of overtime, and the broadcast lasted 3 hours. For a long time, the sports broadcasting facilities were crude and uncomfortable. Foster would help set up the booth – often in an unsafe place to get the best viewpoint. These facilities were a far cry from the overhead gondola built years later at the Maple Leaf Gardens, from which Foster’s descriptions of the NHL games were transmitted over CN-CP telegraph lines, first to stations in Ontario and then to radio stations from coast-to-coast.

The Toronto Star station was short-lived, the paper (along with others) turning in their license and pulling the plug in 1931, anticipating that the government stations would ultimately replace the pioneering private stations. The General Motors Hockey Broadcasts, produced by the MacLaren Advertising Agency in the early 30s and “starring” Foster Hewitt, were carried by CFRB and ultimately keyed to a coast-to-coast ad hoc network.

In 1934, Imperial Oil took over sponsorship and it was identified as “The Imperial Esso Hockey Broadcast “. In 1936 when the CBC was formed and made its network available to advertisers, MacLaren were obliged to use CBC-affiliated stations, including CBL Toronto. However, for a few years, both CBL and CFRB carried the broadcasts. It was not until the 50’s that the broadcast was dubbed “Hockey Night in Canada”.

When Hockey broadcasts were introduced to television, Foster was at the microphone for the first broadcast, on November 1st 1952, and continued until 1957, when his son, Bill, took over TV.

In 1951, Foster started his own radio station – CKFH at 1430 on the AM dial. The power in the beginning was only 250 watts. Foster’s station was bought by Telemedia and the call letters “CKFH’ were retired, In 1997, Fairchild Holdings bought the transmitter site and 1430 became CHTK. However, a few years before CKFH became history, Foster had begun to broadcast the Leafs’ mid-week out-of-town games, which put an end to the reconstructed broadcasts on another Toronto station.

When Canada played Russia in the epic 1972 eight-game series, Foster Hewitt was hired to do the television play-by-play.  Hockey archivist Paul Patskou recalls:

“Henderson has scored for Canada” are four words that the legendary broadcaster Foster Hewitt will always be associated with. Incredibly, when the historic 1972 Summit Series was announced, there was some opposition to having the venerable pioneer of hockey broadcasting call the eight game series between the Soviets and Canada’s best. In reality though, there was no one else who should have been chosen to call the most important series in hockey history outside of the NHL. Although HNIC was outbid for the broadcast rights by a partnership of Harold Ballard and Bobby Orr, HNIC staffers were used in the series. Hewitt described the action from the stunning 7-3 loss to the Soviets in Montreal to Paul Henderson’s dramatic game winning goals in the last three games in Moscow.

Foster was the recipient of several awards including The Order of Canada, a number of broadcasting industry awards, as well as memberships in the Canada Sports Hall of Fame and the Hockey Hall of Fame.

Foster Hewitt died April 21, 1985 at 83 years of age. In 1989, he was inducted into the CAB Broadcast Hall of Fame.

Written by J. Lyman Potts – December, 1996