Brian Williams (1946-)

Brian Williams

Year Born: 1946

Williams, Brian (1946- )

Early in 1970, after graduating in 1969 from Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, Michigan, with a BA in History and Political Science, and then teaching for a year at St. Jude’s in Grand Rapids, Brian Williams stuffed all his worldly goods into his Karmann Ghia and headed east into Ontario early in 1970. And had any of the radio stations he called on in Windsor, Chatham, London and Guelph had a job to offer him, Brian’s life might have been very different. As it was, it was Dick Smyth at CHUM in Toronto who gave Brian his first job in Canadian broadcasting, in September 1970, and set him on the road to becoming a household name, and to being voted the country’s top sports broadcaster no less than eight times.

Brian was born in Winnipeg in 1946. His father was a very successful doctor, on an upwardly mobile career that meant Brian’s education was spread successively over schools in Invermere B.C., New Haven Connecticut, Edmonton Alberta and Hamilton Ontario, and finally at Aquinas College in Grand Rapids Michigan.

While he had at one time had some thoughts of going into law, Brian’s avid radio listening in his university years eventually convinced him that he wanted to be a broadcaster himself. In 1967, while still at Aquinas, he got himself a job doing news, sports and university basketball play-by-play for WXTO-FM Grand Rapids, and during his teaching year at St. Jude’s he did early morning radio news and sports for WGRD-AM.

When Brian walked into CHUM that day in 1970, Dick Smyth gave him four of the day’s newspaper stories, and told him to rewrite them for radio and tape them there and then as his audition. Several hours later, Brian was reading the evening news on the station, and was on his way to a three-year stay with CHUM, handling both news and sports. His talent for sports broadcasting had him covering the 1972 Canada-Russia series for CHUM and stations across the country, and he interviewed Paul Henderson in the dressing room immediately after his historic eighth-game winning goal. Later, Brian did his first television work, when he did a recap of the series with Henderson for CKVR Barrie. He also appeared on CITY-TV on a sports panel with Jim Hunt and Ron Hewat.

CFRB radio Sports Director Bill Stephenson had been keeping an eye on Brian’s work for the rival Toronto station, and in 1973 he persuaded him to join Dave Hodge and Bill in the ‘RB sports department. But after only a year at CFRB, Brian had a call from CBC’s Toronto station CBLT-TV in 1974, inviting him to join the Corporation, where he was assigned to the 6pm and 11pm sportscasts. In 1976, he worked what was to be the first of twelve Olympic Games for CBC, getting his feet wet in this exciting sports event by doing weight-lifting coverage in Montreal.

His approach to this assignment was to typify all the later work that made him Canada’s best-known sports broadcaster: preparation, preparation, preparation. Brian prided himself on never having used a teleprompter in his broadcasts at twelve Olympic Games, and it all began when, knowing the bare minimum about weightlifting, he made it his business to learn everything he could about the sport, and as a result was able to cover the event knowledgeably and confidently. This dedication to being well-prepared stood him in good stead as his career progressed, and earned him wide respect and praise. Long-time CBC executive Denis Harvey, who was Head of TV Sports from 1981 to 1984, said of Brian: “He was the best-prepared sports broadcaster I ever knew”.

In 1983, Brian joined the CBC Network Television Sports Department, and embarked on what was to be a 32-year association with the public broadcaster. In the ensuing years, apart from being the host for all the CBC’s Olympic coverage, Brian covered the Commonwealth Games, Pan An Games, Formula One Racing, the Molson Indy Series, World Cup Skiing, World Figure Skating, Canadian Open Golf, Canadian Open Tennis, Blue Jays and Expos Baseball, NHL Hockey, World Junior Hockey, Curling and CFL Football (including hosting 25 Grey Cup Games).

In 1984, Brian was approached by Toronto broadcaster Prior Smith to work with Don Cherry on a new syndicated radio show, Grapeline, where Don and Brian would discuss hockey news and hockey history from two often widely-differing viewpoints. 24 years later, what started as a handshake deal was still going strong, as the trio still met every week, November through April, to tape five four-minute segments to be heard twice daily over 110 Canadian radio stations as well as in several U.S. markets.

In February 2005 there came the announcement that CTV had acquired the Canadian rights to the 2010 Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver and the 2012 Summer Games in London. In June 2006, CTV announced with pride that Brian Williams would be joining the CTV/TSN group, and would be their host for both blocks of Olympic coverage, as well as being “….integrated into several sporting assignments for CTV, TSN and other platforms”.

During his career, Brian has won two Foster Hewitt Awards and six Gemini Awards as Canada’s top sportscaster. In 2006 he gave the Commencement Address at Aquinas College, and was given an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters. He served for ten years on the Board of Directors of North York General Hospital, and in 2007 joined the Hospital’s Governors’ Council. He is on the Board of Directors for Tim Horton’s Children’s Charities, and served for 12 years on the Board of Ronald McDonald Children’s Charities, of which he is now an Honorary Lifetime Director.

On Friday December 30th it was announced that Brian Williams had been made an Officer of the Order of Canada, “for his contributions to sports broadcasting, notably that of amateur sports, and for his community involvement.”

Written by Pip Wedge