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Your favourite Maple Leaf broadcasters….who comes to mind for you?

Summertime usually means less time visiting hockey-oriented web sites, and I'm sure this year is no different.  If you've not visited Vintage Leaf Memories recently or missed some earlier posts, here are a few that provide some Leaf chat...

-Why the Leafs still matter

-Your thoughts on "classy" Leafs, past and present

-How Toronto's Eastern Conference foes have improved this off-season

-10 Leaf questions you may enjoy thinking on

-An idea to get more kids into the ACC and give something back

-Do the Leafs still have one more ace up their sleeve this summer?


I usually prefer not to think of myself as old, exactly, but the fact remains that I do vividly remember the first real “voice” of the Toronto Maple Leafs—the legendary Foster Hewitt.

Now, given that his "on-air" career started in the, what was it, 1930s, that would seem to make me pretty darn old, indeed.  But in context, Hewitt had a long and illustrious career in the broadcast booth—until well into the 1970s, as I recall.  But I, personally, only first remember him calling Leaf games when I was a youngster in a hockey-crazed (Montreal Canadiens fans all, unfortunately) family back in the late 1950s.  Because we lived in southwestern Ontario, across from Detroit, we thankfully got the Leaf games on TV on Saturday nights—not the Hab telecasts from Montreal.  It was only on the rare occasion that we ended up with a Montreal game, during the highly infrequent occasions when Toronto was not scheduled or was on the road on a Saturday night. (We would see Montreal games at times in the playoffs, depending on the Leaf schedule and how long they lasted...)

I seem to recall that the late 1950s was also right around the time that Foster was passing the television baton along to his son Bill, who eventually carved out his own niche as a well-regarded play-by-play man for the CBC/Hockey Night in Canada on the Maple Leaf broadcasts.  Bill carried the Hewitt torch until his health-related retirement in the early 1980s.

That late '50s time frame was when Foster started to focus primarily on the radio broadcasts of Leaf games, while Bill took on responsibility for the TV side.  (One thing that those who lived in and around Toronto at the time could fill me in on:  did Bill also do a lot of general sports work for his Dad’s Toronto-based radio station, CKFH?  As a non-Toronto dwelling Leaf supporter, I only heard/saw the games on TV on Saturday nights and listened to their Sunday night games on the road via CBC radio.  I know the location CTV Toronto affiliate hosted mid-week Leaf games in the 1960s, but I'm wondering if Bill also did regular sportscasts and covered other events, etc...)

But what I’m really looking for today are your memories when it comes to favorite Leaf play-by-play guys. (By all means throw in names of colour commentators, too.  You may remember Brian McFarlane and Bob Goldham on TV or someone like Bill Watters on the radio side in more recent times.)  I remember both Hewitts’, of course, as wonderful play-by-play pros. There was also (no relation, different spelling of the last name) Ron Hewatt, who did radio work for CKFH when that station held the radio rights to Leaf games back in the 1970s.

I think when the old all-news radio network (CKO, now defunct) had the Leaf rights for a year around 1979, a young Peter Maher (with the Calgary Flames, if I’m not mistaken, for many years now) was behind the mike for a season in Toronto.

We all know Joe Bowen as the “voice of the Leafs” on radio since the early 1980s, and sometimes on television as well.  Dennis Beyak (now in Winnipeg, right?) also ably handled games when Joe was on TV for many years.

As I write this, it may well be I'm neglecting names of others who handled Leaf broadcasts, so fill me in if my memory is faulty on this one.

I guess we could get into a discussion about the modern-day TV side of things, but I don’t think individuals like Bob Cole or Chris Cuthbert, for example, consider themselves “Maple Leaf” broadcasters.  That is, they are hired independently by the CBC or TSN and happen to do Leaf games, but they are not “home town” play-by-play people.  But again, if you have any comments about national broadcasters like Hughson, Cole, Cuthbert, etc. who do Leaf games on occasion (I know Cole did them for many years until recently, usually with Harry Neale) feel free to chime in with your thoughts.

But again, my focus today is mostly thinking back to various individuals (there aren’t many when you think about it) who have had the privilege of calling the Leaf games as the “home town” voice.  I realize Bill and Foster Hewitt did national broadcasts on Saturday night as well, but because they also did Leaf games on Toronto radio, I’ll include them as “local” play-by-play guys for the purposes of history and our discussion today.

So, who do you remember most fondly calling Leaf games?  Do particular games, plays or moments stand out?  Is there a "call" that still gives you goose bumps?

And by all means, if you aren’t a Leaf fan but have favorite play-by-play guys from other teams, past or present, share your memories on that front, too.  I absolutely loved Danny Gallivan on TV doing Montreal games.  Rene Lecavalier was superb on French-language radio broadcasts for the Habs, as well.  My Dad listened to Lecavalier a lot, so I was very familiar with his style.

I grew up listening to Budd Lynch and Bruce Martyn in Detroit, Fred Cusick on WBZ in Boston, Dan Kelly in St. Louis, etc.  I have fond memories of all of them, though each was charmingly “homerish” in their own unique manner.

I just thought this would be a fun topic, as we wait for training camp (or not, given Gary Bettman’s public declaration last week that, without an agreement, there won’t be games this fall…I'm betting on January) and some meaningful hockey activity.

I look forward to hearing from you…


  1. Joe Bowen is tops in my books. I think the guy is the best play by play guy out there. He can make paint drying sound exciting.

    I grew up on the East Coast so I heard Danny Gallivan more than anything - that guy was a legend.

    Bob Cole again is gold as well.

    Dennis Bayak is pretty good too - he would be preferable in my mind on CBC telecasts over Jim Hughson who is quite simply awful. During the finals I often switch over to NBC because Doc Emerick is leagues ahead of Hughson in bringing emotion and excitement to the game.

    Chris Cuthbert is also terrible. Want proof? Listen to his call of the play leading up to Crosby's goal in the Winter Olympics. He literally sounds lost - and this happens quite regularly with him.

  2. I live abroad now and watch most games on line with the centre ice package. I love the ability to choose home or away feeds for audio specifically so I can hear Harry Neale whenever we play Buffalo. He doesn't say much (maybe that's what makes him good), but his calm voice brings back fond memories of when he used to do local Leafs coverage.

    Bob Cole isn't perfect, but he's still the best. Man what a great voice, and an under rated way with words: "EVERYTHING IS HAPPENNING!"

  3. Great list of superb guys past and present, The Meatriarchy. Thanks. (For me, Foster was the best ever on radio, Gallivan on TV...)

  4. I think Neale still brings back fond memories for a lot of Leaf fans, William...Thanks.

  5. I really like Joe Bowen too. It's really a shame that Harry Neale left. He and Bowen were great together. I also really like Jim Ralph. His self-deprecating humour is gold. He should really be on tv and replace Millen or Healy.

    Chris Cuthbert is great but maybe not for big games. He's good on the late game on HNIC

    Remember way back when the Leafs would play Montreal on a Saturday night? In the booth: Bob Cole, Harry Neale and Dick Irvin. Man, those were the days.

  6. As internet radio has always been my only option for following games, Joe Bowen is the man for me. The call of his that sticks with me is, for some reason: "cats and dogs are living together - it's total pandemonium!" In the background of AM640's broadcasts - more so than during his talkback show after the game - I also greatly admire Andy Frost's arena announcing. Every time he said "number 13... Mats... Sundin...!" it did the job. I hope both men will stay prominent as the broadcast rights change this season.

  7. No question Jim Ralph adds something different, Anon. He's a funny guy. And Dick Irvin was fantastic. Of course his dad was a very successful coach with the Canadiens, and Dick brought amazing energy, talent and a blend of history and knowledge to his commentary....Thanks.

  8. Thanks Peregrine. Frost is a well-regarded guy, for sure. (In the old days, I loved Paul Morris, the PA guy from about 1965 until the Leafs moved to the ACC. He was the "voice of the Gardens" for me...)

  9. For me it was Ed Whalen in Calgary

    Ed had distinctive voice that was the soundtack of Stampede Wrestling.

    He had some great catchphrases like "Ring-a-ding-dong dandy"

    When the Flames moved to Calgary, it was Ed who presided over the best of the Battle of Alberta, back when Gretzky, Kuri, Anderson, Coffey and Messier battled Lanny McDonald, McInnis, Neiuwendyk, Roberts and Gilmour for the right to advance to the Cup.

    Some old footage if you care to watch. I think the game starts about six minutes into the tape:

  10. Thanks for the link DP. It's too bad, broadcasters can be legends in their local market, but if they aren't seen or heard on a national outlet, they aren't always as widely known as they deserve to be.

    Though I'm an Ontario guy, I was always aware of Whalen as a very well-respected and highly regarded professional- including the wrestling background that you mention, DP.

    Thanks for raising his name today.

  11. Michael count me in as a Foster Hewitt devotee mainly because he introduced me to the game and the Leafs but also for the fond memories of childhood Saturday nights with the family.
    In more recent times, I must say I would rather watch a game with Joe Bowen and Harry Neale than anyone else! They made it fun to watch.
    I have also come to appreciate Jim Ralph on the radio with Joe since I dropped Leafs TV as a protest 2 years ago. I rely on Joe and Jim to bring me the games I miss as a result.

  12. I know that you go back even further than I do, Ed! Yes, Foster had a unique voice and way of calling the game, for sure. We're probably among the millions of youngsters in those golden days who grew up listening to hockey with family around us because of Hewitt's broadcasts.

    Jim Ralph is certainly a personality, which fits with where things are in the broadcast field these days....

  13. My favourite broadcasters are; Foster and Bill Hewitt and Bob Cole. Joe Bowen is OK, but a bit of a homer.

  14. There have certainly been other father and son duos in the sports play-by-play field (the Careys' in baseball being just one example) but for a lot of us, no one will ever have the impact or create the memories that the Hewitts' did.

    Thanks mrj...

  15. Michael
    Another question you might pose is "What makes a good colour commentator"
    I like it when they give insight as to what is happening on the bench or away from the play. But interesting stories about the players/teams are good too! They certainly need a good rapport with the play by play guy to make it work. What do others think?

  16. bowen and ralph are the best pair today....watters was ok as a colour guy on radio in his younger days.....
    showing my age, but have to admit,i think i learned more about hockey from bob goldham than anyone else...he was able to explain positioning and team play as well as anyone
    hnic sucks these days, no decent personalities at all

  17. Thanks Ed. Blogs like VLM may not get as much traffic in summer as during the hockey season, but I'd like to hear people's perspective on your question as well....

  18. Funny you mention Goldham, freshwind. I agree he was outstanding at breaking plays down in simple terms, without all the fancy, loud (and often unnecessary) analysis we get nowadays....

  19. Bowen and Gord Stellick were a great radio pair as well.

  20. I grew up listening to Foster Hewitt call the first period on the radio until the CBC joined the game in progress, usually near the end of the first period. Then it was Bill Hewitt calling the TV game and occasionally Foster.When I was young, I wasn't allowed to watch the entire game so I tucked a transistor radio under my pillow and listened to Foster finish the game and wrap it up. The Hewitt's will always be the voice of the Leafs for this long time fan.

  21. That brings back memories for me, too, ingy56. What I seem to remember is that in the late '50s and early '60s, CBC didn't start the TV broadcast until 9pm (games didn't start, as you remember, until 8pm back then at the Gardens on Saturday nights) until 9pm, when the game was generally early in the second period. At some point (I can't remember exactly when) in the '60s, TV coverage started at 8:30, usually just as the game was near the end of the first period. I wish I could remember when they started showing the entire game- maybe not until the early '70s? (Playoffs might have been different...)

    Thanks for triggering some fond recollections, ingy56. Drop by again anytime....

  22. Joe Bowen is the best but Greg Millen just sounds awkward. He repeats what he says and frankly I think Joe and Paul have a bit of fun at his expense. Which is fine. Some people say that Joe Bowen is too much, I guess I understand, but Rick Jeanneret (born in St. Catharines) is AWESOME and I hate Buffalo so I think it's jealousy more than anything. "Down Goes Brown!" vs "May Day!"

  23. Jeanneret is one of those local legends, for sure, Anon. His "May Day" call stands as one of the best I can remember!

  24. bob cole and harry neale on HNIC back in the 90's... joe bowen on the radio... ahhh great stuff. andy frost has a terrific voice (i met him outside of the q107 studio 8 years ago or so, and he was very friendly), and i remember paul morris' voice distinctly announcing 'last minute of play in this period!'

  25. As odd as it sounds to say, I was a big fan of Paul Morris, though he was "only" the P.A. announcer at the Gardens. He was Mr. Consistency, always the same intonation.

    Thanks Alex C...hope you're enjoying the summer!