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Remembering popular “local” NHL hockey radio play-by-play voices

The passing this week of the long-time “voice” of the Detroit Red Wings, Budd Lynch, evoked warm memories for me.  Here was a man who lived a long and full life.  He died at the age of 95, having worked with the Wings for more than 60 years.  Amazing.

Now, to be honest, I was not a fan of Lynch’s work back in the early 1960s.  But some context is needed.

As some VLM readers will know, I was born in 1953 and raised in a very small village just across from Detroit (outside of Windsor, Ontario).  A lot of my early influences—social, political, cultural, musical—were shaped by my proximity to the American border.  I loved Motown music, followed American political conventions on television and saw the inequity and inequality in how people of different races were treated only minutes from my front door.

In sports terms, my love for the Maple Leafs trumped just about everything else back then.  I followed other sports very closely, too, but hockey was very much at the heart of my young life.  Whereas I had a deep and abiding rooting interest in the Leafs, I hated the Montreal Canadiens most of all (my Dad and older brothers, who were passionate Hab fans, made sure of that…) but I had left over distaste for teams like the Hawks and Red Wings.  (Later, when they “got good”, the Rangers, Bruins and Flyers were part of the mix, too.)  And because the Red Wings were so close by, it was their games that graced our old radio dials.  I think the Red Wings were on WWJ radio in Detroit, but I could be mistaken.  Lynch was the earliest voice I remember doing Red Wing games, probably starting around 1960 or so.  (I guess he was doing games on local TV before that, but my memories of that are pretty sketchy…)

I remember Dad telling me Lynch was a Canadian war veteran and I think he went on to become a dual citizen, working as he did in Detroit.  Budd loved the Wings and especially seemed (on air, at least) to adore Gordie Howe, the long-time Red Wing great.  One night, toward the end of Howe’s illustrious career with the Wings, Lynch was describing the action during a game at the old OIympia, Detroit’s home rink for decades before the Joe Louis Arena was built in 1979.  I remember Lynch’a words that night quite vividly.  “…Howe has the puck at center ice….Gordie falls down….(pause)...Folks, the ice is slippery tonight…..”.

It couldn’t be that Howe just fell down, like mere mortals do.  In Budd’s world, he had to explain that, if not some supernatural force, then slippery ice was the only thing that could make the Red Wing legend leave his feet.  My buddies and I (who also also hated the Red Wings) laughed about Budd’s description for years afterwards, but that was Budd.  He was a great voice on the radio, had that sure, confident presence in his delivery—and he was devoted to the Red Wings at all times.  It was his job to be partial, to be a “homer”, but it was a job he clearly loved doing - and was great at.

After he left broadcasting in the 1970s, Lynch became the public relations guy for the organization, and in more recent times, the P.A. announcer at the Joe Louis Arena.  He was a beloved figure in Detroit, and rightfully so.  He had a large family himself, and became a huge part of the Red Wing family, too.

For me, Lynch was a throwback to the olden days of hockey.  The “Original Six”, and great Red Wing names like Howe, Alex Delvecchio, Ted Lindsay, goaltender Terry Sawchuk (right, in his pre-mask days), Doug Barkley, Bill Gadsby, Gary Bergman, Bruce McGregor, Normie Ullman and many others.  Whenever a youngster was called up from the farm team to play for the Wings, Budd would always have positive things to say about the young man during the broadcasts.  I remember the night American-born (that was still a big thing in those days) Henry Boucha scored his first NHL goal for the Wings.  Budd made a big splash about it.  He had done his homework on Boucha - and all the other young players who earned a shot with the Wings.

I heard so many Red Wing broadcasts on the radio in those days, and it brings back great memories. Often when we were on our way home from a family visit to my aunt’s place in Windsor, we would be in the car, praying (reciting the rosary) while Dad kept the game on in the car radio just loud enough so he could multi-task and know what was happening in the game while we prayed.  Dad loathed Gordie Howe, because Dad was so loyal to “the Rocket”, Montreal’s Maurice Richard.  Every goal in the early ‘60s brought Gordie closer to breaking the Rocket’s all-time NHL record for career goals.  Every once in a while, when we were driving home with the game on and Budd calling the action, from the back seat, I could hear Budd’s voice rise.  Our quiet prayer would be punctuated by the sound of Dad’s fist hitting the button on the radio in anger—which usually meant that Gordie had just scored another one…

By the mid-60s, Budd and his partner, the outstanding play-by-play man Bruce Martyn (I loved his work) also did TV broadcasts on something called a UHF (ultra high frequency?) station in Detroit.  I think Dad paid money - which was a big deal for him - to buy an outdoor antenna for our roof so we could get those new channels.  The UHF channel allowed us to see Red Wing away games from then on and that opened up the hockey world for me even more.  Where I lived, we only had one game a week on television, the Saturday night Hockey Night in Canada broadcast, so the extra games on TV were a real treat.

Of course, Lynch was just one of the many memorable voices and names from that golden era in hockey.  I used to try to listen to other NHL team’s broadcasts in the ‘60s.  I think it was Lloyd Pettit who used to do Blackhawk games in his unique style... “a shot, and a goal…”.  A very young Marv Albert did some Ranger games, through I’m trying to remember who his predecessor was.  (Games on my broken down and very old radio in those days would come and go because of poor reception.  The signal would be OK for a few minutes, then die off.  It was murder trying to follow a Leaf game when that happened.) In Boston, I remember Fred Cusick, though I think that was more late ‘60s and early ‘70s.  Dan Kelly in St. Louis was a wonderful and familiar voice in the late’s 60s as well.

I’ve often spoken here of Foster Hewitt and Danny Gallivan and also (in French) Rene Lecavalier in Montreal.  Their play-by-play was done for a national (as well as local) audience.  Those men were gods to the rest of us, the individuals who weaved the story—and a little magic—in their broadcasts.  But I’ll always have a special and fond place in my heart (and memory bank) for the local voices like Lynch—the people who cheered on the home team during their broadcasts, with varying degrees of subtlety.  They made all the games sound like something special, even when they often weren’t.

I know modern-day Leaf fans (dating back to the early ‘80s) have a fond place for Joe Bowen, who has been the team’s radio voice for 30 years now.  Hard to believe, eh? 

My guess is many of you have your own memories of Lynch or other local broadcasters that made the game come alive for you, past or present.  By all means share your recollections…


  1. I think most of my broadcast memories are from TV, however I seem to recall listening to the great Foster Hewitt on the radio in the late 60's... the beginning of bonding times with my Leaf lovin' Dad from Markham!

    This seems like the perfect thread to tell another story from a later era in the 80's when I lived in Vancouver and would have to take the oft-ridden ferry to Vancouver Island to visit my folks. Being a common occurence in my life, it was a good time to relax and catch a few winks over the nearly 2 hour passage.

    I always liked the enthusiasm of hockey analyst (and rookie of the year winner in Gordie Howe's rookie season) Howie Meeker, but when he got riled up in his excited voice while working with Gary Dornhoefer on TV broadcasts, you had to be in the mood for the pitch and timber of his voice.

    In the midst of my snoozing on the ferry it seemed clear in my semi-conscious state, that someone should turn down the volume on that radio broadcast... so that's what I said.

    I was actually quite surprised to hear that broadcast come to an abrupt halt... the immediacy of the response brought me to a fuller waking consciousness, where I raised up from my sleepish slouch and looked over the back of my seat, to see Howie and Gary looking directly at me. I gave a sheepish grin, while trotting out the Get Smart line that was a favourite of my Dad's... "Sorry about that chief" after which we all laughed as they realized my waking state(ments) had not been intended to offend.

    They were both headed to Howie's place in Parksville and had been talking about a restaurant, that had seemed an odd discussion point on the presumed hockey broadcast to which I believed I had been exposed.

    The moral of the story is: One should always be awake when speaking in public!

  2. Michael,

    I too was born in Windsor (in 1943) but I grew up in Toronto. My earliest recollections of the Leafs came from the newspapers and the radio.

    Radio meant Foster Hewitt, Bill Hewitt and Wes McKnight. Foster Hewitt had arguably the most recognizeable voice in Canada. Both CBC Radio (CBL in Toronto) and CFRB carried the Leaf games on Saturday nights, beginning at 9:00 PM near the beginning of the 2nd period. I believe the game broadcast was preceded by the Hot Stove League which was hosted by Wes McKnight.

    Foster and Bill Hewitt started radio station CKFH (the precursor of 590 the FAN) in 1951 with Bill as programme director. CKFH was a source of Leaf news and also carried some Leaf games (I believe the Wednesday night games). Bill also called the Sunday afternoon Marlboro and St Michael's junior games on CKFH.

    Foster Hewitt started the tradition of having his son on the broadcast during Young Canada Day and I remember Bill carrying on the tradition with his son during a Marlie game.

    Wes McKnight hosted a Saturday evening program called Meet the Hockey Stars on CFRB. Wes and my father were Masonic Lodge brothers and he was kind enough to let my father bring my brother and I to a broadcast. Sid Abel and Glen Skov of the Red Wings were the guests and they took time after the show to talk to us and sign autographs. All in all a great thrill for a young hockey fan.

    I also remember the first television HNIC broadcasts on CBC in 1952. My uncles bought my grandmother a TV set in 1948 after my grandfather died. It had a 10" screen housed in a huge cabinet and was probably one of the first in Toronto. The whole family would turn up to watch events such as Leaf games, Grey Cup games and the Queen's coronation. Foster Hewitt's radio call of Leaf games was simulcast on TV and continued until 1963 when Bill took over.

    We were extremely fortunate to have an icon of sports broadcasting call the Leaf games in Toronto. Foster Hewitt was simply the best. He could paint a picture that made you feel like you were at the game. He did it with an unbiased class. He was the consumate professional.

    There were other great announcers during that time and later. I always looked forward to the rare Leaf Saturday away games in Montreal when we got to hear Danny Gallivan call the games. He was a wonderful play-by-play announcer with a distinctive and pleasing style. Across the border Buffalo produced two outstanding play-by-play announcers in Ted Darling and Rick Jeaneret (both Canadians). They have been the voice of the Sabres on radio and TV since 1970. Darling retired in 1991 due to illness and I believe Jeaneret retired at the end of last season. Lastly I should mention Rex Stimers, an unabashed homer who called the St Catherines junior games and was hugely entertaining.

    Present day, thanks to TV, the internet and satelite radio I can catch every Leaf game. I enjoy Joe Bowen's enthusiatic calls and especially the succint analysis and humorous anecdotes of Jim Ralph. They work well together.

  3. Great story, InTimeFor62.

    for a time, Meeker certainly had a cult following in Canada. He really broke down the nuances of the game in his in-between-periods critiques. He did have that high-pitched delivery that could get on your nerves...

    Dornhoefer, the good old former Bruin and Flyer, who became a popular broadcaster as well.

    And you weren't alone, I'm sure, in learning to love hockey and the Leafs while listening to Foster with your Dad!

    Thanks InTimeFor62.

  4. What a thrill it must have been to watch that show and meet Abel and Skov, PeteCam. For those who weren't around in those days, Abel was the great Red Wing centre between Howe and Lindsay. (and of course went on to coach the Wings for many years, also became the GM for a time..)

    Didn't Skov also play for Chicago at some point?

    I'm with you on Hewitt. I actually liked him on the radio even more than on TV, whereas I thought Gallivam was the best on the TV side. But both both men were tremendous,

    The Sabres broadcasting legacy is wonderful, too, as you cited. Thanks for the St. Catharines reference. It fits perfectly with the "local" broadcast theme today.

  5. Here are some more names down memory lane.
    1. A favorite of mine was Norm Marshall of CHCH TV did play by Play for Hamilton Junior A and radio for Football Hamilton Tiger Cats in 50's and 60's.

    2. Some people forget what a good defenceman Leo Reise was for the Red Wings. He was a big, stay at home defenceman who I believe teamed with Red Kelly (would look good with Phaneuf). A Personal story about him, relates to my first organized minor hockey venture. The manager of our very good junvenile fastball team in Ancaster decided that we should enter a hockey team in one of the best leagues in Hamilton Area (Dundas). Somehow, he talked Leo into coaching this team of pond hockey players with no league experience. Note: I was 15 years old playing against 17-19 year olds, many who went on to Junior A hockey and NHL (Pat Quinn, John Miszuk, Wayne Rivers, others). Leo could skate faster backwards than any of us could skate frontwards. We lost every game that year, often getting shellacked. Leo only coached us for one year, but it was a great learning experience and we did get better in subsequent years.

  6. Yes, Norm Marshall, for sure, RLMcC- popular broadcaster in the Hamilton area. A shame when they stopped broadcasting junior games on CHCH (and then the franchise moved, right?).

    Those are indeed wonderful old names. My dad spoke to me about Leo Reise, though I was young to remember him well. Pat Quinn of course is well-known to Leaf followers as a player and coach. Didn't Wayne Rivers play for a time in Boston in the early '60s? I think at one point I had an old hockey card of his!

    Love the story. Thanks RLMcC.

  7. Glen "Spider" Skov played for Detroit (49-50 to 54-55), Chicago (55-56 t0 59-60) and Montreal (3 games in 60-61).

    Leo Reise played for Chicago (45-46 to 46-47), Detroit (46-47 to 51-52) and New York (52-53 to 53-54). He was listed at 6' and 205 pounds, huge for the time.

    Wayne Rivers played 2 games for Detroit at age 18 (61-62), 4 partial seasons with Boston (63-64 to 66-67), St Louis (67-68) a 4 games with New York (68-69). He made his mark in the WHA, scoring 158 goals (72-73 to 76-77)

    Howie Meeker did it all. He played for the Leafs (46-47 to 53-54). He coached the Leafs (56-57). I remember the press dubbing the team Howie Meeker's Crewcut Kids (record: 21-34-15 and 5th place).

  8. The puck has dropped on the AHL regular season and there are lots games to watch.

    I am watching Syracuse at Rochester. I see lots of Sabres jerseys in the crowd so NHL fans are finding a way to cope with the lockout. Former leaf Kris Newbury has a goal for Connecticut.

    I am going to switch to Edmonton...I mean Oklahoma City Barons.

  9. Some people might not know this but some NHL teams are streaming their AHL team games right through their NHL websites.

    There must be some smart owners in LA:

    Manchester at Providence|LAK|home

    The feed takes a moment to load but quality is good.|NYI|home

    I'll post other links as I find out.

  10. Thanks, Pete Cam for info on Reise and Rivers. I believe Miszuk? may have played for Chicago?

    Others from this league that may ring bell. Bill Friday started Ref career here, and opposition and later teammate, Bob (Moose) Myers became NHL Referee.

  11. RLMcC: John Miszuk played for the Hamilton Red Wings (60-61) as a junior. He went on to play in the NHL for Detroit (63-64), Chicago briefly (65-66 to 66-67), Philadelphia (67-68 to 68-69)and Minnesota (69-70). He played the last 3 years of his major pro career in the WHA (74-75 to 76-77). Interspersed were a lot of games in the minors.

  12. As a further note, Bill Friday is a member of the Hamilton Sports Hall of Fame. He played junior B for the Hamilton Aerovox and later reffed in the OHA, NHL and WHA. He is the only referee to work both the Stanley Cup and the Avco cup finals.

  13. Thanks PeteCam- I remember Bill Friday in the '60s in the NHL- the WHA opened up more opportunities (and money) for not only players but officials like Friday....Didn't Friday write a book about his long life as an NHL and WHA referee?