CBC Digital Archives

Melbourne Olympics 1956: 'Your roving reporter'

From Melbourne to Montreal, Munich to Mexico City, the CBC has roamed the planet to beam Olympic history into Canadian living rooms. We take a look back and, through the eyes of CBC correspondents, experience decades of Olympic triumph and heartbreak. At first, it's via crackling shortwave. Later, live TV coverage flows around-the-clock from the other side of the globe.

In this CBC Radio clip, reporter Thom Benson checks in "a long, long way from home in Melbourne, Australia." The Olympics' opening ceremonies are three days away and Melbourne "is dressed like a battleship on royal inspection day." Princes, dukes and other royalty are streaming through a specially constructed airport. Fans are already jamming some Olympic venues. Scalpers are reportedly getting the "fantastic" sum of $50 for two tickets to an event.

There is political intrigue - the brave Hungarian athletes, many of whom participated in a recent unsuccessful uprising, won't talk to a pro-Soviet sportscaster. There's also laughter. Almost everyone grinned when some university students bamboozled Sydney's mayor into thinking the Olympic torch had arrived early at City Hall.
• The 1956 Olympics, held from Nov. 22 to Dec. 8, were the first in the southern hemisphere. Along with Toronto-based Thom Benson, the radio network dispatched Ward Cornell, a popular sportscaster from CFPL, the CBC affiliate in London, Ont. The Australian Broadcasting Commission allotted the CBC two shortwave radio transmissions on each day of the Games.

• Canadians heard live Olympic Reports from 8:30 to 8:45 a.m. EST on the Trans-Canada Network, CBC's main radio service. The CBC Times, an internal publication for employees, reported: "For two years the CBC has been testing overseas reception in the early morning, and it appears to be a satisfactory time." The network also aired 15-minute recaps of events every evening, except Sundays, from 7:15 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.

• The 12- to 16.5-hour time difference between Melbourne and Canada meant that listeners tuning into Olympic Report on Thursday morning learned the results of all of Thursday's competitions.

• CBC's first-ever Olympic coverage was in 1948, of the winter Games in St. Moritz and the summer Games in London. Correspondents were dispatched and reported back on the CBC's Trans-Canada and Dominion radio networks. The Olympics of 1944 and 1940 were cancelled because of the Second World War. The CBC was established three months after the 1936 Games in Berlin.

• Although CBC Television debuted in 1952, in 1956 the technology was still too cumbersome to cover a complex sporting event halfway around the world. Newsreels for broadcast on TV and in theatres were technically possible but did not materialize because of a dispute between the Australian Olympic Committee and international broadcasters. Canadians wouldn't be able to watch Olympic events in their homes until 1960.

• When Benson talks about the bravery of the Hungarian athletes, he's referring to the Hungarian uprising a month before the Games began. The Soviet Union, which controlled Hungary at the time, forcefully suppressed the revolt. Thousands of Hungarians were killed and almost a quarter-million people fled the country as refugees. As Hungarian athletes competed in Melbourne, their countrymen at home were negotiating with the Soviet occupation force during a ceasefire.

• Tensions between the Hungarian and Soviet athletes erupted during a water polo semi-final match. A Soviet player head-butted a Hungarian, spilling blood in the pool. The match was halted, handing the Hungarians a 4-0 win. Australian police had to protect the Soviet athletes from angry anti-Communist spectators. Other world events casting a shadow over the Games included the Suez Crisis and tensions between Taiwan and the People's Republic of China.
Medium: Radio
Program: Olympic Report
Broadcast Date: Nov. 19, 1956
Host: Thom Benson
Duration: 3:19

Last updated: February 7, 2014

Page consulted on February 7, 2014

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