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Montreal 1976: CBC's Olympic marathon

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.

Canada is finally hosting its own Olympic Games and the CBC has gone to town. For 16 days, Canadians can watch and listen to the Olympics from morning until after midnight. Debate has raged - is it too much? Maybe so, says Montreal Gazette radio and TV critic Joan Irwin. "I think [the coverage] assumes far too much interest," she says in this clip from CBC Radio's Olympic Magazine. Still, Irwin feels that CBC Radio coverage is "stacking up marvellously."

CBC Television is good during the day, Irwin says. But the evening package lacks a wrap-up of earlier events. Suddenly, host Wayne Grigsby is told that some other critics are marching in front of the CBC in Toronto. Members of a women's jogging club, they are protesting comments that two male CBC commentators made about the "T and A" of some female athletes.
• Coverage of the Montreal Olympics was the most ambitious project ever tackled by the CBC, easily eclipsing Expo 67 and previous royal tours. CBC Television broadcast 175 hours of Olympic coverage, most of it live, between 10 a.m. and midnight EST. After that was a one-hour recap of events. Except for brief interruptions, mostly for news, all regular programming was put on hold from July 17 until Aug. 1, 1976. Lloyd Robertson and Ernie Afaganis co-hosted.

• CBC AM Radio also cleared its schedule to make way for the Games. It broadcast Olympic Magazine -- a mix of live event coverage, interviews, feature reports and music -- from early morning until late night.

• Joan Irwin wasn't alone in thinking the CBC had gone overboard. Globe and Mail arts writer Blaik Kirby bemoaned the "interminable sweat feast" being foisted on non-sports fans. "What the [CBC] network is saying right now is to hell with you," he wrote.

• Kirby later reported that, after the first week of Olympics, the CBC "rushed out" a special audience survey suggesting 92 per cent of Canadians with TV sets had, at some point, watched CBC's Montreal Olympic coverage. The ratings appeared to be a solid endorsement of the CBC Olympic marathon, Kirby wrote, but he still believed the CBC was irresponsible to pretend "nothing else mattered in the world."

• Bob Moir, executive producer of the Games coverage, made no excuses for airing 11 or more hours of it per day. "When the Canadian team enters the Olympic stadium shortly after three o'clock on this day of the opening ceremonies, this country will go on an emotional binge the like of which we haven't seen in a long, long time," he said in a CBC promotional video.

• The female protesters mentioned in the clip were reacting to a nationally broadcast TV clip called "the gluteus maximus awards." According to a Canadian Press report, it "concentrated on showing the chests of several female athletes at the Olympic village." CBC apologized for the item. A CBC reporter covering the protest in Toronto noted that "not only was the Latin phrase wrong, but the subject matter was a little dicey too." Gluteus maximus refers to the buttocks.

• The CBC -- through a special "ORTO" division created for the Games -- provided pictures of every second of every event to 70 broadcasters around the world, with an estimated audience of one billion people. The Olympic Radio and Television Organization bought, rented and borrowed equipment including 103 colour TV cameras, 83 videotape machines and 19 mobile studios.

• ORTO's budget was $56 million. Of that, $25 million came from the federal government while the same amount was paid to CBC as an advance on its capital expenditures for the next five years. The remaining $6 million came from foreign countries for special services. The new broadcasting equipment was later put to use at stations across Canada.

• The fluorescent orange and blue CBC logo uniforms for all Olympic coverage staff cost the broadcaster $250,000, Canadian Press reported after the Games. The attire included sports jackets, windbreakers, slacks and skirts. Some of the employees complained that, when they applied for Olympic accreditation, the CBC questionnaire required them to say if they had a "flat or prominent" posterior.

• Among the foreign broadcasters who stopped by the CBC booth for a chat was O.J. Simpson. Simpson was then an ABC colour commentator and an NFL superstar. Almost 20 years later, he was acquitted of the murder of his estranged wife and her male friend but deemed responsible for the deaths by a jury in a separate civil suit.
Medium: Radio
Program: Olympic Magazine
Broadcast Date: July 22, 1976
Guest(s): Joan Irwin
Host: Wayne Grigsby
Duration: 5:04

Last updated: February 7, 2012

Page consulted on December 5, 2013

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