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Foster Hewitt on the worst of the NHL

The Story

Hockey can be a rough game, even for broadcasters. The Maple Leaf Gardens gondola may be relatively safe, but in other hockey arenas, Foster Hewitt has been caught in the line of fire. In this interview, Hewitt describes near misses by thrown objects including firecrackers, bolts, paper airplanes, a rabbit, and a rotting octopus. He also talks about the origins of both the "Hot Stove League" and of his trademark phrase. 

Medium: Radio
Program: Assignment
Broadcast Date: April 23, 1958
Guest(s): Foster Hewitt
Reporter: Jed Adams
Duration: 5:47

Did You know?

• The term "hot stove" originally referred to hockey fans gathering around a stove to discuss the game. On Hewitt's Hockey Night in Canada, the Hot Stove League was broadcast during game intermissions. Commentators would discuss controversial hockey issues while gathered around a pot-bellied stove to create a homey effect.

• In the first years of sports broadcasting, team owners feared that radio coverage would reduce live attendance at spectator sports. But exciting broadcasts like Hewitt's attracted new fans and helped them follow their team's progress.
• At his peak in the 1930s, Foster Hewitt was by far the most recognized voice in Canada. At one point his audiences numbered six million - one-third of the population of Canada at the time - and he received up to 90,000 fan letters each year.

• Among sports broadcasters, Foster Hewitt was regarded as a true pioneer. He was remarkable for his ability to cut to the quick, his economy of words and his enthusiasm. He had a remarkable sense of the flow of hockey and the likelihood of a goal; it is said that he seldom used "he shoots" without being able to follow with "he scores."
• Hewitt is reputed to have never missed a game, calling over 5,000 sporting events in his career.

• Hewitt said he got so involved in calling games that he would routinely lose 15 pounds (seven kilograms) every season.
• In one CBC interview, Hewitt said that at one point he went to see a doctor every Saturday night to have his throat sprayed. It was the only way he could get through a broadcast without succumbing to laryngitis.
• In Prague, Foster Hewitt once broadcast a game even though he had pneumonia and a 103-degree fever. He said no one else was available to call the game.

• Foster Hewitt prided himself on his objectivity, and in later years criticized other sportscasters for cheering for their home teams. That criticism was also levelled at him on occasion. Winnipeg sportswriter Ralph Allen once wrote that "the Leafs seem to play better on radio." Hewitt refuted accusations of bias, but acknowledged, "I try to sell hockey. The man who sells his product, not himself, is valuable to his sponsors."

• Foster Hewitt was not Canada's only hockey broadcaster, and some Canadians (particularly outside of Ontario) associate Hewitt with being forced to follow the Toronto Maple Leafs through lack of other options.


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