Hockey Night in Canada is the longest running program in the history of the world. Starting on radio in 1931, it adopted its current moniker in 1936. It moved to television with separate broadcasts in French and English in 1952 and has remained on the air ever since. Hockey Night in Canada managed to unite an enormous, sprawling landmass in a way Confederation never could. While Canada struggled for decades to establish a show business culture it could call its own, Hockey Night in Canada stood as its only competent showcase in the entertainment world. Thus, it was only natural that this avidly consumed broadcast would take its first announcer - a bland, nasal-voiced play-by-play man - and catapult him to the position of Canada's biggest celebrity.
Foster Hewitt is a name that all Canadians know. He was a gentlemen that, for several decades, was one of its most adored characters. His fame came by default. He never possesed sonorous larynx. He had no charisma. And he had no peer. His flat, everyman delivery was accepted; it was simply a factual account of what he saw on the ice - with little else added. It was as if a random man had walked in off the street to broadcast the game. This is perhaps what gave him his greatest appeal.
Having built a one-man empire as the only hockey broadcaster in the world, Foster Hewitt made sure to groom his son to take over the family business. Foster shared trade secrets with his son like an aging cobler passing his shop on to junior. He taught him well. The voice and observations of Bill Hewitt were considered even more flat and bland than those of his father. Once established as the new voice of Hockey Night in Canada, Bill Hewitt's talent was summarized by respected journalist Peter Gzowski. "Bill Hewitt not only fails to improve the game with his commentary - he makes it slightly less interesting."
Regardless, the Hewitt family was the voice and sound of Hockey Night in Canada for a total of forty-eight consecutive years. It wasn't until September 28, 1981 that the broadcast would air without a Hewitt. Some contemporaries blamed the demise of the legacy on the elder Hewitt and the pressure he instilled on his son. Some said it was booze. Others said it was pills. However, in retrospect, it would seem it was a combination of all three. The night Bill Hewitt fell apart on the air remains one of the stranger stories of Canadian broadcasting. In an instant, a broadcasting dynasty collapsed. It was an instant that, for those working alongside him that evening, felt like a lifetime.
What follows is a chapter excerpt from the unpublished Oral History of Hockey Night in Canada by Kliph Nesteroff.