In a broadcasting career in which he has covered nine Olympic Games, countless amateur and professional championships and hosted more television sports specials than anyone else in Canada, the one event for Brian Williams that stands out more than any other is perhaps the one story most Canadians would like to forget.
“Ben Johnson.in 1988. I had to come on and announce it. It was nine in the morning in Seoul, seven in the evening the previous day in Canada. We dropped all commercials and we literally flew by the seat of our pants. I think that night changed television sports. Because instead of going to the competitions, we covered the news conferences, we covered the airport scene. It was riveting television.”
While most Canadians identify Brian Williams with high profile sporting events, his life in broadcasting began with a small campus radio station at Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, Michigan where he graduated with honours in political science. Always keen on sports, he managed to get in some university basketball play-by-play. However, when he was ready to take on the world of broadcasting, he quickly discovered that career opportunities were not all that plentiful. There were no openings in Chatham, London or Guelph. So it was on to Toronto where his interview with Dick Smythe at CHUM Radio landed him a job reading news that same day. CHUM, in those days was the radio station for rock & roll music. News was also part of its broadcast format and sports coverage didn’t fit into the equation. But Williams wasn’t deterred. “I always wanted to do sports”, he says. “Whenever Smythe sent me out to cover TTC meetings, he would say, if you come back with a sports story, don’t bother to come back.” According to Williams, who to this day has fond memories of Smythe and his three years at CHUM.
If sports didn’t fit the CHUM format in the early 1970′s, it did at CFRB and Williams joined the team of Bill Stephenson and Dave Hodge. A year later, a career in television beckoned and he joined the CBC’s Toronto outlet, CBLT. From there it was just a matter of time before the network came calling.
Brian Williams is an award-winning broadcaster having been presented the Foster Hewitt Award twice and the Gemini Award four times.
Brian was a founding member of the Sports Media Canada Board of Directors and continues to serve in that role.