2010 Bob Cole

Bob Cole

During the mid-1950s, a chap named Bob Cole burst onto the radio scene in St. John’s, Newfoundland, as an announcer/news reader on VOCM (the Voice of the Common Man). From such humble beginnings, Cole has become one of hockey’s all-time legendary voices, continuing to this day with Hockey Night in Canada on CBC.

In 1960, Cole dropped off some demo tapes to Foster Hewitt’s Toronto radio station (CKFH). That initiative led to some invaluable advice from the pioneer of hockey broadcasting.
“Foster told me the listener or viewer out there is the most important part of what you’re doing as a broadcaster,” Cole said. “You have to make them feel they’re in the game. And that’s easy for me because once we start, for whatever reason I find that I’m in the game.
“I realize there are two teams playing and, to be honest, I’m not hoping that one team will wipe out the other team. I’m just in the game. The game and everybody involved with it are so great that I just play along with it and enjoy it immensely.”
Cole’s road to Hockey Night in Canada on CBC began on radio, with his first game a    classic – April 24, 1969 … Bruins – Canadiens, overtime and Jean Beliveau scored the only OT goal of his brilliant career.
In 1972, Cole was the radio voice for the Team Canada-Soviet Union Summit and while Foster Hewitt made the now-famous call of Paul Henderson’s goal on TV, Cole did the same on the radio broadcast.
“The next year, (executive producer) Ralph Mellanby called and said Hockey Night in Canada planned to take on a third person – Danny (Gallivan) was in Montreal, Bill (Hewitt) was in Toronto,” Cole said. “They were talking about expanding the coverage and I was told I’d be doing games from all over the place.”
When Bill Hewitt retired, Cole became the play-by-play voice for Hockey Night in Canada on CBC games involving the Leafs. Eventually, Cole became the lead play-by-play voice, through an exciting modern era that featured the likes of Wayne, Super Mario, Stevie Y … all the way to Sidney.
“Bob was right up there with Foster Hewitt and Danny Gallivan,” said Mellanby. “Not only has Bob had a long career but people forget that while he made his name in hockey he also did curling, basketball, the Olympics – a lot of stuff. When he started out he was even a host of a quiz show. So he could do more than just hockey play-by-play.
“He started on radio. In those days,  Canadian Sports Network/MacLaren made the call on the on-air talent, so we put him on Sunday night radio on CBC. I always remember Bob saying ‘well I guess now I have to move to Toronto’ and I said, no, we want you in Newfoundland. We want guys located all over the country because it’s Hockey Night in Canada, not Hockey Night in Toronto — and he’s never moved.”
Did Mellanby expect Cole to emerge in the national limelight the way he did?
“Like everybody else, even Don Cherry, I had no idea how good Bob would be but I loved his voice,” Mellanby said. “What I loved about it was the lilt and the description.
“He has the same thing Foster and Gallivan had and it’s something that a lot of guys don’t have today and it really impressed me. He had the flow of the game in his voice, up and down. I also liked his little sayings like ‘I’ll tell you, mister!’
During a chat with Cole many years ago,  we got around to talking about ‘the magic’ as a champion is about to be crowned, especially in a Game 7.
“The whole building is electrified for a deciding game,” Cole said. “The players, the coaches, the fans and the officials…they all know this is special. Out there, of course,” he said, gesturing in the air, “millions are waiting for game time. The excitement captures everybody and even the first words you say when you go on the air are important. It’s the next year we’ve all been anticipating, culminating with the big prize and that’s the Stanley Cup. I get goose bumps just thinking about it.”
Well, I’ll tell you, mister, I hope Bob Cole realizes that his audience got goose bumps, too, with each … memorable … call.
….by John Iaboni