Last modified on 18 April 2009, at 14:28

History of the National Hockey League/1942–1967/Television

In the fall of 1951, Conn Smythe watched special television feeds of Maple Leaf games in an attempt to determine whether it would be a suitable medium for broadcasting hockey games. Television already had its detractors within the NHL, especially in Campbell who declared it to be "the greatest menace of the entertainment world". In 1952, even though only 10% of Canadians owned a television set, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) began televising games. On November 1, 1952, Hockey Night in Canada was first broadcast on television, with Foster Hewitt calling the action between the Leafs and Bruins at Maple Leaf Gardens. The broadcasts quickly became the highest-rated show on Canadian television. The broadcast came three weeks after Montreal radio host René Lecavalier presented a French-language telecast of the Montreal Canadiens' opener against Chicago, marking the beginning of La Soirée du hockey which Radio-Canada, the French arm of the CBC, broadcast until 2004. On that same night, Danny Gallivan made his debut as the English language play-by-play announcer for the Canadiens.

While Campbell feared televised hockey would cause people to stop attending games in person, Smythe felt the opposite. "There'll be thousands of people seeing hockey as played by the pros for the first time. They'll be sold on it because it's a great game, and they won't be satisfied to stay [at home] but will turn out to the rinks." CBS first broadcast hockey games in the United States in the 1956–57 season as an experiment. Amazed with the initial popularity of the broadcasts, it inaugurated a 21-game package of games the following year. The NHL itself adapted to be viewer-friendly. In 1949, the league mandated that the ice surface be painted white to make the puck easier to see. In 1951, it required that the home team wear coloured jerseys, and the road team wear white so that each team was distinguishable on black and white television. For the same reason, teams began to paint the centre red line in a checkered pattern to set it apart from the solid blue lines.