Hear, hear…the Stanley Cup final

I never knew Foster Hewitt, who set the bar for hockey play-by-play radio broadcasters, but I did know Danny Gallivan, who set the bar higher for hockey play-by-play on TV. I think it’s safe to assume that both of them, rest their souls, would be aghast if they could hear — or not hear — the modern era of the Stanley Cup on Hockey Night in Canada.

At the risk of sounding like a senior who needs to spend some time with an audiologist, I’ve found hearing what announcers are saying difficult at best, and impossible at worst. Now there may be people in your life that you would pay not to hear, but I find it inconceivable that HNIC would invest hundreds of thousands of dollars in paying Chris Cuthbert (and to a lesser extent, Craig Simpson) enormous salaries, only to have them drowned out by amplified crowd noise.

And just to make sure you don’t hear them, when the crowd noise subsides for a face-off, the musical “interlude” that ultimately will lead to hearing aids for hockey fans is amplified well beyond the point of annoyance. Colleagues have tried to convince me that Cuthbert’s voice is the real problem, because it’s not a classic baritone like one belonging to Bob Cole, who was often worth drowning out. I don’t buy the argument because Cuthbert didn’t win prestigious broadcasting awards just for being so knowledgeable and well-prepared that he’s always worth hearing.

If only we could.

I do realize that turning the clock back, which is what Distant Replay is all about, is often prefaced by the annoying phrase “back in the day” instead of “look how far we’ve come.” But Gallivan, and Hewitt on radio, also established a listening standard. While Hewitt painted the picture that enabled radio listeners to visualize the game, Gallivan made sure viewers knew where the puck was, who had it, who was being penalized, who made that pass…etc. He was Hockey Night in Canada’s first play-by-play man and he called 95 games in the Stanley Cup final and along the way he created two words — “cannonading” and “spinarama” — that resonated enough to be added to the English language, officially.

In his day, there was no competition to be heard. In some hockey arenas, there was an organ that was played only between periods, a habit that crept into the action and laid the groundwork for the deafening noise of today. For many years, the background noise was controlled by the volume level of the microphones that grew in size and scope. Parabolic mikes, they were called, and they looked like satellite dishes on the ground, capable of capturing every four-letter word within reach.

Evidently, comparable microphones of today don’t come with volume control, and words of any kind are in danger of being silenced, starting with the ones from the mouths of highly-paid broadcasters. Imagine what it must be like from the graves of Hewitt and Gallivan.

Danny’s word says it best: spinarama.