La soirée du hockey
Broadcast until 2004, La Soirée du hockey (Hockey Night In Canada) was a genuine institution on the Radio-Canada TV network. In 2002, the program celebrated its 50th anniversary on the air, making it the longest running uninterrupted TV series in America.
The very first broadcast of La Soirée du hockey took place on October 11, 1952, and René Lecavalier was already behind the microphone as the play-by-play announcer. Back then, the program went on the air at 21:30, at the beginning of the third period, because it was feared that the fans would otherwise no longer show up at the Montreal Forum. The hockey broadcast on October 11, 1952, in Montreal, pitted the Montreal Canadians against the Detroit Red Wings. It was filmed in black and white by three fixed-lens cameras. Between the second and third period, Jean-Maurice Bailly would chat with guests such as Charles Mayer, Émile Genest and Jacques Beauchamp in a program segment that was called La Ligue du vieux poêle.
It soon became apparent that notwithstanding the huge popularity of televised hockey games, attendance at the Forum would not drop solely as a result of the hockey broadcast. Caution did however prevail, and the broadcast was thus aired beginning at 21:00, then 20:45, 20:30 and finally, as of the 1968-1969 season, at 20:00, on October 12, 1968, when the entire game, from beginning to end, was sent over the airwaves.
The first hockey game shown in colour was in 1966. During the 1960s, La Soirée du hockey became a testing ground for some of the newest technologies, including videotape, which provided a way for showing replays virtually instantaneously and slow motion shots as well.
Always the innovator, the play-by-play announcer René Lecavalier purged the use of English expressions from his on-air descriptions, despite the fact that anglicisms were commonplace amongst sportscasters at that time. A sports enthusiast, René Lecavalier did the play-by-play of La Soirée du hockey until 1985. The quality of his syntax and his rich and vivid vocabulary inspired dozens of young sports journalists.
Numerous distinguished personalities likewise participated in the play-by-play description, analysis and commentary on La Soirée du hockey. Claude Quenneville did the play-by-play from 1990 to 2002, and others were Richard Garneau, the former Montreal Canadians hockey player, Gilles Tremblay, Raymond Lebrun, Serge Arsenault, Lionel Duval, Camille Dubé and Michel Bergeron.
After 52 years on the air, June 2, 2004 marked the end of the La Soirée du hockey saga on Radio-Canada, as the rights to the games were acquired by RDS (Réseau des Sports). This transaction gave rise to a general outcry, and following an agreement with RDS, francophones outside of the Province of Quebec were able to continue watching the Saturday night matches by way of Radio-Canada's regional broadcasters.
Written by Yvon Chouinard - January, 2006