Broadcast legends highlight Sports Celebrity Dinner

On Oct. 18 the Chilliwack Bruins/Chilliwack Rotary Club Sports Celebrity Dinner returns with two very special guests.

Hall of Fame broadcaster Jim Robson and Hockey Night in Canada’s Jim Hughson will share center stage along with emcee Squire Barnes, sharing stories and insight from their illustrious careers.

Chilliwack Progress sports editor Eric Welsh talked with Robson last week and offers this look at a man who’s career is woven into Vancouver sports lore.

Every guy my age has a similar story about Jim Robson, about huddling under the covers as a kid with a transistor radio tuned to CWNW 980, listening to Robson’s play-by-play of a Vancouver Canucks game.

I can recall vividly his descriptions of Petri Skriko, Tony Tanti and Doug Lidster.

I remember being sick with the flu one night in 1991, listening to a broadcast from the Montreal Forum. Robson was at his best that night, painting the picture as Kirk McLean blanked the Montreal Canadiens with a 45 save effort.

Robson’s description of the Montreal faithful giving the Canucks netminder a standing ovation gave me chills.

It’s strange what stands the test of time, but I can hear him over and over delivering his customary “special hello to hospital patients, shut-ins, and the blind, to pensioners and those people who can’t get out to the game.”

Working alongside long-time colour man Tom Larscheid, Robson became just as big a part of Canucks history as McLean, Trevor Linden, Stan Smyl or Orland Kurtenbach.

“As a very young child, I wanted to be a sports announcer, and to get the chance to do it for a living, to do NHL games, that was the ultimate dream,” Robson said.

His voice is synonomous with the two biggest moments in franchise history, the 1982 and 1994 runs to the Stanley Cup Finals.

His epic call in Game 6 versus the New York Rangers still brings goosebumps to the arms of Canuck fans. In the last minute of a 4-1 Vancouver win that forced game seven, Canucks captain Trevor Linden took a cheap shot from Rangers captain Mark Messier.

He struggled to the bench in obvious pain, with Robson looking on from the broadcast gondola.

“He will play. You know he’ll play,” Robson said, cementing Linden’s reputation as a matchless warrior. “He’ll play on crutches, and he will play at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday night. The game is over!”

Calls like that are the reason that, 11 years after he hung up the mic for good, Robson is still recognized everywhere he goes.

“It was at a Vancouver Canadians baseball game where these two young boys came up to me and asked me to sign their program,” Robson chuckled. “They were about eight years old and I said, ‘Sure, but do you know who I am? Someone put you up to this, didn’t they?’ I signed their program, and a little while later their dad sat down next to me. He’d sent the kids over and I signed the program to him because I knew he was the one who wanted it.”

What’s interesting is that his is a career that almost didn’t happen. Robson is the first to admit that he was in the right place at the right time more than once. Without those breaks, who knows where he might have ended up.

His first big break came when he was 17-years-old, and there is a Chilliwack connection to it.

“I was hired as a copy writer at CJAV in Port Alberni in 1952. I had no experience and couldn’t even type well,” Robson said. “But when I got there to start the job, the sports announcer, Bob Hall, had moved on to CHWK in Chilliwack. So they didn’t have a sports announcer, and asked me if I wanted to do it.”

Robson got valuable experience covering senior men’s basketball, preparing him for his next big break in 1956.

Throughout the 1950’s, Bill Stephenson reigned as the sports director at CKXW 1130 AM. In an industry dominated by one-man sports deparments, Stephenson went against the grain when he hired Robson as his assistant.

“And then, in 1960, he left to go to Toronto, and I inherited his job,” Robson recalled. “Instead of being the backup, I was doing play-by-play for the Western League Vancouver Canucks and the Pacific Coast Baseball Vancouver Mounties. I even did five years of the B.C. Lions.”

When the Canucks got an expansion NHL franchise in 1970, Robson had the inside track on the play-by-play job. CKWX and CKNW competed for the radio rights, and when CKNW won, Robson had an offer to move over.

“It isn’t just being able to do the job,” Robson said of his good fortune. “I’m sure there are a lot of good young broadcasters out there who are capable of doing NHL hockey, but never get the chance.”

Robson stopped doing radio after the 1994 finals, doing television work for another five years before calling it a career.

“I was in my mid-60’s then, calling games for a team that had changing ownership and management,” he said. “The team wasn’t doing very well and the games weren’t very good. I just had a feeling that it was the right time. I didn’t tell anybody exept my wife, but I knew it was my last year and I knew what my last game was.”

Jim Hughson took Robson’s radio spot in 1994.

“He would have been right at the top,” Robson said when asked who he would have picked if given the chance to select his successor. “He is the best in the business, and I couldn’t believe how long it took Hockey Night in Canada to figure that out. He’s extremely knowledgeable and knows all the players in the league. He works hard. He’s prepared. He works well with his colour men and he’s got the voice for it. He is very good.”

The Sports Celebrity Dinner takes place at the Tzeachten Community Centre. Tickets are $125 per person. Get tickets at the Bruins Prospera Centre office or call 604-792-GOAL for more information.