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2/25.1940: 1st TelecastFEBRUARY 25, 1940: HOCKEY’S FIRST TELECAST

by John Halligan

The date passes quietly, as it always does, without notice or ado. It will no doubt do so again this year, when February 25 marks the 64th anniversary of hockey’s first televised game. The year was 1940, the Rangers versus the Montreal Canadiens at the “old” (or third) Madison Square Garden.

Sports on television are so pervasive and taken for granted nowadays that it is hard to believe there was once a time when “visual radio” was scoffed at, ridiculed and given little chance of making any significant impact with the general public.

We marvel today at the way ABC, ESPN, MSG Network, Fox Sports and others bring NHL games into our homes, complete with multiple cameras, replays, and countless innovations that make the world’s most exciting game even more exciting.

The first game ever televised was done with only one camera in a fixed position. The game probably attracted no more than a few hundred viewers, and garnered zero rating points. There were only about 300 television receivers in the New York area. Television manufacturers donated most of the sets to newspaper editors, critics, and advertising executives.

Some sets were purchased (the price was a hefty $660 apiece) by tavern owners. Viewers had to huddle directly in front of the set, because the screen only measured seven inches across, and certainly couldn’t be viewed from any distance.

The Rangers defeated Montreal that night by a score of 6-2. It was actually the third televised sporting event to appear on TV. Nine months earlier, the great Bill Stern called a college baseball game between Princeton and Columbia at New York’s Baker Field. The night before the Rangers game, on February 24, the National AAU Track and Field championships were aired from The Garden.

All of the events were carried on W2XBS, the experimental station of the National Broadcasting Company, then the leader in commercial radio.

The play-by-play announcer for the first hockey telecast was Skip Walz, a noted amateur athlete of the 1930s who had also done public address work for Manhattan College football and Brooklyn Dodgers baseball. For the sports telecasts, he called himself “Bill Allen,” because, he noted years later, “it seemed to roll off the tongue better.”

There was little or no attention given by the press to the presence of television at the historic game. Newspapers (there were eleven of them in New York City at the time) viewed TV (and radio as well) as a rival that could threaten circulation. Some publishers insisted that W2XBS pay advertising rates if it wanted to see its schedule in print. Television listings as we know them today were still decades away.

At the time of the first televised game, the Rangers and the Boston Bruins were locked in a heated battle for first place in the seven-team NHL. The Bruins eventually finished first by three points.

Television, quite obviously, agreed with the New York Rangers. They went on to win the 1940 Stanley Cup!

On radio as well, the Rangers proved to be pioneers in the National Hockey League. They were the first NHL team, starting in 1926, to put portions of their games on radio, pre-dating by a single season the fabled broadcasts of Foster Hewitt in Toronto.

Madison Square Garden, the Rangers home, purchased a radio station, and called it WMSG. As a general rule, hockey fans had either to stumble upon the broadcasts or learn of them by word of mouth, since the station’s frequency on the AM dial (FM hadn’t even been invented yet) changed often and newspapers treated the “new” medium with great disdain.

The voice of WMSG was a “hockey man”—Jack Filman, a native of Hamilton, Ontario, who was known for his rapid-fire staccato, play-by-play delivery.

“Filman made ‘the world’s fastest game’ seem even faster,” recalled Bill Cook, the Rangers’ first team captain. Although how Cook would know that remains a puzzle, since he (Cook) was working when Filman was working, and tape recorders hadn’t even been invented at the time.

Through the years, the Rangers have boasted a cornucopia of some of the greatest announcers in New York history. There were Marty Glickman, Bert Lee, Ward Wilson, Bud Palmer, Win Elliot, Spencer Ross, Sal Marchiano, Bill Mazer, Jim Gordon, Bill Chadwick, Mike Emrick, Tim Ryan, Howie Rose, Sal Messina, Marv Albert, Kenny Albert, Sam Rosen and John Davidson among others.

And for a single season, 1959-60, Winnipeg-born Monty Hall of Let’s Make A Deal television fame, was a Rangers’ radio analyst.


John Halligan currently serves as Director of Communications and Special Projects for the National Hockey League after spending 24 years with the New York Rangers as Public Relations Director, Business Manager and Vice President of Communications.

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