Johnny Esaw, famed Canadian sports broadcaster, dies at age 87
Marlene Leung, CTV Toronto
Published Sunday, April 7, 2013 3:20PM EDT
Last Updated Sunday, April 7, 2013 6:45PM EDT
Legendary Canadian sports broadcaster and former CTV executive Johnny Esaw has died at the age of 87.
Esaw died in Toronto Saturday after suffering from respiratory problems.
During his 40-year career, Esaw was at the forefront of Canadian sports broadcasting and was known for his work broadcasting football, figure skating, international hockey and Olympic events.
Phil King, president of CTV programming and sports, said in a statement that Esaw was a “pioneer in his field and a relentless champion of Canadian amateur sports.”
“His contributions to the CFL, figure skating, and the Olympic Games in Canada rank with those of the finest sports broadcast leaders in the country,” King said. “He will be truly missed.”
Esaw started his sports broadcasting career in radio in Regina and Winnipeg, and then in Toronto, where he tackled TV.
In 1951, he provided radio coverage of the 1951 Grey Cup game from Toronto’s Varsity Stadium – marking what would become a long relationship with the Canadian Football League.
After a stint as sports director of Winnipeg radio station CKRC, he made the move to Toronto, becoming sports director of CFTO-TV in 1960.
At CFTO, he helped to launch sports broadcasting on the newly formed CTV network, bringing a number of high-profile sporting events to the network.
Esaw is widely credited with helping figure skating become a mainstream sport. In 1961 he had a small ice rink built in the CTV parking lot and had one of Canada’s top figure skating pairs teams come in for a demonstration for network executives. He believed that if he could get figure skating on TV, Canadians would watch.
Now, 52 years later, the sport continues to be watched by millions around the world.
Some of the highlights of his career include securing CTV’s Winter Olympics broadcast in 1964, producing the first colour telecast of a hockey game in Vienna, Austria in 1967, and his coverage of the annual hockey World Championship.
It was Esaw who conducted the now-famous 1972 interview with Team Canada captain Phil Esposito after the team lost game four of the Summit Series in Vancouver.
His love for the CFL was apparent during two lengthy stints -- first as a reporter, then as a host -- covering the CFL on CTV for more than two decades starting in the 60s.
CFL commissioner Mark Cohon said the CFL is mourning Esaw’s death.
"His ascendancy to the top of the ladder in broadcasting paralleled the growth of the Canadian Football League. Those who built our league, and all of us in it today, mourn his passing today, and pay tribute to his legacy,” Cohon said in a statement.
Esaw became vice-president and executive producer of CTV Sports in 1974.
Under his leadership, he brought a live broadcast of the Indy 500 to Canada in 1977, nearly a decade before it was shown live in the United States. He also helped the network win the broadcasting rights to the 1988 Calgary Olympics. He retired from CTV in 1990.
Born in 1925 in North Battleford, Sask., Esaw turned to sports broadcasting when a professional hockey career didn’t pan out.
He has been recognized by a number of Candian sporting organizations, including the Canadian Football Reporters Hall of Fame, the Canadian Olympic Hall of Fame, Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame, the Canadian Figure Skating Hall of Fame and the Canadian Association of Broadcasters’ Hall of Fame.
He was named a Member of the Order of Canada in 2004.
With a report by CTV Toronto’s Scott Lightfoot and files from The Canadian Press