Believe it or not, there was a time when the Toronto Maple Leafs were not the lead story on every nightly sportscast.
Analytics didn’t exist, shiny, beautiful people were not the order of the day and game recaps were found almost exclusively in the morning papers.
Enter, Sports Page.
North America’s first evening telecast devoted entirely to sports gets the celebratory treatment with its own exhibit that opened Dec. 9 at the BC Sports Hall of Fame.
“When they said a half hour of nothing but sports highlights every night, people thought it wouldn’t last,” said Hall of Fame curator Jason Beck. “Within weeks it was so popular that it was the only show on CKVU that sold out all of its advertising time.”
The first edition of “the Page” hit the airwaves Sept. 5, 1977, on CKVU. John Good, brother of Bill, was the host and there was no lead story in the traditional sense. Instead, Good offered a roughly four-minute introduction to viewers to spell out the show’s reason for being: game recaps, highlights and stories with a distinctly northwest focus on Vancouver, B.C., and Seattle.
Lorne Hassan is credited with being the show’s brainchild. He held producing gigs with major U.S. networks before returning to Vancouver in the early ’70s. Hassan was hired as CKVU’s head sports honcho and began assembling a team of local talent prior to the launch in 1977.
The show’s first iteration jumped between 30- and 60-minute formats. The hour-long version included an in-studio audience and taking live callers. This was long before the seven-second delay that’s used today.
“They’d get people calling in and swearing occasionally and they’d tell off the coach of the Lions,” Beck said. “They’d often just be pulling people off of the street on West Second to fill out the audience. A lot of people didn’t even know what the show was about but they were in the audience watching.”
Sports Page was briefly cancelled from 1982 to 1984 and returned in the 30-minute format it maintained until its demise in 2005.
That rebirth also brought with it the arrival of one of North Burnaby’s favourite sons. Fresh off tours of duty in Red Deer and Dawson Creek, Don Taylor first appeared on Sports Page in April 1984. It would be his home for the next 17 years and launched the careers of some of Canada’s biggest names in sports: Dave Randorf, John Shorthouse, Barry Macdonald, Scott Rintoul, Blake Price and countless others.
“I was nervous but I just didn’t think it was that big of a deal,” said Taylor, now a Tri-Cities’ resident. “I just felt really comfortable the first time I was ever on a set. It might not have looked like it but I always felt right at home.”
That level of comfort and confidence has set Taylor apart from the pack to the point that he’s now in his fourth decade of broadcasting: after the Page, it was Sportsnet and now TSN 1040 radio.
His signature “Don-isms” are the stuff of legend: Marv Albert impersonations, inside jokes with co-workers — “Gary, you dropped your chocolate milk” — and his uncanny ability to recall jersey numbers.
“Andrew Brunette scores with the assists going to blonde and redhead.”
“And he stops it with his right Khabi. Or was it his left Bulin.”
“Top shelf where mom keeps the peanut butter.”
Part of those quips were pre-planned, others were off the cuff, and others came from his dad. Taylor also credits David Letterman and Johnny Carson for his quirks and candour.
“I always noticed that those guys were at their best when things were just going off the rails,” he said. “They didn’t seem to really care if they made a mistake.”
Sport Page’s demise in 2005 was the culmination of a few factors: media mergers, Sportsnet and the Score’s emergence, and of course, the internet. Taylor suspected at the time that he and his co-workers were onto something, but it was only after the fact that he’s able to realize the show’s impact.
“I may not have known it, but I had the best job in the world — I felt like I loved my job,” Taylor said. “I love what I’m doing now but not like that. That was real passion. I think we kind of knew that we were kicking ass.”
The 40th anniversary celebration is a culmination of five months of legwork on Beck’s part: interviews with former cast and crew members, digging up memorabilia and scrolling over old tapes. The exhibit features looping editions of the show, pieces from the old set and back stories from the program’s roughly 75 alumni. A man cave with a distinctly ’90s feel has ’Yulin with the Page — the show’s annual Christmas special — playing on repeat.
For info, see bcsportshalloffame.com.