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Walling: How I ended up in Moscow for the '72 Summit Series

Alex J. Walling
9/24/2012 10:09:27 PM
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It was 40 years ago today that I was in Moscow, having left Montreal on a plane filled with some of the 3,000 Canadians who made the trip.
 
At age 23 and in my first full time sports job, I had been in radio for seven years with stops in Quebec City, Woodstock, Ontario, North Bay and Bathurst. Then I was hired as the first ever sports director of CHNS/CHFX in Halifax, Nova Scotia in August 1972 - less than a month until the soon-to-be-infamous Summit Series took place.
 
How I got sent to Russia is a story of persistence in its own right. Persistence, I am convinced, can also mean 'pain in the ass' if taken to great lengths.
 
From the outset of the series, I bugged my boss Ian Morrison to get me to one game in Canada.
 
"Just one game Ian, you can do it," I begged him each morning.
 
Then, on the day Game 2 was to take place in Toronto, he finally called me into his office.
 
"Okay, Alex J...you will get your wish," he said.
 
"I'm going to see a game? Great Ian...thank you, thank you very much! I can make the afternoon flight and make it to Maple Leaf Gardens..."
 
"Ah, we can't get you in for tonight."
 
"Oh, then I'm taking in Game 3 in Winnipeg. Cool, maybe I can see a Bomber game at the same time."
 
He continued with his dead panned, accountant-like look. "No," he replied. "You're not going to Winnipeg. You're going further."
 
I was going to Vancouver and take in the last game in the series in this country!
 
"Yes, Vancouver here I come! And I've never, ever, been there! Ian, thank you!"
 
He still had that accountant's look and stared at me (he's enjoying this!) and uttered, "No, no Vancouver for you."
 
I'm now exhausted."So no Toronto, no Winnipeg and now no Vancouver. Where am I going?"
 
"Pack your bags - you're going to Russia."

Wow. I was floored.
 
It was something I never gave consideration to - travelling to Moscow.
 
And off I went.
 
How and why did a radio sports guy, in a city that at the time had a small population and no NHL team, ever end up in Moscow?
 
The answer is a combination of salesmanship, ingenuity and geography - and of course, some luck.
 
I was the flavour of the month back then at CHNS. I was the new sports guy on the block and in August of 1972, the radio station sent me to Edmonton to cover the National Fastball Championship.
 
Back then, softball was big even getting bigger crowds than the Nova Scotia Vees got at the AHL Calder Cup championship.
 
A couple of other radio stations were also sending their men to Edmonton, but backed out at the last second thinking the local team would not do well and there would be no interest.
 
The local team excelled. And for a week this new guy (me) got lots of air time.
 
Now if you're thirsty and you find a store that offers only one kind of brew, you'll drink it. That happened with me as the softball team made it to the semifinals losing to Saskatchewan 1-0.
 
That said, the station was pleased because I was already competing against some very big names, two of which turned out to be Steve Armitage and Gerry Fogerty a well known radio man who covered many world juniors. But they were not in Edmonton.
 
For that week I was it. You wanted to find out what was happening with the team, you tuned into CHNS and got reports from the guy with the middle initial!
 
So when the team came back in early September - and I must give the station credit in trying to continue the promotion of their new guy - they thought about sending me to Russia.
 
They also wanted $5,000 in advertising to send me to Moscow - something I knew nothing about at the time. 
 
Half of that sponsorship was sold to the local Moosehead Brewery and the challenge was searching for another one.
 
Now I don't know who thought of the next idea, but I am eternally grateful. Apparently, someone called Broadcast News/The Canadian Press in Toronto and asked how they were covering the Series.
 
They were told that the newspaper coverage was taken care of and that they were hoping for interviews and clips and features from some radio guys who were going from Toronto.
 
'Hoping' was the operative word - because when someone is not committed to them there is no guarantee that things would be done. The Toronto guys had to feed sound their own station first and would focus on the guys from the team they covered - the Leafs, Canadiens and Canucks. Feeding Broadcast News would come next - if they had time.
 
Now this was 1972 - and there was no Halifax or Atlantic news bureau for CP/BN as there has been for the last 30 years.
 
So my boss convinced someone at CP/BN that if they bought the half sponsorship they would basically get a man in Moscow. They would get clips of interviews with the players, Canadian fans that had made the trip and news from practices - the whole enchilada.
 
So that meant filing reports after practices and after the game. And believe me, that was not as simple as it sounded.
 
But The Canadian Press/Broadcast News said yes - and I was on my way to Moscow. And what an experience it was.
 
I got to Moscow a day before Game 5, which Canada lost and trailed the series 1-3-1. So the only way we conceivably could win this thing was by sweeping the remaining three games. But not many thought it could be done.
 
My take on life in Moscow and how the Summit Series transpired from the perspective of yours truly in a column later this week.
 
For TSN.ca, I'm Alex J. Walling.
 
Alex J. can be reached via email at: aw@eastlink.ca.

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