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Canadian sportscasting pioneer Johnny Esaw dies at 87

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The Canadian Press/CTV
4/7/2013 6:02:50 PM
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CTV extends its deepest condolences to the family, friends, and colleagues of legendary Canadian sports broadcaster Johnny Esaw. Esaw passed away Saturday in Toronto at the age of 87.

"All of us at CTV and Bell Media are deeply saddened by the passing of Johnny Esaw, a true legend in sports broadcasting," said Phil King, President, CTV Programming and Sports, Bell Media. "Throughout his career, Johnny 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.  Although Johnny retired from CTV in 1990, his impact and legacy still resonate with us at CTV, TSN, and RDS today.  He will be truly missed."

Added Rick Brace, President, Specialty Channels and CTV Production, Bell Media, and former President, TSN:

"I knew Johnny my entire professional career.  Long before TSN and Sportsnet, as President of CTV Sports, he established himself as a true pioneer of sports television in Canada and beyond. He was our version of Roone Arledge," said Brace. "His support of figure skating is unsurpassed and his innovation in coverage of the sport, both as executive producer and commentator, is legendary around the world.  I also remember Johnny for the many careers that he launched and the industry leaders that he created.  He had the rare combination of being a brilliant business man and incredibly creative.  To me he was a mentor and an icon.  Canada and the sports world today mourn the loss of a great man."

The award-winning sportscaster was a longtime member of Canada's Sports Hall of Fame, which describes him as "a pioneer, an innovator, and a fervent supporter of our nation's sporting achievements."

Esaw "was at the forefront of sports broadcasting in Canada and around the world for more than 40 years," the organization says.

He was inducted into the Order of Canada in 2004.

Born in North Battleford, Sask., Esaw started his radio career in his home province before moving east.

He made the switch to TV in the 1960s, becoming sports director for CTV's Toronto station.

The first colour telecast of a hockey game -- from Vienna -- was produced by Esaw in 1967.

The beloved broadcaster also convinced the network to carry figure skating at a time when hockey was king, saying the sport would appeal to viewers.

The move earned him the recognition of the Canadian Figure Skating Association, which continues to dole out a bursary in his name.

Esaw rose through the ranks until landing the role of vice-president of CTV Sports in 1974, a job he held for 16 years before he retired.

He was also well known as a CFL broadcaster and was inducted into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame in 1984.

"The name Johnny Esaw was synonymous with the best of Canadian sport, and particularly with the biggest event in our country, the Grey Cup," said CFL commissioner Mark Cohon in a statement.

"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."

Johnny Esaw (Photo: The Canadian Press)

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(Photo: The Canadian Press)
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