Ron MacLean of Hockey Night in Canada was impressed when he heard a tape of the great Bill Kutshcke calling a Pembroke Lumber Kings game in the early 1960’s, so impressed that he used the clip on a national broadcast of Rogers Hometown Hockey, comparing Kutschke to a hockey broadcasting legend, Dan Kelly.
Kutschke and Kelly were from the same era. Kelly started his broadcasting journey with the Smiths Falls Bears while Kutschke was calling senior and junior Lumber Kings games in Pembroke. Their styles were similar and MacLean picked up on it, paying tribute to the Foster Hewitt of the Ottawa Valley by acknowledging his great call of Kings games and his premature death.
Bill Kutschke, or “Bill K” as he was often referred to was only 47 years old when he passed away from heart disease in 1972. His death was mourned widely. Kutschke was a community builder, known for giving his time to many causes and serving as the town of Pembroke’s Mayor, but his passion was sports. He helped brand the Pembroke Lumber Kings as one of the nation’s greatest senior and junior hockey franchises through his colourful play-by-play descriptions and his travels with the team across the country.
Kutschke got his start in radio in 1942 when CHOV signed on the air in the midst of the Second World War. He was an honours graduate from Pembroke Collegiate Institute who took a keen interest in broadcasting, hanging around the station enough that owner Gordon Archibald hired him to be his sports announcer. It was a perfect fit and it began a long tenure for Kutschke as the voice of the Pembroke Lumber Kings.
For almost a decade Kutschke cut his teeth broadcasting senior and junior Lumber Kings games in the Mackay Street Arena, but when the new Pembroke Memorial Centre opened in the fall of 1951 he helped christen the building with his colourful calls over the radio. Most of his broadcasts were road games, simply because the team’s owners thought he was too good on the air and he would keep people at home listening to the game on the radio, instead of buying tickets.
They were probably right. While the 1950’s were the golden years of senior hockey in Pembroke, escalating player salaries, increased operational costs and the advent of television were taking a bite out of ticket sales. Putting home games on the radio with a broadcaster who was universally loved only added to the impulse of some fans to stay at home.
His family says there was an offer to move to the United States to call professional hockey games, but Kutschke’s love for Pembroke held him back from following people like Dan Kelly who became the original voice of the St. Louis Blues and had a long career calling NHL games in both Canada and the United States. Instead, Kutschke stuck with the Lumber Kings.
The recording that MacLean was so intrigued by came from a playoff game in 1966 when Larry Mick was the star of the Lumber Kings. The game was being played in Buckingham, Quebec and when Mick broke loose for a scoring chance that resulted in a goal, it sounded like Kutshcke had jumped out of his shoes to bring the excitement home to his audience.
“Now here is Larry Mick in the clear with one man back. A scramble for it. He scores! Pembroke! Jimmy Cotnam has just scored to make it 4-2. Larry Mick was in the clear. Larry got the original shot away,” Kutschke shouted into his microphone. It was vintage Kutchske, a man who could follow the play and describe it with great detail and enthusiasm as he built a reputation as the greatest Lumber Kings broadcaster of all time.
Fifty years after the PMC opened in 2001, the press box that Kutschke spent hundreds of hours in was re-named the Bill K Broadcast Centre. Ron MacLean stood in that space to help call a recent Lumber Kings game on Your TV Cogeco cable and marveled at the view of the game, comparing it to the former Boston Garden, a place where NHL broadcasters often talked about how close they were to the action on the ice.
For Bill Kutschke it was one of his favourite places. He knew the effort that had been made to build the Memorial Centre and how important the building was to the community and to the hockey teams that played in it. He strived to be as good as the pioneer of hockey broadcasting, Foster Hewitt, and earned the title of being the Foster Hewitt of the Ottawa Valley. It’s a shame he died so young, but his memory lives on in the press box at the PMC that bears his name.
(Feature Image for blog: Bill Kutschke shares a laugh with Foster Hewitt at a broadcasting convention in Toronto in the late 1960’s)