Darth Vader: If you only knew the power of The Dark Side! Obi-Wan never told you what happened to your father.
Luke Skywalker: He told me enough! He told me you killed him!
Darth Vader: No. I am your father.
Admit it, your inner voice read Vader’s words in the iconic voice of James Earl Jones. The actor in that suit was actually David Prowse, a British man with a voice as far off from the baritone they gave the character as imaginable. So why did they make an entirely different actor voice over another’s work? Because the right voice can make a moment, a scene or a memory, come alive.
This is not news, this is why newscasters, announcers, presenters and any person who has to speak for a living spends so much time ensuring that their voices are clear, understandable and often either honing or losing accents in order to appeal to the widest range of listeners.
There’s a reason you remember Vader as such an imposing figure; his booming voice helped make his impressive presence felt. Imagine Borat narrating the Shawshank Redemption or the snowman from Frozen being voiced by Shaft. Voices matter; just ask Morgan Freeman.
In 2014, Rogers made a cornucopia of very bad decisions about their broadcasting of hockey; they got rid of Ron MacLean, they brought on Stromolopolopolopolous and they got rid of Leafs long time play-by-play man Joe Bowen. The fans were not happy, they immediately protested against all of these choice and more, sinking the rating for hockey games to show their discontent. To their credit, Rogers eventually seems to have gotten the message; no more skinny jean hipster presenters and Ron is back where he should be. But….what about Joe?
Jim Hughson is a proficient and skilled broadcaster and if he were telling me the scores at the end of the night or relating insight to me on the old Hotstove, I’d be interested in hearing what he has to say. That being said, he is about as thrilling as Sunday afternoon carousel ride. His selection is not too dissimilar from poor old Strombo; a talented guy but perhaps not the right fit for this position. When watching games at home, which is the majority of them, I am often popping out of the room to the kitchen, washroom, etc and am therefore reliant on the play-by-play announcer to know what is going on which I cannot watch; with Hughson, I usually cannot tell if anything exciting has happened. For example, if someone has scored while I’m out of the room, I often can’t tell. It’s not that he isn’t speaking clearly or missing plays; it’s that he simply doesn’t have a voice that pulls you in or adds that extra something to the sporting action. After watching one of his broadcasts you realize you know the latest hockey news (who is injured, who has scored) but you don’t feel anything extra, it’s as if you’ve read a stats sheet rather than experienced an event.
I miss Joe. Joe Bowen was the voice of the Leafs for over 30 years and he could read you the dictionary and leave you asking what happened next. When you heard Joe’s voice on the TV, you sat down and listened, it stirred in you the passion that made you stay home to watch the game in the first place. From his goalie alliteration introductions (i.e. guardians of the gilded garages) to the inevitable ‘Holy Mackinaw’ call, his voice made you feel like you were there with him. Doug Gilmour’s 111 point season, Wendel’s every fight, Sundin’s OT winner, Belfour standing on his head…those moments were big but Joe Bowen screaming along with the fans at home made them larger than life. You know Joe felt what you felt, his passion oozed through his voice and you felt as if he were not so much a broadcaster as another fan you were watching with.
Anybody can call play-by-play, but Joe’s humour, his extensive knowledge of hockey and his sheer raw passion and likability are what made him the voice of the Leafs.
So, I urge Sportsnet to reconsider, because, as the fans have shown you in the past, even if you take away the voice of the Leafs, we are still going to make ourselves heard.
Editors Note: 2600+ signatures to date, make your voice heard ……