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Tonight at the Scotiabank Saddledome, the Flames are celebrating Retro Night and the dulcet tones of Russ Peake are once again back on the PA call

by George Johnson @GeorgejohnsonCH /

CALGARY - On the microphone, Russ Peake was there, from the beginning with the Flames.

"From 1980 to '96,'' the veteran CFCN sports broadcaster, now 12 years happily retired, is recalling.

"Well, the atmosphere in the Corral those first three years was fantastic. First of all, the town went crazy just getting the franchise.

"So it was going to be electric anyway.

"But then to be crowded into the old building … it was cramped, it was loud and it was wild.

"Originally, for a press box there were three little booths on the one side and a tiny open space for the newspaper guys. So they had to build a completely new box on the other side. 

"I'm sure that first season, when the Flames went all the way to the semis, the NHL must've been scared to death to ponder a final in the old Corral, with 7,000 seats.

 "Where on earth would they put everybody?"

Tonight at the Scotiabank Saddledome, the Flames are celebrating Retro Night and the dulcet tones of Russ Peake are once again back on the PA call, a full 20 years after he bid farewell following a first-round, four-game playoff exit to the Chicago Blackhawks.

When the Flames arrived in Calgary , CFCN Radio put in "a good strong pitch" for the rights and if they'd been successful Peake had been tagged to be the team's first play-by-play man. But his station was outbid by CHQR and its parent company, Western Broadcasting out of Vancouver.

"The story goes - and there was a lot of money out there at the time, radio and TV - that we went to $250,000 a year,'' reports Peake.

"The parent company got involved and word was they went a million bucks for five years, which was a lot of money when you consider the Stanley Cup champion Montreal Canadiens at the time were something like $65,000 a year.

"Only 2&7, as they were known then, were interested in the TV rights.

"So that,'' he laughs, "is as close as I'd ever got to being an NHL play-by-play man.

"And I ended up doing the public address. When we didn't get the radio rights, I went to Coatsey (then PR man/future GM Al Coates) and said I'd be interested in that job.

"I think it came down to Brian Dance or me. I have a hunch Coatsey thought 'Well, poor old Peaker, he didn't get the radio rights, so let's give it to him'.

"I don't know that, but that's probably how it went."

Highlights of 16 years on the job?

"Opening night, a 5-5 tie against Quebec as I recall, at the old Corral,'' replies Peake. "I dug out the program from the first night at the Saddledome, Oct. 15th of '83. That was against the Oilers, who won 4-3. Memorable night, of course.

"So those games, for sure, all the games against the Oilers, it was such a great rivalry, and of course the Stanley Cup run in '89, the biggest of them all.

"Oh sure, I enjoyed it. I don't think two guys are ever going to do PA the same. Everybody has their own way."

To prepare for Saturday night's visit by the Oilers, and his return to the booth, Peake went through a "job shadow" during Thursday night's Dome date against the Nashville Predators.

He joined current man Beesley, the only other person to have announced with the Flames full-time.

"I went into the media room before the game and here you've got all these old familiar faces, the minor-officials crew, quite a few of them have been there since Day One. So that was fun.

"The job's a lot different than when I was around. I'm so far behind when it comes to the tech-y age, y'know. It's all computerized, everything pops up in front of you on the screen.

"And there's far more things going on in the game presentation that you have to fit in. It's just constant. There's something going on all the time."

Tonight, an old familiar friend, a voice from the past, is back on the PA for Oilers-Flames.

Just like the good ol' days.

"Yeah,'' laughs Peake. "Imagine, a 77-year-old rookie.

"Just breakin' into the business.

"It's a little scary."

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