We all know him by “The Voice,” media-speak for an instantly recognizable presence that heightens the excitement of whatever sporting event warranting description. Combined with his visible enthusiasm, thorough researching and reporting style, and impressive versatility, for over thirty years Canadian television audiences have grown accustomed to high standards of sports broadcasting from CBC’s Steve Armitage.
Before becoming nationally recognized describing athletes in action, less well known is that Armitage was an athlete himself. His lifelong love of sport—all sport—developed early as a child in Britain where English soccer first captivated his imagination. After moving to the Maritimes, football became his primary interest as he gained recognition in the Halifax area for his quarterbacking prowess. In university, he starred as quarterback of the venerable St. Mary’s football program and upon graduation tried out for the CFL’s Montreal Alouettes before joining the semi-pro Halifax Buccaneers.
While his booming voice was a boon barking out plays on the football field, Armitage discovered that it was also effective behind the microphone. In 1965, he was hired as a part-time writer at the CBC in Halifax and later became a radio and television sportscaster. In 1973, he brought his burgeoning broadcast talents to the West Coast, initially joining Bill Good Jr. at CBC Vancouver covering the local and national sports beats from Vancouver.
Over the years, few sports and events have failed to be graced by Armitage’s presence on the CBC. Not many broadcasters can match the depth and breadth of sports covered; fewer still can match his work ethic and passion. Prominently featured on Hockey Night in Canada, CFL football, Canadian Open golf, as well as numerous Olympic, Commonwealth, and Canada Games broadcasts covering a variety of sports and competitions, his versatility is obvious switching seamlessly from Stanley Cup playoff fever one week to international swimming the next.
His broadcasting partnership with Byron MacDonald covering Canadian international swimming for the past fifteen years has been particularly fruitful. Spanning three Olympics (1996, 2000, 2004) and numerous Commonwealth Games, they have developed into “the voices of Canadian swimming.” In 2005, their work was recognized with a Gemini Award in the “Best Sports Play by Play” category.
Armitage has collected a plethora of Gemini nominations over the past twenty-five years, recognizing the consistent quality of his work and the respect it has earned within the industry. Other career milestones include a 1986 Gemini Award for his work covering the 1986 FIFA World Cup and the 1982 Foster Hewitt Award for excellence in sports broadcasting.
In the years leading up to his retirement, Armitage could regularly be found conducting intermission interviews with players on Hockey Night in Canada or his voice heard echoing through the largest of CFL stadiums for ceremonial presentations as it did during the 2005 Grey Cup at BC Place Stadium, when the Grey Cup was presented to the Edmonton Eskimos.
Some claim the measure of a great broadcaster is the ability to blend into the audible texture of the sport on display—to heighten, not to hinder, to be the eyes and ears of the people using their voice. Over time Armitage’s on-air commentary has become so natural as to be considered simply “part of the action.” As Armitage has no plans to hang up the microphone any time soon, his voice will remain on the soundtrack of many Canadian sporting memories, describing the subtleties of Canada’s greatest athletic accomplishments.
Written and researched by Jason Beck, Curator of the BC Sports Hall of Fame.