I have no idea the first time I heard Ron Weber's voice. It was definitely in the mid-1980s. That's about as specific as I can get. Almost certainly I was hiding under the covers late one night in my Silver Spring, Md. home, hoping somehow to muffle the sound of a tiny transistor radio from my parents, who had long before sent me to bed. The thing I remember most about Weber - who was nominated by the Hockey Hall of Fame for the Foster Hewitt Memorial Award on Tuesday - was the unbridled enthusiasm he brought to every game, his voice crackling through the radio from some obscure outpost across the continent. If you wanted to know how the Caps did on the road in Winnipeg or Edmonton or Los Angeles there was no Internet to check the scores and few of the road games were televised then. Instead, you turned the dial to 1500 AM - WTOP - and listened to Weber call the action.
It was something he did for 23 years - from the very first Caps game in 1974 until the end of the 1997 season. In all, Weber broadcast 1,936 consecutive games, never missing one. You think the Caps have endured heartache the past three postseasons? Weber broadcast so much it makes your head spin. From the expansion Caps, who set NHL records for fewest wins (8) and points (21) that still stand today, to the powerhouse teams in the mid-80s that always seemed to come up short in the playoffs. I tried to stay up with him on Easter Sunday when the Caps and New York Islanders played long into the night during a four-overtime playoff game in 1987. Didn't make it to the 2 a.m. ending. I never heard his mournful call at the conclusion of that loss, another promising season snuffed out early. Not to mention those 3-1 playoff series leads against the Penguins in the 90s that disappeared, too. Weber told everything - heartbreak, yes, but some wonderful moments, also - to a novice hockey market that struggled to learn and adapt to the game. For so many fans in the Washington, D.C. area, he was their first teacher.
Weber has been retired 13 years now, but he is still a fixture at Caps home games. The Foster Hewitt Award is presented by the Hockey Hall of Fame to radio and television broadcasters who make an outstanding contribution to the sport of hockey during their careers. Recipients are chosen by the NHL Broadcasters' Association. It is named for Foster Hewitt, a legendary Canadian play-by-play man who spent 40 years calling the Hockey Night in Canada radio broadcasts. Weber will receive his award at a luncheon on Nov. 8, 2010, part of the Hockey Hall of Fame's induction weekend.