A beloved announcer is associated with a team as much as any favorite player or coach. For Gene Hart and Flyers faithful, the love affair began from the moment the Flyers took to the ice in 1967. To millions of listeners, he is as much a part of Flyers lore as Bobby Clarke or Ed Snider.
Born in New York on June 28, 1931, Hart was a graduate of Pleasantville (N.J.) High School and Trenton State College (with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Education). The man who became known as the Voice by calling more than 2,000 games, six Stanley Cup Finals, five All-Star games, and two NHL-Soviet All-Star series got his start in broadcasting more by accident than design.
"When I got out of the military in 1957, I was officiating sports events in Atlantic County—football, baseball, basketball," Hart recalled. "Just after a basketball game at Atlantic City High, I was in the Athletic Director’s office and a broadcaster named Ralph Glenn said, ‘Gee, I got a problem. I have to go up and do a game alone in Trenton on Tuesday.’ So I said, ‘I’ll go along.’"
That chance encounter turned him into a regular in the three-man South Jersey broadcast team of Hart, Glenn, and Al Owen. Like an actor waiting for his big break, Hart kept his day job, which included teaching in the New Jersey public school system, selling cars, operating a radio station, and working as the assistant public relations director and announcer for Aquarama in South Philadelphia.
When Philadelphia landed an NHL franchise, Hart submitted some audition tapes. Short on cash, the Flyers couldn’t afford to bring in an experienced Canadian announcer as some of the new teams did. They needed someone whose job was flexible enough to allow him to announce Flyers games on the side.
"And," Hart explained, "they needed someone who wasn’t too concerned with how much money he made or didn’t make." He got the gig for $50 a game. For him, it was the opportunity of a lifetime. "One day, here’s Gene Hart doing high school sports in South Jersey. The next day, I’m exactly the same talent—no better, no worse—but I’m doing the National Hockey League in Philadelphia." Hart was grateful for the chance, but figured he was an interim solution until the club could afford a big time talent. As it turns out, Hart was big time talent. From the team's inception through the 1994-95 season, he was in the broadcast booth to announce every pass, every check, and, of course, every goal with his trademark cry. Two years after his retirement, he returned to the broadcast booth to call games for the Philadelphia Phantoms, the Flyers' American Hockey League affiliate, on cable during the 1997-98 and 1998-99 seasons.
As much a part of the team as the players yet as much a fan as anyone who ever listened to his broadcasts, Hart’s unique style and enthusiasm earned him a place in the Flyers Hall of Fame in February 1992 and in the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1997. Hart passed away on July 14, 1999, after battling a variety of illnesses.