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What became MSG Networks began 50 years with Rangers vs. North Stars

Chicago Blackhawks' Pat Stapleton sprawls after the puck

Chicago Blackhawks' Pat Stapleton sprawls after the puck as the Rangers' Jean Ratelle (19) and Rod Gilbert move in on the action, Oct. 22, 1969, at Madison Square Garden. Credit: AP/Dave Pickoff

It was the night before the Mets won the World Series.

Channel 2 was showing “The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour,” with Don Ho as a guest. Channel 7 had “The Flying Nun,” and on Channel 11, Joe Garagiola was hosting a syndicated game show called, “He Said, She Said.”

Meanwhile, to little fanfare on Oct. 15, 1969, on a channel that did not yet have an official name, the Rangers were hosting the North Stars at Madison Square Garden in what now is considered a landmark in local sports television.

It was the night that what came to be known as MSG Networks premiered as the first regional sports network in the United States, carried by Manhattan Cable Television under a deal to show Knicks and Rangers home games.

Newsday covered the Rangers’ 4-3 victory, in which they rallied from an early 3-0 deficit and went ahead with three goals in just over two minutes in the third period. The game-winner was scored by Vic Hadfield, who had his number 11 retired by the Rangers last December.

Newsday’s Tim Moriarty, caught up in Mets fever, described Don Marshall, who scored two of the Rangers’ goals, as “Al Weis on skates.”

But there was no mention in the paper’s coverage of the cable television milestone.

Only 13,000 or so homes subscribed to the station, and it had been less than a week since a key ruling by the New York Court of Appeals opened the door for companies to lay cable for television transmission without New York City regulation.

As The New York Times described it, the decision meant “a vast new method of communications will be made available for the TV set owner in his home.”

So it was, especially for sports fans. But that first game, uninterrupted by commercials, amounted to an experiment.

MSG Networks as we know it today evolved over time, through various corporate permutations, and did not exist in its present form and with its present name until the late 1970s.

Its landmark deal to carry Yankees games, signed in December of 1988, was a bombshell in an era when only about half of metropolitan area homes were wired for cable.

By then, most fans had gotten used to basketball and hockey on pay TV, but baseball’s migration away from local broadcast stations in the 1990s came as a shock.

MSG is unveiling a commemorative logo noting the 50th anniversary and will present special programming about its own history and that of New York sports in general over the past half-century.

Some things in sports TV have not changed since 1969, though. The day after what became MSG debuted, the Mets beat the Orioles to win the World Series in five games, on NBC.

There still has not been a Super Bowl, World Series game or NBA Finals game exclusively on cable television.

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