I never met Bob Chase. For a long time I did not know his name. But he was one of those memorable voices that one never forgets. And, it appears that I was not alone.
Bob Chase (born Robert Donald Wallenstein) died on November 25 at the age of 90. He was longtime WOWO Sports Director and Fort Wayne Komets broadcaster. But that was just the start of the story and hardly explains why he meant so much to so many.
As an article at the Fort Wayne News-Sentinel explained:
“Perhaps no one in Fort Wayne history did more to promote the city, just as it’s possible no one has ever introduced hockey to more new fans or caused more to love it. Chase’s voice was known to generations across the country and throughout several countries during his 63-year tenure with WOWO and the Komets”.
I, like many was introduced to Bob Chase in the 1960’s – even though I did not know his name.
Throughout the 1950s and much of the 1960s, Chase’s broadcast on WOWO was a clear channel broadcast that could be heard throughout North America.
At the time there were six NHL teams but their broadcast availability was spotty (there was even less TV). So along with the Canadiens in French, the Bruins on WBZ, Detroit’s Bud Lynch if the wind was blowing in the right direction, and CBC Sunday night hockey, there were minor league voices who were heard strong and clear. They came not from New York or Chicago, but rather from Rochester, Baltimore, Buffalo, Cleveland and Fort Wayne.
In the case of Bob Chase out of Fort Wayne, his was the only one throughout the International Hockey League and the only hockey broadcast throughout much of the rest of the country. During the era of six NHL teams, the game he saw was the only one to visualize for many young fans who’d fall asleep listening to their transistor radios hidden under the covers. Today there are millions of hockey fans because Bob Chase introduced their fathers, grandfathers and maybe even great-grandfathers to the game.
And, he kept going for some six decades – broadcasting in a style that was bigger than the game played – he was a voice of “the game” and a voice that painted pictures in our imaginations.
“It’s a real privilege to have it,’’ he said in an emotional statement in 2004. “I have trouble … I love it. I’m honored to be accepted. I’m a native now. You earn it, you just hope you can keep it. I’m honored and thankful.’’
Little would be said now of Bob Chase’s passing outside of Fort Wayne had it not been for Mike Emrick, the voice of hockey on NBC.
For Emrick, Bob Chase was a mentor going way back to when Doc was a teenager and a budding broadcaster. From listening to Doc Emrick Bob Chase taught him about broadcasting and about life. Doc is one of the nicest people around – he probably possessed that strength inherently, but have Bob Chase as a role model only helped, as Emrick explains.
He told me as much in a Journeys into Hockey podcast some years ago (regretfully that podcast and others have been”lost”). But in our fun interview, Doc Emrick spent considerable time praising Chase as a voice who did not get his due for his contribution to hockey. According to Emrick, he was overlooked.
Thanks to Doc, the same can no longer be said.
It was especially poignant to see how Doc honoured Bob Chase a few years back in Fort Wayne. Below is an image captured of when they called a game together. It appeared a special relationship between to men dear to many.
We thank Mike Emrick for making Bob Chase known to the rest of us. And, we thank Bob Chase for the memories he created for us – and in the professional manner he did so.
He was a member of the Indiana Sportswriters and Sports Broadcasters Hall of Fame. He was inducted into the Indiana Broadcasters Association’s Broadcast Pioneers Hall of Fame Award in 2000. He was also named ECHL Broadcaster of the Year after the 2013-14 season, adding to similar honors from the International Hockey League, the United Hockey League and Central Hockey League. A good case can be made that he deserves a place in the Hockey Hall of Fame.