A generation of baseball fans have vividly recalled falling alseep with transistor radios under pillows to the sounds of baseball being called by the likes of Vin Scully, Ken Coleman, Chuck Thompson, Ernie Harwell, Jack Brickhouse, Bob Murphy and Mel Allen.
Hockey fans of that era have stories of their own. Most prominent are those of Foster Hewitt, Danny Gallivan, Llyod Petite, Bud Lynch, Fred Cusick and Win Elliott.
But there were others – clear and powerful from places less written and spoken of.
The A.M. radio dial never distinguished between N.H.L. and others. So, the games of the Rochester Americans, Fort Wayne Komets and Baltimorre Clippers were as prominent as those of the “original six” of hockey’s big league.
Much has been written of the few jobs that were available for players back then, and the stories of players, clearly N.H.L. Hall of Famers today who were back then relegated to the minors for lack of opportunity. So too was the case in broadcasting – very few openings on the big league level.
As a result there were legendary voices that many never got to hear.
One such voice is that of Bob Chase, inspiration for modern day standard bearing broadcaster Doc Emrick.
Chase, age 90, is now in his 63nd season of calling play-by-play for the Fort Wayne Komets, now in the ECHL but previously of the Central Hockey League and the International Hockey League.
Chase calls all home games at the Allen County Memorial Coliseum with his longtime partner Robbie Irons, a former Komets goalie who at 68 is 22 years Chase’s junior. During the shorter road trips to such places as Kalamazoo and Toledo, Chase does the games by himself. The Komets say Chase has missed only six Fort Wayne postseason games during the club’s 63-year history. Last April 18 he called his 500th Komet playoff game when Fort Wayne took on Kalamazoo.
Richard Deitsch of SI.com wrote that Doc Emrick Emrick grew up in La Fontaine, Ind., about 60 miles south of Fort Wayne, and said the first hockey game he ever attended came on Dec. 10, 1960 when the Komets hosted the Muskegon Zephyrs. Emrick was 14 and Chase was doing the call.
Station management told Chase when he arrived at WOWO that his name was too long, so Bob Wallenstein became Bob Chase—Chase being Murph’s maiden name. He began broadcasting the Komets in October of ’53—their second year of existence. He said the closest he ever came to leaving Fort Wayne was when the St. Louis Blues wanted to hire him as a broadcaster and front office worker in the late ’60s. Chase called some St. Louis games on a trial run but the deal eventually fell through, and the Blues ended up hiring the legendary Dan Kelly.
But Chase is a legend in his own right. Greatly admired by Emrick (Doc invoked Chase as his inspiration and a mentor when we chatted a few years back). Though the Komets were a minor league team, intense play, a distinctive voice and a clear channel signal brought the Komet games to millions far beyond Indiana. As a clear channel AM station from 1941 to 1995 WOWO was well-known, in both Indiana and areas to the east. The station broadcast continuously with 50,000 watts of power both during daylight and nighttime hours. From sunset to sunrise, WOWO’s directional antenna was configured to protect only KEX, Portland, Oregon. The nighttime broadcasts were branded as WOWO’s Nighttime Skywave Service, the “voice of a thousand Main Streets”. Bob Chase and the Kmet games were heard on those Main Streets.
Rochester American games could be also heard in a similar fashion over A.M. radio. The Amerks joined the American Hockey League in 1956 as the minor-league affiliate of the Montreal Canadiens and Toronto Maple Leafs. During the late 1960s the Amerks were regarded by many observers as the seventh-best team in professional hockey — behind only the six National Hockey League teams. Its games could be clearly heard over WHAM. Their winning ways and powerful signal garnered them a loyal following, though the competition were the Buffalo Bisons and the Providence Reds and not the Black Hawks or Red Wings.
In a lovely essay of hockey from the past in Baltimore, Greg Mace recalls the hockey voices of his youth on the radio. Former Caps radio announcer Ron Weber was the longtime voice of the Clippers and before him, the great Jim West. Color announcer and Baltimore News-American writer George Taylor actually did his announcing from the scorers table rinkside The games were heard on Baltimore powerhouse radio station WBAL.
The common thread is that these are teams and announcers that mattered.
In a time when the on and off ice produts of one team to another are virtually indistinguishable, these were places and people with character and with their own flavor to fit their markets.
One can picture that generation falling asleep contented as the game came forth from those transistor radios under blankets and pillows.