Honoring Bob Chase, a hockey legend

The hockey world lost one of its most familiar, legendary voices Thursday morning, as longtime Fort Wayne Komets broadcaster Bob Chase passed away at age 90.

Bob Chase broadcast hockey for 63 seasons, beginning in 1954. He was one of the pioneers of the game. Photo from Indiana Broadcast Pioneers.

Bob Chase broadcast hockey for 63 seasons, beginning in 1954. He was one of the pioneers of the game. Photo via IndianaBroadcastPioneers.org.

Chase worked “Live from Radio Rinkside” for 63 years, and broadcast hockey from the mid-1950s through the rest of his life, all in Indiana with Fort Wayne. He may never have worked in the NHL, but he had plenty of influence on both the craft of broadcasting and the sport of hockey.

Thanks to WOWO’s booming clear-channel signal, Chase’s voice was heard throughout the eastern and Midwestern United States, and in an era when there were only four American NHL teams – and only two of them in the Midwest – Chase’s voice was hockey to many throughout the world. It was never hard to tell how the game was going – just listen to how excitedly Chase sent the broadcasts to commercial breaks with his trademark “on WOWO, this is Komet hockey.” A dashing rush up-ice would be greeted with a “here they come” or a “there they go.”

When Chase began working in Fort Wayne, his path took him through Indianapolis as the Chiefs were a part of the IHL from the mid-1950s through 1962. At that point, local radio broadcasts were very limited. Today, every team broadcasts virtually every game on radio, Internet, television and other media. We’ve been fortunate to have a number of great broadcasters in Indy – Bob Lamey and Mike Fornes with the Racers, Kevin Calabro and Rick Heliste with the Checkers, Ken Double and Jim Mirabello with the Ice, and Mirabello, Tony Brown, Tom Callahan and now Terry Ficorelli with the Fuel. But Bob Chase was the person who laid much of the groundwork for the craft of hockey broadcasting in the United States, and created a world where teams broadcast their games.

Few met Bob Chase who didn’t have a fond memory of him. He had friends everywhere, and always had time for co-workers, fans, other media and those in the game. It was an honor to share a media room with him the last couple of years, as he would travel with the Komets as they played the Indy Fuel. He had cut his schedule back, but he continued broadcasting until a recent illness. Broadcasters are very busy before a game – going to the dressing room for pregame interviews, setting up their broadcast, going over rosters and pregame notes and making contact with the station. Yet, every time a fan asked Chase for a photo or a few minutes, he always had time, and greeted them warmly with a smile.

We had a few moments to chat at the end of the Fuel’s first season – away from the rink. His first words were, “did they make it?” as the Fuel were making a big push for the playoffs, and we then had a long conversation where he had kind words for the Fuel, the arena and the way things had gone in the first year, and then reminisced about the legendary International Hockey League Ice-Komets and Checkers-Komets games. Being a student of hockey history, I would’ve loved to have had the opportunity to sit with him and just hear stories about what he called “the blood and guts days” of the 1950s and 1960s.

As a youngster with an interest in hockey and broadcasting, I’d scan the dial at night looking to listen to a game. While I’d occasionally stick with an NHL game, the loudest and clearest broadcasts were often right next to each other – Don Stevens and the Rochester Americans on AM 1180 and Bob Chase and the Fort Wayne Komets one spot down on 1190. I listened intently to both. And, when the Checkers joined the IHL in 1984, followed by the Ice in 1988 – local broadcasts were on hard-to-access stations or, with the early Ice, only a handful of games were broadcast locally, meaning the only way to follow the game was to scan the dial to WOWO. In 1991, the Ice and Komets had a legendary seven-game series that was decided in overtime of Game 7. As a high school sophomore and with not every game broadcast locally, Bob Chase became my lifeline to the series. While I was generally excited if he wasn’t, hearing him describe Dominik Hasek’s incredible Game 6 in Fort Wayne was a definitive call of a great, intense game in what was an intense series.

His influence was felt far and wide. NBC Sports broadcaster and the United States’ voice of hockey, Doc Emrick was introduced to hockey by listening to Chase’s broadcasts from LaFontaine, Indiana. To him and so many others, Eddie Long, Robbie Irons, Len Thornson and other 1960s IHL legends were as much household names as Hull, Mikita and Howe, and the hockey world didn’t necessarily span from Boston to Montreal to Chicago, but in the IHL’s circuit from Toledo to Flint to Des Moines. When Emrick – as a young student interested in broadcasting – sent him a letter, Chase took him under his wing. The two remained close, and even worked a game together during the most recent NHL lockout.

Broadcasters may not be on skates, but they are often our most personal connection to our teams. They are the conduit by which we experience the game, the most direct link between players and fans. They come into our homes, our cars, and share many great hours with us, without them even knowing. As players come and go, they are often the constant with their respective teams. There were few better than Bob Chase – a Lester Patrick Award winner, an Indiana Sportswriters and Sportscasters Hall of Fame member and a legend in the sport.

The hockey world owes much to Bob Chase. He was a pioneer. He was an outstanding broadcaster. More importantly, he was a fine gentleman and a friend to many. Speaking as a broadcaster, our craft is better for Bob Chase having been a part of it. We owe him so much. Our sport is better for Bob Chase having been a part of it, too. May he rest in peace.