Broadcasters share recollections of Bob Chase

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 from Indiana Broadcast Pioneers.

The hockey world  – especially that in Indiana – lost one of its pioneers last Thursday, when Bob Chase passed away at age 90. An icon in Fort Wayne, Chase broadcast Fort Wayne Komets games on WOWO’s clear-channel signal from 1954 up through this year. His influence was felt far beyond Indiana. He was a friend and mentor to many. He will be memorialized today in a public viewing at the Allen County War Memorial Coliseum. Several broadcasters who have had the opportunity to share a press box with Chase have worked in Indianapolis. Today, they share their thoughts.

Terry Ficorelli
“Fic” currently serves as the radio and television voice of the Indy Fuel. He is a veteran of more than 40 years of hockey broadcasting in the IHL, AHL, UHL and ECHL.

He was hockey in Fort Wayne. For years, when WOWO was a 50,000-watt clear-channel station, you could hear him all over the country. He was not only synonymous with Fort Wayne hockey, but many of us would fall asleep with our transistor radio under the pillow listening to him call games.

He was also the general manager of the Fort Wayne Komets for a couple of years. Bob was a great storyteller – he and I would sit and tell stories and make each other laugh out loud.

Bob always had a smile on his face. He liked everyone. He enjoyed being around people. He enjoyed being around all of us broadcasters. When I broke into the business, he took me under his wing and showed me the ropes, which I always appreciated. He and I were somewhat of the veterans. One time, he received an award at the UHL All-Star Luncheon in Fort Wayne. He came up to the dais, and just before he gave the speech, he asked me to stand up. I think he really wanted to share his award with me, because my longevity could never compare to his, but he completely deflected the attention on him winning the award and had me stand up and take a bow. I was very reluctant to do so. I wanted to say, “Bob, this is your day.” But that’s the kind of guy he was. He was just a great guy. He was always a lot of fun. He was gregarious. All the years of Fort Wayne Komet hockey, ever since I’ve been in the business, whenever you thought about Fort Wayne hockey, you thought about Bob Chase. They went through so many ownerships, coaches, general managers and players, but the one constant was Bob Chase. You knew when Fort Wayne came to town, you were going to see Bob Chase.

He and Mike Emrick are very good friends. One time, when I was still with Evansville, Mike came down to do the color commentary. We were all together in the IHL – Bob was in Fort Wayne, I was in Kalamazoo and Doc was in Port Huron. There was one game years ago, I was with Kalamazoo and we had the night off. I went to Muskegon to see a game and they were playing Fort Wayne. I was up in the press box talking with people before the game, and Bob said “come and sit with me.” The play goes on, Fort Wayne comes over the Muskegon blue line and it’s offside. The whistle blows. Bob goes, “and the puck flies into the crowd.” Then, he breaks for commercial. I said, “Bob, the play was 10 feet offside.” He said, “Fic, I know, but I like to mix it up a bit on the radio.” All I could do was laugh. That was pretty funny.

The day we moved from Evansville to Indianapolis was in early September. Bob called me, and he called to say how glad I was to get the job here, how he was happy for me, and he was really looking forward to seeing me. He said, “I’m looking forward to a lot of good times, a lot of laughs again.” We talked for about a half-hour. I asked him, he said “I just got out of the hospital. I have some congestive heart issues. He was struggling back then. We had a great conversation. He was really looking forward to another season. He said, “Fic, my motor’s getting revved up. This old warhorse is ready to go for another year.” That’s how excited he was. When we went to Fort Wayne in the regular season, the guys in the press box were expressing a lot of concern for Bob. They said Bob really wants to get out of the hospital, but they won’t let him out.

He was young for his age. I will miss him terribly. The last two times we went to Fort Wayne, when we played there this preseason and when we played there during the regular season, he wasn’t there, and it really felt unusual.

Rick Heliste
Heliste was the play-by-play and, later, the public address voice of the Indianapolis Checkers throughout the 1980s. When the Checkers joined the International Hockey League in 1984, the Indianapolis-Fort Wayne rivalry was rekindled.

Back in the ’80s it was the Checkers vs the Komets!  We saw Bob Chase a lot since we played against our closest neighbors a-plenty.  I personally saw Bob as a towering man of hockey broadcasting.  You looked up to Bob in more ways than one. Like me, he was originally from Michigan living in Indiana. I liked that. He was also a tall man that you saw as an uncle you adored. I like that, too.

When you looked into the booth next to you and saw this minor league icon you felt like you were not only a part of the broadcasting fraternity, you were a part of Bob Chase’s broadcasting fraternity. You felt like if Bob could do it, you could too.

Since we were both working the same game you never had the time to enjoy his work.  At times you heard the muffled sound from the next booth but not much more.  But you did feel the warmth, the confidence, the caring, if only for a few minutes when your paths crossed before and after the game. And for that alone I would proudly call Bob more than just a colleague, but a friend.

Players, coaches, even owners come and go over time, but not Bob Chase. Bob put minor league hockey, the city of Ft. Wayne, the Komets, on the map.  No one else did that, and no one else likely ever will.

Bob touched so many lives along the way, I was fortunate to be just one of many thousands.

Jim Mirabello
Mirabello is the longest-tenured hockey broadcaster in Indianapolis. He was a veteran of hockey broadcasting when he arrived in Indianapolis in 2000, and called games for the CHL’s Indianapolis Ice, USHL’s Indiana Ice and ECHL’s Indy Fuel for 16 seasons. He was the Fuel’s television voice from 2014-16. 

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Bob Chase (left) and Jim Mirabello in the broadcast booth at the Indiana Farmers Coliseum. Photo courtesy of Jim Mirabello

My first time hearing Bob Chase was sometime in the late ’70s as a young hockey fan growing up in Pittsburgh, Pa. Many winter nights were spent turning the dial on the radio, pulling in any game I could when the Penguins weren’t playing. Bursting through often clear as a bell was 1190 WOWO and the voice of Bob Chase. What first caught my attention was how much his voice and delivery was similar to a beloved Pittsburgh broadcaster of that era, the one and only Bob Prince.

In those days in Pittsburgh it was easy to pull in the St. Louis Blues on KMOX, the Boston Bruins on WBZ, the Detroit Red Wings on WJR along with several other teams depending on how much crackle and static I was willing to endure. Most often though, the game of choice for me was Fort Wayne Komets hockey. It didn’t matter if I’d never heard of Saginaw, or Flint, or Muskegon or whichever team the Komets were playing in those old IHL days. I was listening to Bob Chase call it, and I was happy.

During the summer of 1999 I became the voice of the Port Huron Border Cats of the United Hockey League. One of the things that excited me about it was the fact that the Border Cats were in the same league as the Komets, thus creating the first opportunity in my lifetime to cross paths with Mr. Chase. I eagerly looked forward to that first trip to Fort Wayne. The bus wheels may not have stopped turning yet in the parking lot when I was ready to jump off and rush to the press box.

Spotting the tall, distinguished gentleman preparing for his WOWO broadcast was easy. With a lump in my throat I approached, and was warmly greeted with a bright smile, a warm handshake and that incredible voice heard so many times through a radio speaker. Every game that year between the Komets and the Border Cats was a treat since it gave me a chance to spend some time with Mr. Chase.

A piece of advice that stuck with me incredibly in my early days of broadcasting came in the form of three words from another legendary broadcaster who’s also left an incredible mark in the industry since his passing. Those words were to be “simple, sincere and enthusiastic.”  Bob Chase was the epitome of those words. There was nothing pretentious about him ever. His love for and feel for the game came through in every regard, both on the air and off.