"I think Bob's listeners realize he's not just broadcasting the game, but he's a conduit between the fans and the players," said NBC Feature Producer David Picker while doing a piece on Chase in February. "The fact is that Bob is an incredible part of the game."
Born Jan. 22, 1926, in Negaunee, Mich., Chase’s actual name was Robert Donald Wallenstein. However, when he came to Fort Wayne in June 1953, WOWO Program Manager Guy Harris thought Wallenstein was too long. He changed his last name to Chase, his wife Murph’s maiden name. Her father, who was blessed with five daughters but no sons, loved it.
Because he served four years in the United States Navy and then spent four years studying at Northern Michigan University, Chase was 27 when he came to Fort Wayne. He started as a co-announcer of Komets games with Ernie Ashley, and then took over sole duties in 1954.
This would have been his 64th season with the Komets. The team added his name to the franchise’s retired honorees banner at his 40th anniversary in 1992, and honored him again for his 50th year in 2002 and his 60th in 2012.
He received countless awards during his career, highlighted by the Lester Patrick Award from USA Hockey and the National Hockey League in 2012 for service to the sport in the United States. That year he was also given a key to the city by Fort Wayne Mayor Tom Henry and was inducted into the Northern Michigan University Hall of Fame.
He was also named a Sagamore of the Wabash in 2001 and was inducted into 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.
During his career with WOWO, Chase interviewed such people as Elvis, the Beatles, Jim Brown, Frank Sinatra, Bob Hope, Vice President Nixon, Gordie Howe, Arnie Palmer. His interview with Elvis is part of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland.
During his tenure, the Komets have gone through five sets of owners, 25 coaches, more than 1,000 players and 70 different opposing teams. Of the Komets' 532 playoff games during their 64-year history, Chase has called 526 of them. Of the Komets' 4,890 regular-season games, Chase has likely called around 4,500 of those.
Until the Komets left the International Hockey League in 1999, Chase had broadcast every all-star game the league had ever played. Until a heart ailment and quadruple bypass surgery slowed him down in 1998, he had broadcast all 351 playoff games the team had ever played, including nine cup-winning championships. He called his 500th Komets playoff game on April 18, 2015. It's unlikely more than a handful of announcers have called 500 playoff games in any sport, let alone with one team.
Besides broadcasting hockey, Chase announced high school basketball for 17 years, also broadcast Big Ten football for 10 years and covered the Indianapolis 500 for 25 years. From 1954 to 1967 he hosted "The Bob Chase Show" Monday through Friday afternoons on WOWO.
In 2000, Chase was nominated for the United States Hockey Hall of Fame. Among those who wrote letters of recommendation were NHL broadcaster Mike Emrick, U.S. Olympics star Mike Eruzione, longtime ABC broadcaster Chris Schenkel and several former IHL commissioners.
Some highlights from those letters:
"The way he taught hockey and the way he described the sport was his gift to all of us who listened and all of us who were associated with this best game," Emrick wrote.
"Much credit must be given to radio station WOWO and Bob Chase for the tremendous growth and acceptance of our great game in the U.S.A.," former IHL Commissioner Bud Poile wrote.
"As a fellow sportscaster, I’m in awe of Bob’s incredible skill in painting a verbal picture of my favorite spectator sport – hockey!" Schenkel wrote. "In addition Bob is a gentleman, a loyal professional. His voice is second to none as a communicator."
"(Bob) used to say hello to my parents back in Boston whenever we played Fort Wayne," Eruzione said. "WOWO was the only station that my family could listen to a few games on. Bob has not only dedicated his life to the sport as an announcer, but also has become a great ambassador of U.S. hockey, always being there for the players and their families."
As beloved as Chase was in hockey, he was even more loved in Fort Wayne where he might have been the most recognizable person in the city. He was never bothered by his fame.
"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.’’
Wallenstein is survived by his wife of 66 years, Murph; daughter Karin; and sons Mike, Kurt and Dave. There are eight grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren. Services are pending.