Longtime For Wayne Komets announcer and voice of WOWO Bob Chase died early Thursday morning at age 90
Longtime WOWO Sports Director and Fort Wayne Komets broadcaster Bob Chase died early Thursday morning at Parkview Hospital on Randalia at age 90. As announced in a News-Sentinel story in October, Chase had been battling congestive heart failure for several months.
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.
Throughout the 1950s and much of the 1960s, Chase’s broadcast on WOWO 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.
“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 2013 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.
Quotes from Bob Chase
Retired as a regular on WOWO after 56 years, May 22, 2009
“I’ve always said I’m thankful for the listeners because had they not turned the radio on and invited me into their home, whether it be as a disc jockey, commentator, sports reporter or play-by-play man, none of this would have happened. If they turned on WOWO, I came into their homes at their invitation. I’ve always tried to remember that and maintain humility. That’s why I’m so humble, and I can’t believe all the things that are happening to me. What have I done to deserve all this? I’m not that good a guy.”
Bob Chase Bobblehead, April 6, 2007
“It’s like so many things that happen. You don’t do it because you want it, but because you love what you are doing. It never entered my mind that I was going to be (the) subject of a bobblehead. When (they) told me, I wouldn’t believe it, and I felt bad that maybe I won when somebody else should have. I felt kind of bad because I’m not a player, but I really appreciate it.”
Named to internet Minor League Hockey Hall of Fame, Nov. 15, 2005,
“You don’t set out in your life or in your job thinking I want an award. You kind of do your job, and I do mine because I love what I do, and that’s where it all comes from. The fruits of all those labors, whether if they are awards or just a kind word, are all bonuses. Anybody can reach the pinnacle of success and they can become multimillionaires, and some people never really are recognized for anything. And it isn’t how much it costs or how much it’s worth; it’s that somebody recognizes you just for doing your job, and to me, that’s all the award I could ever ask for.”
Celebrating 50th anniversary with Komets, March 8, 2003
“I never consciously tried to point myself to impact people or impress people. My dad always told me, ‘Be yourself, and if you can’t, then get the hell out of the business.’ I feel flattered that I’ve had that kind of impact on people.”
“Had it not been for the public who accepted me, I wouldn’t be here. Whenever you are in my business, if the radio is on and they are listening it’s by invitation only because the minute they don’t like you they are on to something else. I have never lost sight of that.”
For 63 years Bob Chase has been chronicling the actions of Fort Wayne Komets players, and here are some of their favorite stories about Chase from March 8, 2003.
“I used to help Bob out on the broadcasts. This was the St. Paul game that went until 1:30 (a.m.) or so. Bob and I used to have a few beers up there in a brief case. Well, we ran out and we had been talking for four or five hours. I went down to get something, and I got a bottle of 7-up. I was walking back up to the radio booth and a guy stopped me. He said take a horn out of that. I did and he filled it up with booze. So we’re sitting there and Bob hasn’t taken a drink of it yet, and the red light goes on and naturally, that’s the time we’re going back on the air. Just before the light went off, Bob takes a great big drink out of this thing. He lost his voice for about 15 seconds. I started to laugh. Oh, dear, that was funny.”
“One time we went to Des Moines, and Ken (Ullyot) couldn’t come for some reason (separated shoulder). Bob was going to be the coach, too. He was right there giving us advice on the lines and everything. Bob was the most rah-rah guy you ever saw. I think we won both games, and he was the assistant coach from the press box.”
“This one trip we were going to Des Moines, and I brought this mouth organ. I was learning to play Christmas carols, and I could play ‘Silent Night,’ just a few bars. The guys would holler at me to shut up so they could sleep. We get to Des Moines and Bob says, ‘Here, give me that.’ The guys were in the dressing room, and I was pretending to play it, and they thought I was doing it, but Bob was great. He got a big kick out of that.”
“I’m in awe how many lives Bob has touched. A lot of people would come up to me in Florida and tell me how they enjoyed the games, and then I’d get fan mail from all over. I got a letter once from a truck driver from Pittsburgh named Repka. He traveled all over and listened to WOWO.”
“One time in Des Moines we were in the playoffs and getting ready to get on a plane. Chase puts his hands up to his mouth like a loud speaker and he acted (like) he was paging Reggie (Primeau) to come to a different gate for an urgent message. You could hear it right through the whole terminal. Reggie went and everybody was hiding round the corner. He was a prankster, always pulling stuff.”
“I think Bob Chase broadcasting Komets games for 50 years is by far the most significant feat in Komet history, and nothing comes close in my opinion. No amount of goals or championships won comes close to Bob ‘s achievement. Chaser has touched so many people in a positive way.”
“There are superstars and then there are superstars. The Gordie Howes and the Bob Chases, the longevity-type guys, they are the real superstars. They hung in there and they’ve been loyal.”
Former Muskegon broadcaster Terry Ficorelli: “A few years ago the UHL All-Star Game was in Muskegon (2000), and up to that point I had not had the pleasure of working with Bob . … What I was impressed with was even though it was an all-star game and Bob has been around seemingly forever, was how excited and enthusiastic he was. He was oozing gusto. After a while it just becomes a job, and you could see with Bob even after all of these years of doing it as we got closer to air time how he was just lighting up. It excited everyone. We had a crew from ESPN, and even they were remarking about how the old guy is still full of enthusiasm and vinegar.”
TOP 10 SPORTS MOMENTS
* Covering Big Ten football from 1958 to 1966
* Parnelli Jones introducing turbine engine at Indy 500 in 1967
* Milan-Muncie Central game in 1954
* Komets win 1993 Turner Cup by beating San Diego in Fort Wayne
* Komets and St. Paul play four overtimes in 1960
* Komets win 1963 Turner Cup by beating Minneapolis in Fort Wayne
* John Anderson game against Peoria in 1991 Turner Cup finals
* Covering first NHL game St. Louis vs. Chicago in 1968 for KMOX in St. Louis
* Komets win 1973 Turner Cup in Port Huron
* Michigan State-Notre Dame in 1966
TOP 10 RADIO MOMENTS
* Induction into hall of fames for Broadcast Pioneers, Indiana Sportscasters and Avilla and Baer Field raceways, being named Sagamore of the Wabash and having IHL broadcaster of the year award named for him
* Receiving Lester Patrick Award from NHL and USA Hockey 2012
* Elvis Presley interview added to Rock & Roll Hall of Fame
* Interviewing Vice President Dan Quayle
* Covering President Kennedy assassination
* Interviewing Bob Hope
* Interviewing Nat King Cole and Frank Sinatra for Tommy Dorsey tribute
* Interviewing Wayne Gretzky
* Renovation of Memorial Coliseum in 2002
* Watching the progress of protege Mike Emrick