Tue. May 21st, 2019

Your Dime, Your Dance Floor: In Memory Of Chet Coppock

“I hope during this difficult time his family can look at the influence he has had on other people’s lives.”

When I was growing up, there were no sports talk radio stations in Chicago. There were stations that had sports shows but mainly at night or on the weekends. There was one show that we could hear every day – Coppock on Sports. The host, Chet Coppock, was larger than life. Every guest introduction was scripted and sounded like it had been written for a movie trailer. All the biggest and best guests were on his show.

To those of us growing up in Chicago during that time (late 80s and early 90s), Chet and COS was the shit. Chet Coppock died yesterday (April 17th) due to injuries sustained in a car crash in Hilton Head, South Carolina at the age of 70. 

Rather than pontificating further about Chet, his legacy, and the impact he has had on sports talk radio, I thought it would be best to hear from the people who worked with him throughout his career. I’ll start with two of the biggest on-air talents to come from the “Chet Stable”–Dan McNeil and David Kaplan. I spoke to both by phone today:

Dan McNeil Afternoon host The Score/Chicago: 

“Chet was the Godfather of Sports Talk in Chicago before sports radio mushroomed beginning with the arrival of The Score in 1992. There was Chet. He spoke his own language and it was colorful. You knew someone had made the top echelon of Chet’s guests when he gave them the three-name treatment–like Michael Keller Ditka and Michael Jeffrey Jordan.”

I always felt that Chet had a little Ted Knight in him from the Mary Tyler Moore Show. He had this booming voice and spoke from the diaphragm. He was also a large man. Well over six feet tall and he was hard to miss coming out of a Cadillac with dealer plates in his full length fur coat. 

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Chet was without question the most influential person in my career. In the winter of 1988 he scraped me off the street to produce his show on The Loop. I had been let go by the newspaper I was working at and contemplating getting my teaching degree so I could teach High School and coach football. 

Not only did Chet give me the opportunity to produce his show, but he gave me a chance to fill-in as the host on the nights he was off. In no way did I have the skills at that time to follow the legendary “Steve and Garry” on The Loop. But Chet gave me the chance. Plus he gave me the moniker “Dangerous Dan McNeil.” He was one of a kind.

We had our battles. After I moved to the Score in 1992, we ended up going head-to-head with Chet in 1994. (Terry) Boers and I KO’d Chet and his show had only a 0.8 rating. Chet had taught me all about self promotion. In ‘92 when I left his show to go to The Score he left me a shitty voicemail telling me to “get ready for a 0.8.” Needless to say I had saved it and played it when we knocked him out of afternoons. 

Chet and I made amends about 12 years ago and I took him to see the Rolling Stones. I’ve talked to him from time to time and he seemed to be at peace with where he was. Not in the middle of the action anymore but on the periphery. He definitely enjoyed one of his final gigs–working with the Chicago Blackhawks and their alumni. 

My favorite “Chetism” was what he called Old Comiskey Park. He didn’t call it “Comiskey Park” or “Sox Park” He instead called it “The Old Roman’s Diamond Palace.” I had no idea what it meant but it was certainly unique and I got a kick out of it. 

One of my favorite “blooper” memories was when I had booked Byron Sanders, the running back at Northwestern, to be on Chet’s show. Somehow Chet got it in his head that we had Lions superstar RB Barry Sanders on the show.

So Chet goes through his big buildup/lead up which led into his first question which he presumed was for Barry. Barry says, “Hey Chet, this is Barry’s brother Byron from Northwestern.” Without missing a beat, Chet, who was not the world’s greatest ad-libber says, “Well Byron, if Barry were here on the phone how do you think he’d answer that?” 

David Kaplan, ESPN 1000/Chicago 

“I would not be in this business without Chet’s kindness and generosity. No Chance! I’ve never taken a class in radio or broadcasting in my life. Here I was this washed-up basketball coach who decided to start a basketball recruiting newsletter. I printed out the first edition and sent a few copies to Chet hoping for some publicity for the newsletter. That week I get a message on my answering machine, “David, this is Chet Coppock. I got your newsletter here and I’d like to see what kind of chops you have. So come on our show tonight and let’s talk basketball recruiting.”

Then there was one huge moment in 1989 and I remember it was a Tuesday night because it was two days before the start of the NCAA Tournament. One of my best friends in the world is Kevin O’Neill who was an assistant coach at Arizona at the time. He calls me and tells me that Michigan Coach Bill Frieder is going to be the next coach at Arizona State. The story didn’t make sense because Michigan had a great team and a shot to win the national championship. So I had to confirm the story.

Remember, this is 1989–no twitter, cell phones, or internet, but there was Northwest Airlines which had its main hub in Detroit. So I called them as Frieder. Sure enough, Frieder and his wife were on a 630am flight to Phoenix and the tickets were open ended–no return date was set. I also confirmed that the tickets had been paid for by ASU and not Frieder or his secretary. Boom I had a huge story.

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So I called Chet’s hotline and told the producer that I had to talk to Chet immediately. Chet picks up off the air and doesn’t believe the story. I tell him that I have the story confirmed and that I want to break it on his show. He agrees to put me on, with the caveat ‘If you’re wrong I’ll bury you in this town. Do you still want to come on?” I did and it was a huge story and helped me make a name for myself.”

Here are other memories from people who worked with Chet Coppock throughout the years:

  • Weezie Kramer, Chief Operating Officer, Entercom: “Chet was an original….in my mind he really invented the larger than life local sports personality. He was a head turner in his giant fur coat and always a fun listen…He will be missed.”
  • Tony DiGiacomo, PD of WFNZ in Charlotte: “I cut my teeth in this business being Chet’s Executive Producer at Sporting News Radio with Coppock on Sports Saturday and Sunday evenings for the network in Chicago. I am shocked and saddened at his passing. He challenged me to not only be a great producer, but to let my imagination and personality run wild. That’s how you make it in this business. I’ll be raising his favorite drink, a diet coke today in his honor.”
  • Ron Gleason, PD WBBM AM, Newsradio: “Chet was Unique. He was sports talk before sports talk became a giant entity both in Chicago and across the country. His show was different. It wasn’t a caller-driven show. It was guest after guest and every guest was his “good buddy!” He had a ton of unique sayings: “Big Rock Candy Mountain”, “Your Dime-Your Dance Floor”, “The Straw that Stirs the Drink”(about his EP). My favorite memory was from back in my days covering live sporting events. He would arrive, usually late, to the old Chicago Stadium for a Bulls or Blackhawks game. He was wearing a full length fur coat and would wave to sections of the crowd upon his arrival. They would say something nice or derogatory and he would just wave. He was very flamboyant and quite unique.”
  • Matt Nahigian, PD 95.7 The Game in San Francisco: “Chet is the reason I am in this business. As a kid I wanted to work for Chet and be Chet. He was Chicago sports. One of the best days of my career was when I found out I got an internship and I would be working on his show. The first day I get to the Hancock Building he said hey kid nice to meet you now go to the top floor of the building and get me 12 diet cokes and 6 apples. That was the first thing I did every day. I have 1000 stories, but they can wait. Thank you Chet, for taking me in and showing me the way. I’ll never forget the days I spent with you”
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In conclusion, I hope during this difficult time Chet’s family can look at the influence he has had on other people’s lives. He had a massive impact on sports radio, without really being a “major player” in what we would consider modern sports radio. Instead, he made his mark by influencing, pushing, and encouraging people who were passionate about our business.

Now in Chicago and all over the country there are PDs, talk show hosts, producers who are all in sports radio because of Chet. I never met him, never worked for him, but the influence of listening to his show during my formative high school years can never be understated. As Matt Nahigian aptly put it, we all “wanted to work for Chet and be Chet.”