It wouldn't be so outrageous to claim that Bob Chase-Wallenstein is to radio what Ed Sullivan was to television.
For the past six decades, the impact Chase has had in the entertainment industry at WOWO, a 50,000-watt station in Fort Wayne, Ind., has been widespread and inspiring. He's interviewed the likes of Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra, Bob Hope and Wayne Gretzky. He called the famed 1954 Milan High School run to the Indiana state championship that was later depicted in the movie "Hoosiers."
His approach and professionalism has had a profound effect on the career of many of today's great sports broadcasters, including Hockey Hall of Famer and respected play-by-play announcer Mike Emrick.
This year will mark the 60th straight season Chase, 86, will provide radio play-by-play for the Fort Wayne Komets of the Central Hockey League. When he began calling games for the Komets back in 1953, the Negaunee, Mich., native was just three months removed from college at Northern Michigan University.
"What I enjoy most about broadcasting is the fact it keeps me involved and I enjoy it immensely at the minor league level. I had a number of chances to go to the NHL, but it never worked out."
-- Bob Chase-Wallenstein
"Funny thing is, I had a degree in accounting and I minored in economics and speech," he told NHL.com. "I guess the only part that came in handy was speech."
On Monday, during the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame induction ceremony in Dallas, Chase, along with Washington Capitals executive Dick Patrick, will receive the prestigious Lester Patrick Trophy for outstanding service to hockey in the United States.
It's an honor Chase never dreamed possible.
"I never saw this coming, and when [NHL Commissioner] Gary Bettman called to tell me I would receive the award, tears started streaming out of my eyes and I had to ask him to give me about 15 seconds to compose myself," Chase said. "I kept asking myself, 'Is this really happening to me?' I just didn't know why, but it was, and I'll take it."
Chase will join four other media members previously honored with the Lester Patrick Trophy, which was presented to the NHL by the New York Rangers in 1966. The list includes broadcasters Dan Kelly, John Davidson and Emrick, as well as writer Stan Fischler.
"What I enjoy most about broadcasting is the fact it keeps me involved and I enjoy it immensely at the minor league level," Chase said. "I had a number of chances to go to the NHL, but it never worked out."
The Komets are probably thanking their lucky stars for that.
On the day he was promoted by Westinghouse Electric Corp. in September 1967 to sales promotion manager, Chase received a phone call from the Detroit Red Wings inquiring of his availability. But Chase would ultimately turn down the offer because "the last thing in the world I could say to Westinghouse was, 'See you tomorrow,' after they had just elevated me in the company."
LESTER PATRICK AWARD
Emrick owes start to Chase-WallensteinBy Mike G. Morreale - NHL.com Staff Writer
Hall of Fame broadcaster Mike Emrick is the first to acknowledge the help he got from Bob Chase-Wallenstein, who will receive the Lester Patrick Trophy on Monday. READ MORE ›
Four months later, it appeared Chase was headed to the expansion St. Louis Blues to provide radio play-by-play. He still recalls sitting in the office of Blues owners Sid Salomon Jr. and his son, Sid Salomon III, as they introduced him as the next radio voice of the organization.
Chase recalls famed St. Louis Cardinals broadcaster and Baseball Hall of Famer Jack Buck congratulating him and saying, "Chase, welcome to St. Louis. I'll do anything I can to make it easier for you and look forward to working with you. But I want you to know one thing. Keep your [bleep-bleep] hands off the St. Louis Cardinals."
A day after his introduction, the Blues contacted Chase and asked if he would be available to do play-by-play of the game between the Blues and Chicago Blackhawks the following evening. At the time, Chase hadn't yet completed his assignments in Fort Wayne.
"I was committed as sports director of the station [WOWO] at that time and was scheduled to do the broadcast of the Indiana State high school championships," Chase recalled. "There was no possible way I could have left then. When I called [St. Louis] the following week, somehow things had changed."
As it turned out, the Blues had hired Dan Kelly.
Chase was quick to point out boyhood idols and Detroit Tigers' legends Hal Newhouser and Dizzy Trout, as well as broadcaster Harry Heilmann.
"Heilmann was one of the greatest voices I've ever heard on radio and I enjoyed listening to him, but occasionally we'd get to hear Foster Hewitt, who was probably the standard for hockey broadcasting, worldwide, in his heyday," Chase said. "It was amazing how many people emulated him in their broadcast styles, but my voice wasn't the kind that would adapt to Foster's style."
It wasn't long after that Chase was hired by WOWO as the station's staff announcer and later, sports director. At the time, he never seriously thought it would amount to anything.
Prior to announcing games, Chase was told by the station executives that he needed to change his last name, Wallenstein, because it was too long. While he wasn't too keen on making a change, he was assured that he didn't have to make a legal switch; rather, just something short for promotional purposes.
"I told them I'd call myself Bob Chase," he said. "The station manager asked, 'Where the hell did you come up with that?' I told him to be careful because [Chase] was my wife's maiden name. My father-in-law had five girls and no boys, so the fact I would be able to carry on the Chase name put me in the driver's seat with him."
Chase admitted that his father-in-law so much wanted a boy that he even nicknamed his wife, "Murph." Even today, Muriel Chase-Wallenstein, his wife of 62 years, answers to the name "Murph."
"Once people meet her, they realize I'm not in a same-sex marriage," said Chase, who has four children, five grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.
In addition to his incredible success as a sports broadcaster at WOWO, Chase was also given an opportunity to interview many of the top celebrities during a period in time when the advent of television forced radio stations across the United States to adjust their formats to remain competitive.
He said his two most memorable interviews were Presley and Sinatra.
Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale