Since 1979, the year the Carolina franchise joined the National Hockey League, Kaiton has been behind the microphone, representing the team to the radio-listening world. Since 1986 he has served as President of the NHL Broadcasters’ Association and is likely headed for the Hockey Hall of Fame.
Kaiton’s career began at the University of Michigan where he announced Wolverine sports during his collegiate years.
“I always wanted to do it, as a kid,” said Kaiton of sportscasting. “When I went to school at the University of Michigan I applied to work at the student station. It had various formats. You could do sports or disc jockey or whatever you wanted to do. So, I joined a sports staff my freshman year. It was on the merits system, so the more you worked the more responsibility you were given. By the middle my freshman year I got to do stats for the football broadcasts. That was a big thing.
“It ended up that a bunch of guys quit and a lot of things fell by the wayside," said Kaiton. "By my sophomore year at the station I was covering hockey and freshman basketball. So, before my junior year I was doing football, basketball and hockey all at the student station. Then, during my junior year, I was working at a commercial station in Ann Arbor. I got a job at a station, WPAG and then worked for WAAM my senior year.”
Following graduation Kaiton stayed with WAAM covering high school football and hockey. He stayed with the station until 1975 when, at 23-years-old, Kaiton began covering the Wisconsin Badgers.
In 1979 Kaiton was named Wisconsin Sportscaster of the Year and, by August, accepted another job – radio play-by-play announcer for the Hartford Whalers.
“They originally called me in ’78,” said Kaiton. “That was the last year of the World Hockey Association and I basically told them that I didn’t want to come work in the WHA because I had a feeling it was going to be folding. They said that even if it does fold our team will get absorbed into the NHL. We went back and forth on that issue and, I didn’t take the job. Another year went by and I stayed at Wisconsin. The next summer, they called me back - it was in August of ’79 – and offered me the same job again. And, I took it.
“When they joined the NHL in June of ’79 I remember lamenting a little bit going, ‘Jeez, did I blow an opportunity to go there or to work in the NHL?’ Low-and-behold, six weeks later the phone rang and they called me again,” recalled Kaiton. “It was unbelievable because I thought the guy who stayed on would have definitely stayed on and do the NHL. But, apparently he wanted to work in television, so the opening came back up again. As I understand it, there were three people they were interested in the second time around and I was the guy they hired.”
Since that time Kaiton has covered every moment of Whalers/Hurricanes action. He missed one game in January 1992 against the Minnesota North Stars to attend his father’s funeral.
“It was a good situation in Hartford,” said Kaiton. “Our family and friends were all up there. And, to be able to live in one place for as long as we did was real fortunate and kind of a stabilizing thing that a lot of people don’t enjoy in broadcasting. If you work in one aspect of broadcasting or another, you’re usually moving around from job to job in order to advance. Here, I was able to do what I wanted to do, broadcasting NHL games, and being able to live in the same place all of those years. It was a lucky thing.”
Kaiton and his wife Mary’s decision to move with the organization from Hartford to Raleigh in 1997 was, more-or-less, a no-brainer.
“It probably wasn’t as unnerving as it would have been if my kids were younger,” said Kaiton. “From a personal standpoint, the decision was fairly easy for us to stay with the organization because I still had time on my contract. I made a commitment to (Carolina General Manager) Jim Rutherford that I would stay if the organization moved. In the time that we were talking about moving we didn’t know exactly where we would be moving, but I did make the commitment that, no matter where it was, we would move.”
Kaiton said that the franchise and the situation have improved greatly since the team arrived in Carolina.
“From Day One here there have been tremendous improvements,” said Kaiton. “Going from a fan base of four-to-5,000 some nights in Greensboro when the whole situation was totally surrealistic. When you go from an area that has had hockey for a long time to an area that had never seen an NHL game before - a whole state that had never seen an NHL game before - it was really a contrast. It was almost too surrealistic to believe.
“Just the trips to Greensboro - for me an hour-and-twenty one way - was something that I just couldn’t believe was happening,” said Kaiton. “But, I really liked the arena and the broadcast location. Once you got into the atmosphere of a hockey game, it didn’t make any difference. It was all of the outside conditions leading up to playing the actual game that seemed strange and bizarre.”
Kaiton's 22 years with the organization are filled with memories. During 1979-80, his first season with the Whalers, the team fielded a squad including future Hall of Famers Gordie Howe, Dave Keon and Bobby Hull.
“One of the major things I remember are the associations with some Hall of Fame people that were with our organization,” said Kaiton. “Gordie Howe, of course finished his career with the Whalers and became a very good friend. Dave Keon who went onto the Hall of Fame, played for the Toronto Maple Leafs for many years and finished his career with us in 1981-82. He was another guy I am proud to say I got to know very well. And, Bobby Hull finished his career with us in 1980. Having those three guys around was real interesting. That was my first year and all three of them were on the same team in 1979-80. That was pretty thrilling for someone like myself who grew up in the six-team NHL really looking up to those guys.”
Kaiton, 49, and his wife have three children: Nelson, 24, Chuck, 22 and Russell, 20. Though his own children are grown, Kaiton still enjoys working with and watching youth and amateur athletics.
“I like watching kids play sports,” said Kaiton. “I get a terrific kick out of pure amateur sports whether it’s hockey or baseball or any sport. I like it when young kids learn a game and I like to be involved in the teaching of the game. I’ve done a lot of baseball coaching over the years and I’ve been a part of youth hockey as an advisor.
“I like to see games well coached and parents give a lot of positive influence on these kids,” said Kaiton. “I admire little league coaches who are good little league coaches and are not ‘Win at all costs’ type of people. People that really teach the game and teach how fun it is to play the game. It’s something that’s very important to me because I think that is what molds the way a person is going to grow up and have an attitude about everything, not just in sports. Whether it’s coaching kids or doing their job in a positive way, I think sports does a lot of good things for you. I like to see kids get a lot of positive reinforcement by playing a sport.”
Surprisingly, after 22 years of announcing NHL hockey, Kaiton has no plans to retire.
“I go from contract to contract,” said Kaiton. “I don’t take it year-by-year. More like two-or-three years by two-or-three years. I don’t want to retire at all. I’d like to still be working into my late 60s and 70s. I have a personal goal of mine that I would like to do 50 years of hockey. It’s something that not too many people have been able to accomplish - not in our business. I know some baseball broadcasters have and I really look up to them. I think it can be done in our game and I would like to be one of those that accomplishes that.”
Well, Kaiton’s nearly halfway to his goal and already he is a legend in both the hockey and broadcasting worlds.
Carolina Hurricanes Website Reporter Kyle S. Hanlin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.