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An Appreciation of 'The Big Whistle'

by Staff Writer / New York Rangers

'The Big Whistle' Passes Away at 94
Fischler: Chadwick Was Greatest Ref Ever

By John Halligan

The hockey world remembers Bill Chadwick as the one-eyed referee who made it to the Hockey Hall of Fame and invented and developed the system of officials’ hand signals that are now used around the world.

But many New Yorkers, myself most definitely included, will remember Chadwick as “The Big Whistle”, a beloved broadcaster who often mangled names, yes, but nonetheless delighted thousands of fans with his trademark calls and phrases both on radio and television for 14 seasons from 1967 to 1981.

Bill Chadwick, who won the respect of the hockey world as a ref, could entertain friends for hours with remarkable stories from his Hall of Fame officiating career.
I was there, home and away, for all those years. Despite a 25-year age difference, Chadwick and I became the closest of friends. Our wives did the same.

“Shoot the puck, Barry, shoot the puck!” Chadwick would often exhort Barry Beck, the Rangers’ big defenseman. “That guy handles the puck, like a cow handles a gun,” he would say about the mercurial Gene Carr. Or, in reference to many players: “He couldn’t put the puck in the ocean, if he were standing on the edge of a dock.”

“Chadwickisms,” I called them, and there were many others: “He skates like a cat in a marble hallway,” or “These guys are running around like ‘Singers Midgets,’” the latter a reference to a long-gone vaudeville act.

Chadwick’s broadcasting career, five years on radio with ace play-by- play man Marv Albert and nine more years on television with peerless Jim Gordon, is recalled with great fondness by Ranger fans of all ages. Fans often mimicked his trademarks, not in derision, but with respect and humor. Even Albert and Gordon, consummate broadcast professionals, adapted their personal styles to Chadwick.

Said Gordon: “I worked with dozens of color men over the years, but Bill Chadwick was the only ‘partner’ I ever had.” Said Albert: “Bill was hardly a textbook broadcast guy, but he certainly was unique. We had a great time together.”

One of Chadwick’s favorite names to mis-pronounce was that of Reggie Leach of the Philadelphia Flyers. Bill insisted on calling him “LEASH” instead of “LEACH”, and each time he said it, thousands of dogs in the Metropolitan Area would presumably respond by jumping up for a walk.

In the 1970s, the success of the Madison Square Garden Network gave Chadwick and Gordon a national audience of transplanted New Yorkers. A Bill Chadwick Fan Club sprung up in Hawaii. Once, the fans even came to Los Angeles to greet Chadwick and Gordon.

Bill was ecstatic about this, and gushed on the air: “They came to the airport and gave us leis.” Gordon calmly replied: “Careful with that one, Bill, microphones don’t come with erasers.”

Chadwick’s nickname, “The Big Whistle” owed its birth to Arthur Friedman, the Rangers’ long-time statistician, who had a great penchant for tagging hockey players and hockey lines (G-A-G Line, T-A-G Line, etc.) with colorful monikers.

“It was really a no-brainer,” Friedman recalled. “I mean, Bill had done so much as an official, and it just popped into my head one day. ... The Big Whistle.” Albert, Gordon, and long-time radio color man Sal Messina picked up the name ... and ran with it.

Chadwick loved the nickname so much so that he entitled his 1974 autobiography just that: The Big Whistle (Hawthorn Books with Hal Bock).

“The nickname was a God-send,” Chadwick often said. “Without Artie Friedman, my book wouldn’t have had a title.”

Chadwick and Gordon became two of the most beloved broadcasters in Ranger history, their popularity only matched in later years by that of Sam Rosen and John Davidson. “Jim and Bill were not an easy act to follow,” Rosen has said. “We knew that going in.”

On the air, Chadwick and Gordon were an incongruous pair. They brought an edge, a New York patois, to the broadcasts, Gordon from Queens, and Chadwick from Manhattan. “We were good, we were damned good,” Gordon said, “and solid friends away from the rink.”

That friendship extended to many of their colleagues, myself happily included, but also the producers, directors and technicians who worked the telecasts. Gordon and Chadwick made it a point, following games, to visit the control room and thank the men who helped get them on the air.

Over time, we developed a coterie, a traveling band of brothers that included “behind-the-scenes” guys such as Jack Simon, Herb Kaplan, John Calabrese, Joe O’Rourke, and Bobby Lewis. We met regularly over beers on the road, and at the center of it all was “The Big Whistle,” regaling us with  endless stories and filling the nights with laughter.

Chadwick was also a great boon to the Rangers’ public relations efforts, constantly appearing at functions to spread the hockey gospel.

“He loved that stuff,” recalled Emile Francis, the team’s long-time general manager and coach. “I mean, it had to be done, and you couldn’t keep asking the players to do it. Bill was a great ambassador for us.”

One of the groups Chadwick and I took a great fondness to was the New York City Police Department. That fondness eventually led to a high-spirited friendship with two of the top cops in New York, leaders in fact, of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association.

The two cops, both genial and collegial, were huge Ranger fans, and HATED the Islanders. In 1975, the Rangers were involved in a three-game playoff with the Islanders. The teams split the first two games. Game three was at the Garden on April 11. The city was in a hockey frenzy, nobody more so than the two cops.

“Let’s do something to (expletive) up the Islanders,” one of the cops suggested. “Find out what time their bus is leaving, and we’ll close the Whitestone Bridge, if you want. The Throgs Neck? No problem. We’ll have them sitting in Woodside or Astoria for four hours. They’ll never win after that.”

Did it ever happen? No. Could it have happened? You bet. All that was needed was a nod from Chadwick or one of his cadre.

Will there ever be another Bill Chadwick? Of course not. I’m just glad I was along for the ride the first time around.

(EDITOR’S NOTE: From 1963 to 1983 and from 1986 to 1990, John Halligan served the Rangers as director of public relations, business manager, and vice-president of communications. Both Chadwick, in 1975, and Halligan, in 2007, were honored with the Lester Patrick Trophy for their service to hockey in the United States.
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