The Journal Gazette
 
 
Wednesday, November 30, 2016 10:06 pm

'He was the genuine article'

Justin A. Cohn | The Journal Gazette

Bob Chase’s body lay in repose at the center of the ice surface at Memorial Coliseum – an honor never before bestowed – and an orange memorial light illuminated the "Radio Rinkside" booth nine stories above, from which Chase called so many Komets hockey games.

As thousands of people filed through the Coliseum to pay their respects to maybe the most recognizable man in Fort Wayne, who had one of the world’s most famous voices, it was amazing to think that this man, born Robert Donald Wallenstein 90 years ago, could so ably describe the goings on from so far away.

"It’s the ability to string together the words that very few people have," said Chase’s son, Kurt. "He was able to have the words that we all use and string them together to paint the wonderful pictures in your mind of what’s going on at the ice. It’s amazing, and there are so few guys who do it right."

For 63 consecutive seasons, Chase’s voice carried, via 50,000-watt WOWO radio, to listeners around the world. Because the WOWO signal was so powerful, reaching places where no other hockey broadcast was available, Chase was a pioneer and an ambassador for his profession before his death Thursday.

It was evident throughout the over 1,000 games I sat beside him; fans who had never before seen a hockey game would ask me to introduce them to Chase, a voice they’d happened upon, and stayed glued to, after fiddling through their AM radio dials. And it was evident Tuesday during the six hours in which family, friends, co-workers, players, coaches and admirers paid their respects.

Chase’s casket was surrounded by things extremely important to him – pictures of his wife, Murph, their eight grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren; a pin with the Komets’ famed fireball logo; a vintage WOWO microphone; an American flag; a photo of the camper in which he and Murph traveled the country.

Farther away were monuments less important to Chase but things that help people outside Fort Wayne better understand his significance, such as the Lester Patrick Trophy for contributions to hockey in the U.S.; a plaque for his inductions into the Northern Michigan University Hall of Fame; and the Key to the Fort given to him by Mayor Tom Henry.

Mike Emrick, the voice of hockey in America through his NBC broadcasts, was among the first to weave his way through the memorial. Current Komets players, donning black jerseys and ties, were followed by people such as legendary player Len Thornson and longtime International Hockey League Commissioner Tom Berry. Komets President Michael Franke had a letter from NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman in his jacket pocket.

While Chase is known primarily for his hockey broadcasts, which were verified as having reached Europe, he did so much more.

He was a naval cryptographer in World War II, before he came to Fort Wayne and took Murph’s maiden name for his radio moniker. He interviewed celebrities such as the Beatles and Elvis Presley and Frank Sinatra, called football and basketball games including the Milan game on which the movie "Hoosiers" is based, and he worked tirelessly to help raise money for charity.

"He was always willing to help anybody who wanted to go into broadcasting or, actually, anybody who wanted to do anything. If he could help you, advise you in any way, he would do that," Kurt said.

That’s what brought Terry Ficorelli, the broadcaster for rival teams in Muskegon, Kalamazoo, Evansville and Indianapolis, to the Coliseum.

"He was always smiling. He was always happy to see you, and I think he really led a happy life. He just really enjoyed what he did. He loved Fort Wayne, he loved the fans and he loved his family. But most of all, he loved the Komets and it showed with everything he did. He was the genuine article, which you don’t always see coming down the pike anymore," said Ficorelli, adding Chase gladly "showed him the ropes" when he still in college and calling Kalamazoo games.

Ficorelli so loved seeing and hearing Chase do his work that, when his own team’s season was over, he would drive in for Komets playoff games and get invited on the radio by Bob during intermission.

"What I always remember about those intermission opportunities with Bob is that all we would do is laugh," Ficorelli said. "We told funny stories until basically we ran out of time."

In August, while hospitalized with the congestive heart failure that would ultimately take his life, Chase took the time to call Ficorelli and congratulate him on getting a new job. That was typical Chase; no matter what was going on, he’d make everyone feel like they were important, like they had a story to tell and he wanted to find out that story.

For about 4,500 Komets games, Chase told the stories of what went on at ice level. The games will go on, but they will never sound the same.

jcohn@jg.net

 

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