This could be the toughest assignment for any writer: do justice to Bob Chase’s incredible career in a few paragraphs.
Chase has been the voice of Fort Wayne Komet hockey since the Eisenhower administration, broadcasting hockey games for all but the first of the storied franchise’s 59 years.
Chase originally envisioned a career in economic development in the mining country of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, but a miner’s strike inadvertently sent Chase to a fallback job as a radio announcer.
“I never dreamed I’d be involved in radio,” he said.
Chase had played a little minor-league hockey before enlisting in the Navy and serving in the Pacific during World War II. That athletic background came to the fore when the sports director’s job at WOWO-AM came open soon after Chase moved to Fort Wayne in 1953.
“Four months later, all of a sudden I’m the sports director of a 50,000-watt AM station. And ever since then, it’s been go, go, go,” he said.
“I guess I was a natural gabber. Words came easily to me; I could describe things readily. When I got started, my father was my worst critic. ‘When you look at something, tell it like you see it. Don’t try to be fancy. Whatever you see, let it come out the way it is, and for heaven’s sake, tell the score enough times.’”
Chase turned down chances to call hockey in National Hockey League markets in Detroit and St. Louis, preferring the small-town feel of northwest Indiana.
“I really never worried about going to the top. Fort Wayne’s a great city. I had a nice home, a great family. And I got to do every sport there was.”
That included 33 years calling the Indy 500 and Indiana state high school tournaments, including the famous 1954 finale between tiny Milan and Muncie Central that inspired the movie “Hoosiers.”
“I did that game. It was one of the worst games I ever saw,” Chase said.
Chase said Milan’s star, Bobby Plump, stood at center court with the basketball under one arm for more than 4 minutes late in the game.
“Nobody came out to get him, and I kept thinking, ‘This is basketball?’ And boy, was that a difficult one to describe,” Chase said.
Chase continued to play exhibition games and was on the ice in 1956 when the Komets played against the U.S. Olympic team that eventually won gold in 1960.
Chase counts NHL greats Bobby Orr, Wayne Gretzky and Gordie Howe as friends. He helped longtime New Jersey Devils voice and NBC and Versus announcer Mike “Doc” Emrick hone his skills.
As a disc jockey in the golden years of rock ’n’ roll, Chase earned a rare interview with a still-up-and coming Elvis Presley in 1957.
Chase plans to continue calling games for the Komets as they celebrate their 60th season next year and his own 60th year at the mike the following season.
“I don’t know whether I’ll be around for it. I’m 85. My wife, she’s 87. We just have wonderful health; thank the Lord for that. And it’s just a lot of fun,” he said.
Chase doesn’t know how he would handle retirement, anyway.
“I don’t know how I could stay in Fort Wayne all winter and watch the Komets and not talk about it.”