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April 25, 2019

REMEMBERING A CHICAGO LEGEND

By Jonathan Zimmerman

I know this is supposed to be a real estate blog, but I must make an exception this month and pay tribute to an individual who was a huge part of my childhood, one Chester William “Chet” Coppock.

For those not aware, Chet was the self-proclaimed “Godfather of Sports Talk Radio” and there really is no disputing this fact, as he flat out invented this genre at a time it did not exist. After successful stints as the producer of the 1971 NBA champion Milwaukee Bucks radio broadcast, sports anchor at WISH-TV in Indianapolis (where he proudly was voted as both the most and least popular broadcaster on local television) and lead national play-by-play commentator for the Roller Derby, Chet returned home in 1981 and became an icon in the Chicago sports scene. He established a heightened profile when hired as the sports director at NBC-5. After being fired there for “personality conflicts,” Chet transitioned over to WMAQ radio in 1983 and hosted Coppock on Sports, an in-depth, interview driven sports talk show. This was the first of its kind.

Chet hit the peak of his popularity when he moved Coppock on Sports over to the ever-popular Loop AM-1000 in 1988. His show was a who’s who of sports. If you were a big name, you just had to be a guest on Chet’s show. Supplementing his radio work was his starring role in WWF (before it was known as the WWE) events that frequently came to Chicago, as well as hosting shows with Mike Ditka and Phil Jackson. When the talk show ended in the mid-1990’s, Chet moved on to New York for a bit where he hosted the national NBA radio broadcast and did a live nightly television show. He eventually returned to Chicago and wound up his career by hosting Notre Dame radio broadcasts, doing work for the Blackhawks and writing several books.

After learning of Chet’s tragic and untimely death last week, it brought back a flood of memories. My friends and I listened to his radio show religiously and imitated him nonstop. Still do, to this day. So many of Chet’s patented lines became part of our regular vocabulary. Here are a few examples:

• You know you really made it when Chet referred to you by your full name: Michael Keller Ditka, Michael Jeffrey Jordan and of course, who could forget the General, Robert Montgomery Knight
• When you reached the pinnacle of your sport, such as winning a championship, you reached the top of the “big rock candy mountain”
• Everyone he interviewed was “his good friend” even if he barely knew you
• If you are the best in your field, you are the “creme-de-la-crème” and a top performance was “par excellence”
• Ready to go out and celebrate? Go out and “knock down some Drambuie”
• Whenever someone would call into his show, he would answer by saying “your dime, your dance floor”
• The Loop AM-1000 was a 50,000-watt radio station, or as Chet called it “the 50,000-watt blowtorch broadcasting over 38 states and Canada.” No one ever knew if this was true.

Chet was a master promoter and handsomely rewarded for it. Not only was he a spokesperson for Chevrolet, he would invite you regularly to visit Lawry’s Restaurant, home of the “spinning salad bowl” and Bigsby’s Sports Bar and Grill, where you can knock down the Michael Jeffrey Jordan 23-ounce steak.

He went through Diet Cokes like there was no tomorrow. You could often hear him cracking open several during a typical show (as well as occasionally munching on a sandwich). While blatantly eating dinner on air, he would toss out one of his patented lengthy questions which were often longer than the answers from his interviewees. To buy more time so he could finish up his meal, his follow up was always, “Can you amplify upon that?” That was code for, I need more time to finish up what I am doing behind the scenes.

Chet was the first to admit that he was a gimmick, but he was pure Chicago in every sense, from attending 68 consecutive Bears home openers to having legendary Cubs broadcaster Jack Brickhouse as the godfather of his daughter. There are not many 6’6” men who could pull off walking around in a full-length fur coat, but Chet was the one. It so fit his personality. If there ever was a real-life example of Ron Burgundy, he was it.

A few years ago, while at the Greektown Walgreens in the West Loop, I saw Chet there literally right in front of me. I so badly wanted to shake his hand and tell him how much I loved and admired his work…and I completely froze and said nothing. Boy, do I regret that now.

Chet, where ever you may be, I hope you are on top of the Big Rock Candy Mountain in the sky sipping on a giant glass of Diet Coke and knocking down a Michael Jeffrey Jordan 23-ouncer. Thanks for the memories.