It was 2002 and your humble editor was the producer of the Sports Revolution, the sports talk show on WKNC at NC State. I had responded to a posting looking for someone to help out with the show and, realizing that chances were decent I would eventually go into some sort of broadcasting, figured that this would be a fairly good way to get into the industry — at least, to figure out if it was something I wanted to do as a career.
A couple of months into the show, I had a pretty good idea of the rules and expectations of hosts and producers, and one day I suggested that we try to get Carolina Hurricanes radio broadcaster Chuck Kaiton as a guest on the show. So I emailed that famous email address, Chuck-and-the-letter-K at carolinahurricanes.com, introducing myself and asking if he would be willing to do it. He graciously agreed, and needless to say I was a little — correction, a lot — intimidated.
My lasting memory of that interview? I didn’t know how to put a caller live on the air, and as a result my first introduction to the at-the-time future Hall of Famer Chuck Kaiton was him going all Verizon-guy on me: “Hello? Are you there? I can’t hear you. Can you hear me?”
The news that hit Tuesday morning, Luke DeCock reporting that Chuck Kaiton would no longer call Hurricanes games after being a part of the franchise’s history for 38 seasons, its entire tenure in the NHL, was not wholly unexpected. In fact, given what we knew about the negotiations of Chuck’s new contract as reported by Luke over the past couple of months, it probably would have been more of a surprise had he returned for a 39th season behind the mic. Tom Dundon is going to take plenty of flak, a good bit of it deserved, for failing to come to terms with a legendary part of the franchise, but this day was coming one way or another.
Chuck was a defiantly old-school broadcaster, a throwback to the old days when voices like Dan Kelly, Fred Cusick, Rod Phillips and Al Shaver were the soundtracks to their teams’ games. Many of his contemporaries - Mike Lange, Bob Miller, Jim Robson - made the jump to television, but not Chuck. He was a radio guy through and through, in his blood dating to his days at the University of Michigan. For 30-plus years he has served as the president of the NHL Broadcasters’ Association, and his 2004 Foster Hewitt award, enshrining him in the Hockey Hall of Fame, was a recognition of the high stature he had earned throughout the game.
And as for those famous Kaiton pronunciations — sam-SOH-nov, koh-VAHL-yev, the rolled R in “Frantisek” - well, the man literally wrote the book on them. The NHL’s official pronunciation guide was for many years co-authored by Chuck and Mike Emrick, both Midwestern kids whose love of the game and steadfast commitment to accuracy formed a natural bond.
Yes, he could be crotchety, in the way so many broadcasters can be. Chuck was never one to keep quiet when something new wasn’t better. Perhaps nothing drove him as batty as when a puck would freeze between two players along the boards and the referee would insist that play continue rather than stopping for a faceoff. Every time that happened, Chuck turned into the cantankerous uncle whose burger was cooked too much on the grill but, since you couldn’t uncook it, dealt with it but made sure everyone knew that it was wrong. He might have been a grouch at times, but he was our grouch, dammit.
All of the above certainly held sentimental appeal, but in Dundon’s new world order where collaboration is the rule of the day, a radio-only fixture - even one as highly regarded as Chuck Kaiton - became an anachronism.
He was a company man, always loyal to his team or franchise, but he went beyond that. Chuck embedded himself into the fabric of the team, no matter where he was. How else could a Michigan man be recognized as the state broadcaster of the year - in Wisconsin? Or, more poignantly, listen to his sign-off from the Whalers’ final game in Hartford, a heartfelt tribute to fans who he had regarded as family during his 18 years in Connecticut.
And, true to form, the Kaiton’s Corner segments in the second intermission of every Hurricanes game for the past 20 seasons provided a way for Chuck to evangelize to a new audience. He may not have wanted to leave Hartford, and he almost certainly would have wanted nothing to do with the Greensboro sojourn if given the choice, but he made the best of it.
Chuck deserved better from the Hurricanes, and the true tragedy in all of this is that he won’t get the send-off that a broadcaster of his stature and reputation deserves. But the broadcasting environment of 2018 is a place where new, shiny things become part of the environment every day. John Tortorella’s famous maxim “Safe is Death” rings true here. Chuck was as safe as safe could get in an industry that is undergoing radical change, and that proved to be a mountain too high to climb for Dundon to overcome.
Few who heard it will ever forget Chuck’s magnum opus, his famous call of the empty netter that clinched Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final in 2006. I can still hear it in my mind and it gives me goosebumps just typing it up:
Puck bunted down. Hurricanes steal. Staal gets it up the middle to Williams, he’s walking in on an open net and he won the Stanley Cup!
Justin Williams has won the Stanley Cup for the Carolina Hurricanes...in all likelihood!
Those last three words are often overlooked when recounting that famous play, but they’re the essence of who Chuck Kaiton was as a broadcaster. There was still a minute left to go when Williams scored, and anything was possible. (Ironically, Chuck would call one of those lightning-bolt finishes himself three years later, when the Canes stole Game 7 from the Devils in the 2009 first round, further enhancing his credentials as a wise sage.) That’s Chuck in a nutshell: passion, enthusiasm, and an unbending commitment to professionalism and accuracy.
Hurricanes games will be lesser without the historical insight of Chuck Kaiton. John Forslund is a more-than-capable replacement for Chuck, and he will do an admirable job making the simulcast work next season. But something will be missing from the fabric of the Carolina Hurricanes when October rolls around. Even if it was inevitable, it didn’t have to end this way.
Hopefully, the hard feelings will dissipate, and Chuck will return for one final appearance, this time with a banner bearing his name and a microphone raised to the roof of PNC Arena. Time marches on, and like those names from years gone by, Chuck Kaiton will be remembered among hockey fans for generations to come as a true professional who did it his way, compromising nothing along the way.
Happy trails, Chuck, and thanks for everything.
Tuesday afternoon, the Hurricanes released a statement on the departure of Chuck Kaiton after 38 seasons.
TEAM STATEMENT ON DEPARTURE OF CHUCK KAITON
Long-time radio broadcaster will not return for the 2018-19 season
Don Waddell, President and General Manager of the National Hockey League’s Carolina Hurricanes, today issued the following statement regarding the departure of Radio Play-By-Play Broadcaster Chuck Kaiton.
“After a series of discussions with Chuck and his representation throughout the summer, Chuck informed us today that he will not be returning as our radio broadcaster,” said Waddell.“We thank Chuck for his service over 38 seasons and appreciate everything he has done to represent this franchise for such a long time.
“As for the future of our radio broadcasts, we are exploring our options, especially the possibility of airing the audio from our FOX Sports Carolinas television broadcast. John Forslund is one of the top play-by-play men in our sport and we are confident his call will sound terrific on the radio as well.”
The Hurricanes’ flagship radio partner is 99.9 The Fan, and their television partner is FOX Sports Carolinas.