Chet Coppock was a giant of sports broadcasting in Chicago for nearly four decades.
From his first big job in town as the main sports anchor at NBC-owned WMAQ-Channel 5 to his latest gig as a weekly contributor to Mancow Muller’s morning show on Cumulus Media news/talk WLS 890-AM, he relished his role as a larger-than-life personality.
His death at 70 Wednesday from injuries sustained in a car accident near Hilton Head Island, South Carolina, elicited an outpouring of accolades and anecdotes from countless fans, friends and colleagues.
Many cited “The Godfather of Sports Talk Radio,” as he was known, for his pioneering work as host of “Coppock on Sports” on stations across the radio dial. Others told of his passion for his profession (and especially the Chicago Bears), his mentoring of up-and-coming sportscasters and his efforts on behalf of numerous local charities.
Truth be told, no one loved talking about Chet Coppock more than Coppock himself. In interviews with me over the years, the unabashed showman revealed himself with remarkable candor and self-awareness.
In his own words, here are some highlights:
On his legacy: I’m the first to tell you, and you can put this on my tombstone: Love me, hate me, but please react to me. . . . How many people in this town do make people react? There are not too many who do.
On his reputation: I’m not a carve artist. I did not earn my rep in this market by opening up people’s gullets and splashing their intestines all over Michigan Avenue. That was never the game. With me, the game was always trying to climb inside the cranium, get to the nerve endings and find out what was making them cook. . . . Sure I ask tough questions like anyone else does, but I’m doing it in a manner in which it’s fair, and I’m not doing it trying to knock the guy’s teeth into the street.
On his start: I was on the air as a reporter at WFLD in 1969. My first on-air exposure. I was 21 years old. I was doing pure sports reporting. Chet Coppock was a copy boy, ran a camera, was a floor director and went out and did interviews.
On his style: I’m the first to admit that someone can look at Chet Coppock and go, “He’s a big overgrown hustle.” Let’s face it: A lot of my track record lends itself to that. I’ve done the Roller Derby. Hell, I’ve done WrestleMania. But that’s me. Ultimately, I think it’s probably not going to strike people as being that unusual that one of my great unfulfilled dreams is to work in a carnival. I’ve always wanted to spend a summer with the circus being a barker and trying to hustle people to come in and watch the bearded lady and the headless man.
On his ego: I refer to Chet Coppock in the third person all the time. I probably have come to grips with my own alter ego, if you will. My alter ego being myself. I’m very comfortable with Chet Coppock. I really am.
On his use of language: Cliches, for whatever reason, are part of my personality. It’s not something I consciously reach out for. . . . I’ve always had an enormous impact with blacks. I think blacks hear a kind of funky, super-charged delivery with a lot of cliches that they kind of relate to [as] sort of street-type rap language. As a result, they kind of get off on that.
On publicity: I like to see my name in the paper because it’s a way of making a statement that you must be doing something right. Am I going to sit here and lie to you? Hey, listen, I love to have a microphone in my hand, I love to speak in front of an audience. It’s only natural that I love to see my name in print.
On his bling: People laugh at me because I wear a gold bracelet and two gold rings and a lot of jewelry and I like to wear flamboyant clothes. But I’m comfortable with all that. That’s the main thing. A lot guys do it and I don’t think they’re comfortable with it. But in my case, I’m comfortable with everything I I do. And I can live with it.
The last word: Life has been pretty good to me. I’ve had a lot of fun.