There are now three full-time all-sports-talk radio stations in Chicago (the Score (AM 670; ESPN 1000: AM 1000; and The Game: FM 87.7) , and yet, even with 72 hours of sports programming to fill every day, not one of those stations has picked up the phone to ask the father of the sports-talk-radio-show in Chicago to contribute.
You may not have noticed, but he sure has. “I’ve obviously been blackballed,” says Chet Coppock. “Does it hurt that nobody has reached out to me? Absolutely.” It’s not like he has left the market. He still has his fingers in the Chicago sports-media pie. “I host the Blackhawks heritage series – appearances with stars like Bobby Hull, Stan Mikita, Tony Esposito, Steve Larmer, Denis Savard, guys like that,” he points out. “I host Notre Dame football at WLS radio. It’s my 9th year doing that, and I love that too. Win or lose Notre Dame is always a story. And I’ve become a semi-regular on Rant & Rave with Fox (Ch.32).”
But what he really wants is one more shot at the format he helped create. “I’d love to have another shot at sports radio,” he says, his eyes lighting up at the mere prospect. “I think it’s excruciatingly dull right now – I mean it’s never been this dull. ”
And the never-dull Chet has been around long enough to remember. His sports-talk-radio show began in the early 80s after Chet was let go from his television gig. “Carol Marin wanted me out of Channel 5,” he says now. “That’s the reason I was let go. Plus they had this good looking Italian kid (Mark Giangreco) making a fraction of what I was making working in the sports newsroom. So they farmed my contract out to WMAQ radio as part of the settlement.”
Chet convinced management to let him do a nightly sports-talk show. The show garnered enough of an audience that when the Loop was looking to start up a personality-talk station in the late ’80s, Coppock was asked to come aboard too. Coppock on Sports now had a substantial lead-in every single night: Steve Dahl & Garry Meier. But it was still just a program, not a format.
The landscape changed forever in 1992, when the Score was the first station to realize it could focus an entire radio station around sports-talk. “I was the very first person the Score tried to hire,” Coppock says. Chet turned them down and helped launch the Loop’s own attempt at a sports-talk station instead. WMVP (AM 1000) went head to head against the Score.
“What I admired the most about the Score in those early days was they knew they couldn’t compete with me as far as getting the big guests, so they invited everyone who was ticked off to vent on the air. They said, we are your open forum to express your anger. Where they did catch lightning in a bottle was hiring their midday show. I am number one as a solo act – I am Hulk Hogan, Mickey Mantle, George Halas and Joe DiMaggio as a solo act. But as a team – [Mike] North and [Dan] Jiggetts are bar none the greatest tag-team ever. They understood how do that kind of show, and ran with it.”
Chet went to New York to work in television for a while (“I always wondered if I could hang with the big boys, and I discovered I could”), but when he came back, things had changed in Chicago. He was no longer the big dog. “I was almost hired by the Score again in 1998, but word leaked, and (Chet’s former producer Dan) McNeil was quoted in the paper as saying ‘I’ll go to my grave before I work with Chet Coppock again.’ I remember thinking – Listen you SOB, I gave you your first job at the Loop. Why won’t you play ball with me?”
Fox Sports Net played ball with him for a couple of years (“the worst two years of my life”), and ESPN Radio (which is now on AM 1000) brought him in to host some shows there, but he left to join the ill-fated Web radio project with Mike North. When it blew up, he now had two sports talk stations in town that wouldn’t touch him. “The Web radio (Chicago Sports Webio) fiasco hurt me and probably burned my bridges with ESPN,” he admits. “I know I’ve burned a few bridges over the years. Anyone who works with creative tension, and who insists on winning, is going to burn bridges. But every station I’ve ever been with has made money with me.”
Which is why Chet was sure he’d get a call when WGN general manager Jimmy de Castro announced a third sports radio station was coming to town. Not only did Chet think of himself as a proven revenue generator, de Castro was the one who had hired Chet back at the Loop in the ’80s. Chet swears that is one bridge he never torched. “I’ve never had a conflict with him,” he says. “I’m Jimmy’s biggest fan. Nobody in their right mind bets against deCastro. It’s like betting against Secretariat. I love Jimmy. But I ran into him at the United Center about a year ago, and he said he would give me an audience, and he hasn’t. And that’s painful. That really hurts.”
Even though the phone isn’t ringing, Chet isn’t ready to hang it up. “I have no interest in retiring,” he vows. “What am I going to do? Move to Florida and wear white shoes and a white belt and go to the early bird specials on Tuesdays? I’ll never retire.”