Levine: Chet Coppock Left A Lasting Legacy

An icon in Chicago radio, Coppock died Wednesday at the age of 70.

Bruce Levine
April 18, 2019 - 4:01 pm
Categories: 

(670 The Score) The world heavyweight champion of sports radio is gone. My friend Chet Coppock has left me and countless sports fans a legacy of excellent work and memories to fill volumes.

Born To Be a Star would be the way his tombstone would have read if he wanted the common burial.

Chet was 12 days short of his 71st birthday when he left us on Wednesday. On April 10, Chet sent me a text.

"Hey pal, Tuesday meet me at the East Bank club where Billy Goelz will offer a lecture on the Cobra twist submission hold." 

Related: Listen: Dan McNeil Remembers Chet Coppock

This was the way Chet communicated with me when we would set up lunch each week at East Bank Club for the last 10 years. Goelz, a local wrestler in the 1950s, was one of the bygone names we would bring up from our childhood to make each other laugh. 

We did a lot of laughing, mostly at ourselves.

Chet was a huge talent with a sense of theatre and sensationalism few big-time media stars could match. He was a kingmaker in sports radio covering four decades of impactful fun. Industry giants Terry Boers, Brian Hanley, David Kaplan, Dan McNeil, Cheryl Raye Stout, Kenny McReynolds -- many, many more -- all were discovered and developed as radio personalities by Chet.

Nobody could sell an interview or make a Magic Johnson or a Bobby Knight more comfortable or relaxed when being interviewed like Chet. My friend read six newspapers a day in print and later online. He knew what he knew, and that included knowing the people in the game better than they knew themselves. 

I will forever be amazed at how he multi-tasked an interview. He would be on his tenth Diet Coke of the day and talking to his producer, while a guest was responding to a three-minute question he had asked. 

Chet was the ultimate sports fan and critic. He had a personal record of having attended every Chicago Bears opening home game since 1953. His father introduced Chet to the world of sports and celebrity at age four. 

Legendary Chicago broadcaster Jack Brickhouse was his godfather and mentor. Chet revered and loathed his father at the same time.

"He loved me but could never show that emotion," Chet told me many times about his dad during our hundreds of hours of conversation. "I promised myself I would always tell [his children> Lyndsey and Tyler I loved them."

Chet put me on the radio in 1986. He was on WMAQ and Cheryl Raye was the producer September 4th, 1987, when I broke my first major story. I told Chet and his audience on Labor Day that Cubs manager Gene Michael told me after the game he was resigning effective at the end of the season. 

The Cubs were blindsided by the news and I became Chet's baseball insider from that day on. I owe the early part of my humble career to Chet. He later went to bat for me with Larry Wert and Greg Solk when they started WMVP with owner Jimmy deCastro in 1993.

This short remembrance of Chet will not do him justice. He made tons of friends and he made his share of enemies as well. Some of the people he helped get started in radio stopped talking to him years ago.

Chet loved roller derby, boxing, and wrestling as much as he did the big four sports. He was a Roller Derby MC when a young kid from the Robert Taylor homes near Comiskey Park called Channel 32 sports, where Chet worked, and asked to find out about roller derby tickets being offered. 

Chet answered the phone. 

"I asked about the tickets and the voice on the phone said, 'You got them, kid,'" said Chicago Radio Hall of Fame broadcaster Kenny McReynolds, who was 10 years old. "I told him I live in the projects and have no way to get to the Hammond Civic Center. [Coppock> said, 'I will pick you and your mom up and you can go with me.' My mother prayed that this young white man coming into the ghetto in a shiny car and wearing a fancy coat would go unharmed while picking us up. 

"Chet picked me and her up and took us to the event. From that day on I had my heart set on becoming a broadcaster like Chet and a person who would give back to a stranger when I could like he did for me."

Chet wrote sports books in recent years and worked for the Blackhawks and Bears as an ambassador and historian. Chet owned 49 Chicago Bears tickets he dispursed every fall. He had as many as 100 in the 1980s. The Bears would often refer people to Chet if they were out of tickets for a big game. A generous man, he would always cooperate. 

My friend Chet Coppock won hundreds of awards but treasured his Hall of Fame honor in the Chicago Radio Hall of Fame as his greatest honor. He worked in New York as a national TV host and in Indianapolis in the humble beginnings of his career.

He texted me on March 10, the eve of his daughter's wedding.

"My beautiful daughter marries tonight," Chet wrote. "My emotions are about as confused as the Cubs college of coaches. I am spending the hour before the wedding calming my nerves watching Archie Moore fight Yvonne Durrell (in 1958 for the light heavyweight title) for the 77th time on YouTube." 

What a beauty Chet Coppock was.

Chet and I believed that the greatest event we ever attended was the Pat O'Conner-Buddy Rogers NWA wrestling championship "Match of the Century" at Comiskey Park on June 30, 1961, in front of 38,622 spectators. That attendance record stood until 1984. 

Keep in mind Chet and I both covered over 30 World Series, multiple NBA championships and NFL championships/Super Bowls, and tons of heavyweight title fights. Chet was 13 and I was 12. I had second-row seats that I waited in line for six hours downtown. Chet, of course, was in the first row.

"There was nobody like Chet Coppock," our broadcast friend and former colleague Marc Silverman said to me today. "Nobody."

Chet loved rock and roll and sports. We talked a ton of R&B and blues favorites. In January he took me to see the remaining version of the group Canned Heat. He turned to me and said, 'Geez, they are all dead except the drummer.'

I told him, 'Yes, but we are here to honor their greatness and the unique entertainment they gave us.' 

Today, I bestow the same honor to you, my friend.

Bruce Levine covers the Cubs and White Sox for 670 The Score. Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine​.