White Sox Interactive's Exclusive Interview with CC
By Mark Liptak -- White Sox Interactive correspondent
Article published online at WhiteSoxInteractive.com in May 2008
The iconic Chicago sports on-air personality speaks to totally biased Sox Fans!
"How ya doin' everybody..." it's become his signature phrase spoken for almost forty years in the sports media business. Chet Coppock is one of the longest tenured members of the Chicago media, ranking right up there with the likes of Les Grobstein and Rich King. He's been colorful, controversial and a fixture on the scene of some of the city's greatest moments.
His resume makes one think that he's done practically everything there is to do in the business and then some. Coppock has worked in television as sports director at station WISH in Indianapolis and WMAQ in Chicago. He had his own TV show in New York. He was sports director at WMAQ radio where his "Coppock On Sports" show was on the cutting edge on the new field called "sports talk radio." He set up the Milwaukee Bucks radio network when they won the NBA title in 1971. He was the PA announcer at the Amphitheater for the Chicago Cougars of the World Hockey Association. He was the PA announcer at Soldier Field for the Chicago Bears. He was the national voice for the roller derby and was promoting "professional" wrestling events while in his early 20's. When the big fights rolled into town... from Muhammed Ali to George Forman to "Marvelous" Marvin Hagler and "Sugar" Ray Leonard, Coppock was at ringside with folks like Burt Sugar.
For the last forty years, if it happened in Chicago sports, Coppock has been there. He's part Bill Veeck, part Vince McMahon, part Bob Luce...that's a hell of a combination...and it has grated on some people, but make no mistake about this, Coppock knows his sports and his ability to interview those in the game is among the best anywhere at anytime.
Many of those great moments came in connection with the White Sox and on an afternoon in April, Chet spoke about those times and his memories of the South Side Nine...the great games, the great characters and of his own career that's like the Energizer Bunny, it just keeps on going.
My friendship with Chet has been on-going for over 35 years, since the time I decided I wanted to get into the business and introduced myself to him at a Cougars game. There's been stretches where we didn't keep in touch, of course, but that didn't mean I wasn't hoping he'd do well. Chet took the time to let a high school kid see what it was like to be a part of the action and his advice when I was first breaking into TV in Lexington, Kentucky is something I'll always be grateful for. Whatever you think about Chet, think this as well...there weren't a lot of people who would have taken the time to help a "nobody."
Mark Liptak: Chet to paraphrase comedienne Robert Klein 'you were a child of the 50's.' Tell me about growing up in Chicago.
Chet Coppock: "Well I know it's been a long way from where I grew up to today's dot com sites and e-mails! Seriously my parents moved to Northfield in 1948. At the time there were only about 300 people living in the town and it was really a kind of "Leave It To Beaver" existence. My dad was a tall guy who was a businessman and he was always impeccably dressed. He also had the ability to talk to people and people liked him. He made a lot of friends. I was three or four years old and there sitting in the living room were people like George Halas, "Red" Grange and Jack Brickhouse. I didn't know any better and I just thought this was the way for everybody."
ML: You mentioned the late Jack Brickhouse, a Hall of Fame announcer. I guess he was your mentor wasn't he, and the guy who introduced you to the world of Chicago sports?
CC: "Jack had a profound impact on me. He lived in Wilmette and was a frequent guest of my parents. As a young kid I was a big Chicago sports fan and Jack was the guy who nurtured that. He'd call up my parents and ask if I wanted to go to a game with him. So I'd meet him at say 10AM and we'd go to Comiskey Park or Wrigley Field. I'd sit in the booth off camera and just watch as he called the game. It was seductive, intoxicating to be a kid and see all this. I remember, I guess it was in 1958, when Jack interviewed Bob Turley on the 10th Inning show after a Sox / Yankees game and I'm sitting right there. That memory stuck with me so much that when a game worn Turley jersey became available, I bought it."
With Sox manager Tony LaRussa at Old Comiskey Park in 1983
"I think maybe I was the son that Jack never had. He was a great friend, he became the godfather to my daughter when she was born. He was very supportive in what I did and always gave great advice to me."
ML: What kind of advice?
CC: "That all this, everything that we do is entertainment...to never forget that and I didn't. I'll give you an example... in 1970 during the worst year ever in White Sox history, I'm promoting wresting matches involving Verne Gagne, Dick "The Bruiser", Baron Van Raschke and that group. We actually held matches at Comiskey Park. I know fans today wouldn't believe this so ask your parents! I helped promote them so well that they drew 27 thousand for it. That was the largest crowd to see anything in Comiskey Park that entire summer because the Sox lost 106 games and didn't even draw a half million for the season! And that all flowed back to Jack's advice to me."
"Jack and I actually had a falling out for a time. I always felt that he had a plan for me in this business and that he was going to help me when I needed it. He'd always talk to me about going to college and that if I got my degree, he'd pave the way for me here in Chicago. I was going to Columbia College here in town but I was also working at WFLD-TV as a sportswriter, working with Sox play by play guy Jack Drees, and I dropped out of school. Jack found out and he was absolutely furious with me. We didn't speak for a time but eventually we got back together and would go out to have dinner and talk."
"I think that there has never been a greater broadcaster in Chicago then Jack. And I say that because he wasn't just a sports guy, although remember he did the Sox for years, did the Cubs, was the first TV voice of the Bulls, did radio play by play for the Bears...that being said, Jack also would go to London every year because he wanted to take in some live Shakespearean theater. I actually was allowed by his family to take a few of his memorabilia when he passed away and one of the things I took was Jack's press badge at the 1948 Democratic National Convention. He covered politics! He also co-hosted a radio show with Eddie Hubbard where he had to be as adept at interviewing Richard Burton as he was with Nellie Fox."
ML: Do you remember your first Sox game?
CC: "Sure do. My parents and I went to a Sox / Yankees double header on a Sunday in 1956. I was eight years old and it was the day I learned about sex (laughing). My dad always had the ability to get tickets and we had four in the first row between home plate and the Yankees dugout. My mom was a lot younger then my dad, she was 33 when this happened and I saw the look on her face when Mickey Mantle stepped into the on-deck circle. It was like "oh my God...who is this blonde Adonis?" I never saw my mom look like that before... she was mentally undressing Mickey Mantle!"
ML: How about the 1959 season?
CC: "59 was bananas. What a year... we'd go to a home game every Sunday that season. My dad was crazy over the Sox. Somewhere in my files I've got a picture of me as a kid with Nellie Fox and Luis Aparicio. Then you've got the night of September 22nd when Vic Power hits that ground ball to Aparicio who fires to Ted Kluszewski and they get the pennant. Kluszewski was larger then life, he'd be comparable to a Hulk Hogan today."
"My dad and I went to each of the home games in the World Series for the Sox and to see "Big Klu" and the way he hit those home runs, that was something. Then 17 years later, I'm at WISH-TV in Indianapolis and Klu was the roving hitting instructor for the Reds. They had a farm team in Indianapolis and I got the chance to meet him and we talked about that series."
Interviewing Mohammed Ali shortly before reclaiming the heavyweight title over George Foreman in 1974
ML: When I first met you, you were doing the Cougar games and working at WFLD-TV doing the one minute news cut-in's at night. WFLD was still in its infancy basically at that time. Tell me about those days.
CC: "I got four tickets, dinner and fifty bucks a game from the Cougars which was good money in those days!"
"At WFLD I was hungry, I wanted to do anything that I could. I remember the entire news staff in those days was only 11 people. I volunteered for everything. I was a street reporter, I covered the famous "Chicago Seven" trial, I worked with Jack Drees. Finally they let me take a microphone and go on the air. I remember being at Sox Park on opening day 1969, having the chance to meet and interview Al Lopez. Today with the corporate structure and regulations there is no way a person, no matter how talented, would get the chance to do what I did at that age."
"As far as being in that cramped announcer's booth, the only thing that kept me sane at 1:45 AM Saturday morning was watching Jerry G. Bishop as "Svengoolie." (Author's Note: For those who don't remember, Bishop played the part of the hippie vampire "Svengoolie" the host of "Screaming Yellow Theater" on WFLD-TV. Bishop, a popular DJ at WLS radio during it's hey-day, was extremely talented, coming up with numerous skits, sketches and one liners. He also had celebrity guests drop by to sign the guest book and open his psychedelically painted coffin. Guests like Gabe Kaplan (Welcome Back Kotter), Jay North (Dennis the Menace) and "Super-Jock" himself, Larry Lujack. My lasting memory of the tour Chet gave me when I visited the studios in Marina City was getting to see "Svengoolie's" coffin up close and personal!)
ML: I happened to be in Chicago, the day that Sox 1st baseman Greg Walker collapsed in the pre game work out's, having a seizure, and turned on the radio and caught your "Coppock On Sports" show. I was working in TV in Louisiana at the time and they didn't have 'sports-talk' in the area. I was amazed at how good the program was. You had doctors on talking about seizure's, you had folks from the White Sox describing what happened on that field and what was going through their minds. It showed me that this was something different, something special and that talk radio didn't have to degenerate into screaming fits between hosts or between callers and the host.
CC: "First off thank you for the kind words. I appreciate that. The whole "Coppock On Sports" thing got started after I was fired by WMAQ- TV. They still owed me money on my contract and asked if I'd become sports director on the radio side and if I'd like to host a show. They originally wanted me to do the usual... take some calls and such and I said 'no,no,no. I don't want to say, 'here's Tom from Lincoln Park.' I said I wanted this show to be guest driven, I said I wanted to break stories and provide information. I'd interview four or five guests in an hour and it got a great response."
"The thing is, my philosophy on this was that I didn't care about the game itself that was just played, I wanted to find out about the human being, the nerves behind what it takes to play this game. Here's an example, a few weeks ago on my ESPN radio show I was interviewing Joe Horlen, the great Sox pitcher from those days in the 1960's when the Sox had the best pitching staff's in baseball... if they only had a few guys who could hit .290 they'd have beaten the Yankees for pennants... so I'm asking Joe about what it feels like to be on that mound pitching a no-hitter in the middle of a pennant race. That's the information I want to know and I think the listeners do as well." (Author's Note: Joe threw his no-hitter in the first game of a double header versus Detroit at Comiskey Park on September 10, 1967. Joe talked about that day and his White Sox career, in his interview with White Sox Interactive.
"I'm trying to get Tony LaRussa to come on in the future as a guest. I love Tony. In 1983 and the period he was Sox manager he'd go out of his way to be kind to me, do anything you want, just a tremendous person...but now he doesn't look like the same guy. He's bitter and I want to know what's wrong, what's happened."
"I think what we do at ESPN radio is tremendous, the staff there 'gets it,' they understand what this is about. People talk about ratings but I don't compete against other stations, I compete against myself. How can I make this show better? How can I do a better interview? I was the first guy that WSCR radio tried to hire when they went to a 'sports-talk' format. I love working weekends because it gives me time during the week to do other things." (Author's Note: Chet is also the host of the Notre Dame football pre and post game show, is involved in a number of charity events throughout the year and is a highly sought after speaker.)
Joe DiMaggio at Old Comiskey for MLB's fiftieth anniversary all-star game and Chet is there to interview him!
ML: A lot of Sox fans and frankly some in the media talk about a "Cub media bias" in Chicago. When I was growing up, the Sox were the ones who dominated media coverage because they had 17 straight winning seasons, they were in the pennant race consistently and they had a number of nationally known players. The Cubs had Ernie Banks and a bunch of losses every year and the overall coverage reflected that disparity. That's completely changed today according to many. Is there in your opinion, a media bias for the Cubs and against the White Sox regardless of how the clubs perform on the field?
CC: "I think so. I think there is a media bias. Remember, never underestimate the influence that the Tribune Company has in all this. John McDonough revolutionized marketing in pro sports, he put the Cubs in the position they are in today. I think when the job came open with the Sox, they should have done whatever was needed to get him there, you know he's a big Sox fan, and I say that with all respect to the job that Brooks Boyer has done in that position."
"It's unfortunate that the old ideas die hard, the old ways refuse to leave. There is still a perception that U.S. Cellular Field is in a rough part of town, that it's unsafe in many ways to see a game there and that's absolutely ridiculous."
"That's one thing about Ozzie Guillen as Sox manager, regarding the 'media bias.' I bet you whatever you want, that Ozzie is disrupting more news departments then anyone in Chicago. He's forcing news director's to pull guys off covering an accident on the Dan Ryan or a five alarm fire or sometimes the Cubs, because they can't afford to miss covering him and seeing what might happen next! I mean just last week he makes Puerto Rico mad, he gets tossed out of a game and he goes off on a home plate umpire."
"Talking about those old perceptions, that's another area that Jack Brickhouse has never been given enough credit for. When you think about how racially torn Chicago was in the 1960's, how divided everyone was and then remember that everyday Jack was on TV talking about players like Walt Williams, George Altman, "Chico" Carrasqual, Luis Aparicio and saying these are good people, these are people who you'd be proud to have in your homes. Jack did so much to help close that racial gap in Chicago, I'd say almost as much as Dr. King...maybe more."
ML: Technology has changed the face of covering sports. From the internet, to blogs to small satellite dishes to Superstations to on line video and audio just to name a few things. Geography is no longer an issue when it comes to being a sports fan or a fan of a particular team. I live and work in Idaho, yet I get WGN on the satellite, I get Sox games through my computer and I read all the Chicago newspapers daily on-line. Do you recall the first time when you pondered the technology question and how it could shape reporting sports?
CC: "It was the day the Bears fired head coach Neill Armstrong. It was in early 1982 and it was cold and my news director was pissed off because we didn't break the story first. We had Vince Evans and Noah Jackson on live at 5:20 and then had Hall of Famer George Conner on at 6:20. I remember thinking that evening that everybody has heard by now in some way, that Armstrong got fired...now what do we do? You had to start looking at things from a second day's perspective or from next week's perspective that same day. How does this affect the Bears? Who do they interview and hire? Get the 'second day's' story now. That's especially true today in the dot.com era. If you're in local sports you better have a second day's story ready and you better have an opinion on things."
"As far as the future, I've already had the G.M. of one Chicago team tell me that in five years the TV stations in Chicago will no longer be doing any sports coverage on the newscasts. That's because they felt stations won't want to pay sports guys a half a million a year when fans can get the same information on-line. You'll have the news anchors give a few scores and that's all."
ML: Before this interview was conducted I sent you some historical material from out of my library. Things involving your friend Jack Brickhouse and things that were going on at WFLD-TV when you were working there in the early 1970's. Watching those videos, did that cause you to reflect on those times, on your career, on the business itself?
CC: "Of course. I remember thinking as I watched them how blessed I've been to be in this business. I'll be turning 60 years old next year and most of my life has been spent doing this. I've seen the business evolve and I was just so fortunate to come along at the time I did. It would be impossible today for a young person to be allowed to do what I was doing when I was 20."
"I don't think any person then or now... any broadcaster, ever got into this business for money. You do it because you love sports, you love the excitement, you love being around the games. Mark I remember thinking, when I was making 80 bucks a week at WFLD-TV, that if somehow, someway, I could make 20 grand a year doing this stuff I'd be satisfied."
Chet with WWF wrestling champion Hulk Hogan, flanked by champ '85 Chicago Bears Jim Covert and Otis Wilson in 1987
"And it becomes a part of you. Everyone in this business has a little bit of an ego sure but more then that your identity is wrapped up in this business. I can only imagine that Steve Stone when he was out of covering baseball for the most part, the past few years, probably felt empty. Steve wants to be at the ballpark, he wants to be identified in some way with the game, he's addicted to the game and he's a brilliant analyst of the sport. It's what he does best. Speaking of Steve, kudos to the White Sox for an absolutely brilliant hire."
ML: As someone who has been around Chicago sports as long as you have and somebody who has seen, I guess, just about every announcer come and go since the mid 60's, who do you think is the best sports person in Chicago today, and you can't name yourself! (laughing).
CC: "It's "Hawk" Harrelson. Hawk is the only guy who deserves to be put on the same level as Jack Brickhouse and Harry Caray. I know in the 9th inning of a game where the Sox are losing 11-2, Hawk has a tendency to bail on the broadcast, but putting that aside, he's a fabulous listen. He makes the game fun and again I say that with all due respect to the other announcers in town. Hawk is the only announcer of the 'modern' era who measures up with Harry and Jack in my opinion"
"That first year with Darrin Jackson in the booth, it was a nightmare. But over time, the two have gotten better. The patter between Hawk and D.J. now is just great."
"I'm sure in a few years when Hawk decides to retire that first year is going to be tough on him. Like with Steve Stone he loves being around the ballpark, he loves doing the charity events for the Sox... the golf tournaments. When he's around the game he's 'the Hawk' when he's not, he's just 'Ken Harrelson', southern boy."
ML: Chet as we wrap this up how about some of your favorite White Sox stories or memories from over the years?
CC: "In the early 70's Dick Allen had just hit a 9th inning home run to win the game and we're in the locker room afterwards and a reporter asks Dick, 'how do you feel?' Dick is standing there smoking a Camel and he smiles and says, "I just don't like working overtime!" (laughing)
"As far as my favorite Sox memories I'll have two that I'll take with me to my grave."
"The first one was the 1983 baseball season. Going to the park was delightful that season and in the second half we were out there for a live shot every day the Sox were at home. The club was rich in characters who enjoyed playing the game."
"As you know they had a miserable start and in May I thought, probably like you, that they were in real trouble. It wasn't a secret that Eddie Einhorn wanted to fire Tony LaRussa and that almost happened, but then Tony put Carlton Fisk in the 2nd spot and Roland Hemond made that brilliant trade to get Julio Cruz and they took off. "
"That was a different time. Like I said, we'd be out at the park everyday and we never called in advance to get anything lined up. We'd show up and ask if we could talk to someone, anyone...very spur of the moment and it was never an issue. The Sox would say, 'sure...who do you want "Bull" Luzinski? Ron Kittle? LaRussa? Fisk?"
"I'm convinced that if somehow the Sox had gotten a run for Britt Burns in game four of the ALCS, that the next night nobody on God's green Earth was going to beat LaMarr Hoyt. The Sox would have gone to the World Series and they would have beat the Phillies to win it."
"To me I have a bigger affection for the 1983 White Sox then I do for the 1985 Chicago Bears and you're talking to a guy who next September, will be attending his 59th straight Bears home opener! The Bears that year were fabulous but it was only one game a week, that White Sox team was every day in a six month season."
"The other memory was going to game two of the 2005 World Series with my daughter. It was a cold, rainy night and she was asking me if they'd even play the game. I said sure, it was a World Series, they'd play it at five in the morning if they had to. So we're at the game and it's getting late and my daughter asks if maybe to beat the traffic, we should leave. I said no, that she needed to stay here and savor every moment because this might never happen again in her lifetime. Then Scott Podsednik of all people, hits the home run to win it and the ballpark just rocked!"