Les Grobstein, the longtime overnight host on 670 The Score and a Chicago sports broadcasting icon, died Sunday at his home in Elk Grove Village, the station announced Monday. He was 69.
“Our staff is devastated. Our audience lost a great friend overnight,” said Mitch Rosen, The Score’s operations director. “Les was a legend that will never be forgotten. He was a best friend to so many that knew him that he never knew. That’s the power of radio.”
Grobstein is survived by his longtime partner, Kathy, and son, Scott.
“The Grobber,” who had been off the air lately because of an illness, began working overnights at The Score in 2009, but his history in Chicago sports media goes back much further. He was a walking encyclopedia of local sports knowledge with a steel trap for a memory for the smallest detail.
“People talk about eating, living, breathing sports. He was married to this life, and nothing could come between them,” longtime Chicago radio voice George Ofman said. “He was like a savant. I sat next to him in press boxes for well over 30 years. Les was funny without being funny. He was everybody’s friend for those people who listened.”
“I used to ask him, ‘How can you do an overnight shift and be at all these games?’” former Chicago TV sports anchor Mark Giangreco said. “He just never slept. He goes, ‘I don’t need a lot of rest.’ He was just fueled by this obsession. It was his entire life. Every soundbite that everybody used on their show was prompted by a Les Grobstein question.”
The Chicago native graduated from Von Steuben High School and Columbia College and began his broadcasting career as a commentator for Northwestern basketball in 1970. He was a reporter for Sportsphone Chicago, the sports director at WLS (890-AM) and a reporter for WMVP (1000-AM).
Grobstein also was a broadcaster and public-address announcer for many defunct Chicago teams, including the Bruisers and Rush of the Arena Football League, and the Fire and Winds of the World Football League. He also was the voice of UIC hockey when it was a Division I program.
Ofman worked with Grobstein at Sportsphone, a pay service from 1977 to ’90 that provided callers with updated news and scores. Ofman remembers walking into the old office on the 31st floor of the John Hancock Center and seeing Grobstein eating Gino’s pizza and watching “The Three Stooges” seemingly every day.
“He knew all the lines, because that’s who he was,” Ofman said. “He was definitely one of a kind, one of the most unique personalities I’ve ever met.”
One of Grobstein’s claims to fame is having the only recording of then-Cubs manager Lee Elia’s infamous profanity-laced tirade on April 29, 1983, at Wrigley Field. Elia blasted Cubs fans who heckled the players that day, and Grobstein, then at WLS, recorded every word.
Giangreco was in the room that day with Grobstein and a few newspaper reporters. His cameraman recorded Elia’s rant, as well, but the video’s whereabouts are unknown. Giangreco, relatively new to town at the time, developed a bond with Grobstein.
“I am so proud that we will always be joined at the hip as the only two guys to get Lee Elia’s rant on tape,” Giangreco said. “We always joked we were the ‘72 Dolphins. Every year we celebrated the fact that we were the only two guys who got Elia’s rant.
“We had such a great relationship. I’m so honored to have known him. He’s timeless. Les was always gonna be at every single news conference, every locker room scrum, every major event.”
Grobstein became a major event himself before the Bears’ appearance in Super Bowl XX in New Orleans. During the weeklong run-up, local sportscaster Buddy Diliberto said on the air that he heard then-Bears quarterback Jim McMahon call the women of New Orleans “sluts” on a Chicago radio show. Grobstein had interviewed McMahon, but the “Punky QB” never uttered the slur.
“Les had to set the record straight,” Giangreco said. “We were interviewing him, 100 mics in Les’ face — it was so ironic — about him setting the record straight that McMahon never said that on his radio show. It was truly amazing.”
Diliberto and the station issued apologies, and Diliberto was suspended.
The Bears released a statement about Grobstein:
“We are deeply saddened to learn of the passing of our friend and 670 The Score radio host Les Grobstein. Les was a true media icon of the last 50-plus years, whose knowledge of Chicago sports history was unparalleled. Les was proud of having attended more than 100 Bears-Packers games in his time, his first coming in 1963, and he could recall it like it was yesterday.
“He was always a pleasure to chat with on game days, and anyone who had a conversation with Les walked away knowing more. On behalf of the entire Bears organization, we extend our thoughts and prayers to his family, especially his beloved Kathy and son Scott, friends and countless faithful listeners.”