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Sports media: Chicago media personalities reflect on late Chet Coppock

Chet Coppock is known in Chicago as the “Godfather of Sports Talk Radio.” He practically pioneered the industry with a flamboyance and bravado typically reserved for athletes, not the people who cover them.

But Coppock was more than a showman and a walking encyclopedia of sports knowledge. He sparked the careers of broadcasters on the air today. Countless young fans listening to “Coppock on Sports” enjoyed what they heard so much that they wanted to make it their profession.

The fortunate few who succeeded owe a debt of gratitude to Coppock, who died at 70 on Wednesday because of injuries suffered in a car accident six days earlier outside Hilton Head, South Carolina, according to a Facebook post by his daughter, Lyndsey. Information for a memorial service will be released when available.

Coppock, who grew up in Northfield and graduated from New Trier High School and Columbia College, became the lead sportscaster at WMAQ-Channel 5 in 1981 before his legendary radio career began three years later.

In 1983, WMAQ replaced Coppock with Mark Giangreco, who had been a reporter and weekend anchor for only a year. But Giangreco, who’s now at WLS-Channel 7, said Coppock couldn’t have been more supportive, despite the abrupt change.

“That was back in the day. I always tell everyone, the movie ‘Anchorman’ is not a comedy, it’s a documentary,” said Giangreco, who had stayed close to Coppock over the years. “Chet truly was the real Ron Burgundy. He was that personality.

“Chet was arrogant; he was bombastic; he was over-the-top; he was a showman. But he could have just as easily sabotaged me or ignored me, and he did nothing but support me and protect me. He was a mentor, and I’ll always be indebted to him.”

David Kaplan, who has turned into a multimedia mogul himself, was writing a high school and college basketball newsletter in the 1980s when Coppock helped him raise his profile by putting him on the air.

“There is zero chance I would be in the business if he hadn’t mentored me and given me opportunities,” said Kaplan, who hosts on ESPN 1000 and NBC Sports Chicago. “I will always hold a special place in my heart for him because I would not have this career without Chet Coppock.”

Brian Hanley, a former Sun-Times sportswriter, also got his start in radio thanks to Coppock. Hanley was hired as an original on The Score after station patriarchs Seth Mason and Dan Lee heard him on Coppock’s show while he was covering the Big Ten in the late 1980s and early ’90s.

“I’m forever indebted to Chet,” Hanley said. “It can’t be overstated, without his success, doing what he did, there couldn’t have been even one sports station in this town.”

Marc Silverman, co-host of the afternoon show on ESPN 1000 with Tom Waddle, said Coppock was the soundtrack of his youth and sparked his passion for sports radio.

“Meeting Chet Coppock was like meeting Michael Jordan because that’s who I wanted to be,” Silverman said. “When I listened to him, I’m like, ‘I want to do that.’

“The cliché Mount Rushmore of Chicago sports broadcasters, there’s no doubt in my mind he’s on it.”

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Coppock had his own language and sayings. He often greeted callers to his show with “Your dime, your dance floor.” The Bulls weren’t just playing at Chicago Stadium, they were “teeing it up at the big barn on Madison Street.”

“When I’d go on his show,” Sun-Times columnist Rick Telander said, “he’d introduce you with such embellishment that you thought you were the king of Egypt.”

Coppock had his own dress code, often appearing in a full-length fur coat. Not everyone liked his style, but they were in the minority.

“His shtick was endearing to me, but some people thought he was a cartoon character,” Hanley said. “But he played it. He was a great self-promoter.

“Everyone’s got a Chet impersonation and three to four go-to lines. That says something right there.”

Coppock loved to give nicknames. He called Cheryl Raye-Stout, his first radio producer, “The straw that stirs the drink.” But she said Coppock’s flair belied his deep knowledge.

“Chet could never walk in a room where people would not notice him,” she said. “He had a hand wave, and he said you had to wave to the whole crowd. That was him. He was bigger than life.

“But if you really look at him, he had quite the mind for entertainment, but also information. This façade of entertainment seemed to be shown more than what was really the depths of him.”

Coppock’s true love in sports was the Bears. His father, Charles, and Bears founder George Halas were friends since the 1920s. Charles worked the chains at games for Halas, and the two were business partners. Coppock was a child when he first met Halas.

Coppock was a longtime Bears season-ticket holder, and he was proud of his 68-year streak of attending the home opener (that’s not a typo). He also was the public-address announcer at Soldier Field in the 1970s. The Bears will leave a press-box seat empty to honor Coppock at the season opener Sept. 5.

But Coppock had an eclectic taste in sports. He loved boxing, roller derby and wrestling and announced matches for the World Wrestling Federation. Raye-Stout remembers giving away tickets to the WWF on the show, which led to Coppock’s ringside work.

“I look at him as being like a carnival barker of sports,” she said. “He could sell anything, he could do anything and he enjoyed it.”

“Anyone who gets into this business, if you’re vanilla, you’re never going to get to where you want to get to,” Kaplan said. “Chet understood that better than anybody. But when you are not vanilla, you are going to ruffle feathers. Your style is not going to be for everybody. And I think he was OK with that.”

Coppock wrote five books, and he had just finished another with former Bears wide receiver Dennis McKinnon. His latest, released last year, was titled “Your Dime My Dance Floor: Chet Coppock in Pursuit of Chet Coppock.”