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McGRATH: Chet Coppock still within broadcast range

Coppock (air 1992) will be honored with lifetime achievement award from ChicagolSports Hall Fame September. | File

Coppock (on the air in 1992) will be honored with a lifetime achievement award from the Chicagoland Sports Hall of Fame in September. | File

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Updated: May 18, 2013 11:02PM



Before their clumsy misstep Saturday, the Blackhawks had rolled into the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs with a swagger that underscored their championship aspirations. The Bulls were exposed in the second round of their playoffs, the satisfaction of overachievement diluted by conflicting feelings over Derrick Rose.

As controversy over Wrigley Field renovations simmers, the sacred ballpark’s tenant looks less shabby than had been feared. The White Sox interrupted their freefall with two — two! — Adam Dunn home runs.

DePaul is abandoning distant, depressing Rosemont for a mystery site that’s still six miles from campus. The Bears — the Bears! — staged OTAs under a new coach and with a recent first-round draft choice home pouting.

Plenty to keep a sports fan occupied. A sports-talk radio host should be feasting off this menu. And the godfather of the genre in Chicago, one of the most distinctively quirky voices in the city’s luminous broadcast history, is holding forth before an audience of one.

‘‘Do I miss it? Sure. Absolutely,’’ Chet Coppock says during a chat at his downtown health club. ‘‘If I had a show to do at 3 p.m. today, I’d be on the phone at 8 a.m. lining up guests.’’

An airwaves fixture since the mid-’70s, Coppock hasn’t had a daily, mainstream gig in his hometown in nearly a decade. But he remains a presence here; a club attendant has his newspapers waiting when he checks in at the front desk. He is shown to a regular table in the restaurant, where patrons greet him and seek his counsel . . . for informational purposes only.

‘‘Fourteen is a pretty generous spread on the Bulls tonight,’’ he tells one.

Now 64, Coppock says he’s ‘‘as busy as I want to be,’’ with participation in the Blackhawks’ Heritage Series the centerpiece of a schedule that includes Notre Dame pre- and postgame shows, commercial work and involvement with Newsbox.com, a website offering commentary and videos on various topics amid a heavy dose of high school hockey.

A guest shot on a Philadelphia radio show that morning reinforced his standing as a Chicago sports authority. The Blackhawks have tapped into his encyclopedic local knowledge.

‘‘I was 9 years old when I first saw Bobby Hull play, and now I’m 64 and doing banquets with him,’’ Coppock says. ‘‘It’s fun.’’

Chet Coppock is the type of guest Chet Coppock would have lined up for ‘‘Coppock on Sports,’’ the long-running, multi-station talk show that best defines him in the Chicago market — more than wrestling, roller derby and all the other entries on his résumé, off-beat and otherwise.

‘‘My shows were guest-driven — we’d have 12, 14 guests some nights,’’ he recalls. ‘‘I didn’t want phone talk. I’d rather provide good guests and good conversation for listeners to enjoy.’’

Talk radio today is more caller-driven. Coppock doesn’t consider it easy listening.

‘‘If you’re disenfranchised, hate your job, mad at the world, getting divorced, come fly with us — we’ll tap into your inner hatred,’’ he says. ‘‘I get very uncomfortable hearing a radio host beat the hell out of a caller just because he disagrees or expresses a different viewpoint.’’

Perhaps it’s the resentment of an exile, or an old-timer, but Coppock believes talk radio — all radio — was better in his day.

‘‘There isn’t much I hear that I find engaging, intriguing or thoughtful,’’ he says. ‘‘Why is Dan Bernstein so hateful? In his heart of hearts, I think he wants to be Jay Mariotti. Dan McNeil should be flying solo — Matt Spiegel doesn’t bring much to their show. Carmen De Falco is miscast. He should be a TV anchor. If I were Channel 5, I’d hire him for 6 and 10 o’clock right now. Marc Silverman has potential — he’s more sensible than most of them. Laurence Holmes should be working in Evansville, Indiana.’’

All that said, Coppock is proud of the number of careers he says he helped launch, partly as payback for the mentoring he received from the great Jack Brickhouse, a longtime family friend.

‘‘Jack wasn’t afraid to laugh once in a while,’’ he says. ‘‘He knew we were in the entertainment business.’’

Thus there was often a wink-wink irreverence to Coppock’s theatrical, long-winded erudition — he clearly loved what he was doing. But the self-parody was sometimes lost on those viewers and listeners who regarded him as a windbag.

‘‘I took the booing as sign of respect,’’ Coppock says. ‘‘What’s the opposite of booing? Indifference.’’

No one was ever indifferent toward Chet Coppock.

On Sept. 18, he’ll receive a lifetime achievement award from the Chicagoland Sports Hall of Fame. He’s happy to report that the award is named for Jack Brickhouse.



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