— Spencer Stouthamer (@spenceeeeeeeeee) March 12, 2015
I recently sat down with a hockey broadcasting legend. Chuck Kaiton has been with the Carolina Hurricanes for 35 years. He started broadcasting with them at game one of the new Hartford Whalers franchise in 1979.
He has never missed a game. He was recognized for his skill and contributions to the sport of hockey in 2004, wining the Foster Hewitt Memorial Award.
One might think that being in the Hall of Fame and having called a Stanley Cup winning finals would be the pinnacle of a career. But Chuck Kaiton doesn’t sound anywhere near being done giving the fans all across the Carolina Hurricanes Radio Network what they’ve come to love and appreciate – the best radio voice in the NHL.
The Hockey Writers: Chuck, thanks for taking time to talk a little bit today about your career, and the game of hockey.
CK: Oh no problem, I’m happy to.
THW: Let’s start with thirty-five years; you have been with the same organization that entire time.
CK: Well, the game’s changed a lot over that period of time.
THW: For the better or worse?
CK: For me it’s been different. Ultimately the fans can make that determination. But I liked the hitting. I liked the zones being equal. I liked the game that was played before probably a shade better, but I’d say it’s entertaining today.
One thing about today’s game to me is that you’re never out of the game. If you had a two-goal lead in the old days, they’d clamp you down defensively, and you never really got a lot of good opportunities because of the speed factor, because a team could grind you down defensively and you wouldn’t be able to score. It took a lot more effort to come from behind in third periods say twenty or thirty years ago than it does now.
Today the game is so wide open, you’ve taken the red line out, you make passes all over the place to keep the defense honest, the players have a lot of speed, they can draw penalties, you get more power plays. Today, it’s probably a lot more exciting game from the fan’s standpoint.
THW: Another question about the game. Do you miss the goons and the enforcers?
CK: No, I don’t miss gratuitous violence in the game. I do miss the fact that we’re not hitting enough – the physical contact. And I do feel that guys – and it’s a product of the speed sometimes – that guys will turn their back and make the other guy look bad for hitting him from behind and it might be the guy who’s getting hit who’s at fault, because everything’s happening so fast.
Chuck Kaiton (#Canes radio) is the best: "There is no redeeming social value to scrums along the boards. Just blow the whistle."
— Tyler King (@tyler_king) April 4, 2015
I wish there was more physicality in the game. As far as fighting is concerned, I’m not bothered by it. I think it’s being self-policed out of the game by the players themselves. But I do miss more physicality, but that’s a product of taking the red line out and the speed of the game. You can’t hit what you can’t catch.
THW: When you first started you went to Michigan then you were a Blackhawks fan. Do you ever look back and go, “I wish I’d spent thirty-five years doing this for Detroit or Chicago?”
CK: That’s a good question. No, I’m happy, you know, it’s one of those things. I was doing football in the Big 10 back when I was in my mid-twenties. Then I moved on to Wisconsin. I started early in my career, so yeah, it could have been a fantasy or dream to work for either Detroit or Chicago because they were two of the original six teams.
They have a tremendous following, but I didn’t have control over that. In fact, it’s ironic that the year after I got the Hartford Whalers job, the Blackhawks job did open up. I was just a year too late I guess. That’s when Pat Foley started and he’s been there on and off ever since.
I don’t have any regrets because I don’t know if I would have wanted to live in Detroit all my life. I like the fact that this business took me to different places – Wisconsin to Hartford, then to here. You know, I just wanted to get into the NHL and I thought there was something special about joining a team right from day one. I was lucky enough to do that getting into the NHL in 1979 with the Hartford Whalers.
THW: Speaking of traveling, do you have a favorite NHL arena other than your home venue?
CK: Oh yeah, my favorite arena to broadcast in is the Bell Centre in Montreal. It was the Montreal Forum before that.
THW: What makes it special?
CK: The broadcast location is right above the ice, and there’s always electricity in the crowd. The fans make it what it is; you know the noise, the tradition, seeing Stanley Cup banners, the retired numbers – it’s a pretty special place. Even from a broadcast point of view it’s an excellent vantage point to do a game.
THW: Speaking of the Stanley Cup, you’re in the Hall of Fame; you’ve called a Stanley Cup victory – what’s left for Chuck Kaiton to accomplish?
CK: Well I want to keep working as long as I can, because I love the one-to-one relationship I have with the listener. The challenge of radio is a lot different from television, in that you have to paint the picture from your eyes with your descriptions so that somebody understands and is entertained.
I like to entertain, I don’t like to just inform people what’s going on, I like to give a little hockey history, some anecdotes, the stories, whatever comes up I leave it open mentally being prepared to see anything. This puts me in position to share something that I’m reminded of from the past. I like to relay that to a listener.
And I view that listener as sitting next to me. That’s how I do my job. I don’t think of it as broadcasting to a mass of people, I’m thinking of one person. I think that’s the right way to go about it in radio.
THW: I’m surprised there’s not a lot of computers and stuff in here. Do you really have all of this information in your head?
CK: I do most of it. I really can’t look anything up if I need to during a game. I have to be pre-prepared.
THW: How do you do that? I’ll hear you say, “Well, back in ’83 in the third period of Game 4…
CK: Well, I remember. I mean if you’ve lived it, it’s a lot easier to remember. If you haven’t lived it you’re left having to read about it and it’s a lot tougher to remember. There was a very famous writer for the New York Times, you may recall named Red Smith, who said, “You had to be there” to cover something, you couldn’t just read about it then write about it, or hear about it from somebody. You had to be there to see the event in order to capture it for the paper. It’s the same thing for a broadcaster I think, too.
* In Part Two of my with a hockey broadcast legend, we get specific as to how to turn around the Carolina Hurricanes. You can click here for Chuck’s candid thoughts about his team:
Mark lives in the Raleigh, NC area and covers the Carolina Hurricanes.