Regrettably, Hurricanes May Lose Their Voice

The Carolina Hurricanes have something that sets them apart in the NHL like no other team, and the word is that they want to let it go for no apparent reason. They have John Forslund doing their play-by-play on television, who by the way may be in line in his role doing hockey for NBC Sports, to replace the iconic Mike “Doc” Emrick when he decides to turn off his mic. Additionally, they have Chuck Kaiton, doing their radio play-by-play.

A Legend Would be Lost if Kaiton is Cut

According to reports last week, the team is strongly considering silencing their hall of fame radio voice. Chip Alexander of the Raleigh News & Observer summarized Kaiton’s career in a recent article:

“Kaiton, 66, won the Hockey Hall of Fame’s Foster Hewitt Award in 2004, recognizing excellence in broadcasting. He has also been the president of the NHL Broadcasters Association since 1986 and has been the franchise’s only radio play-by-play announcer since it joined the NHL as the Hartford Whalers in 1979.”

Chuck Kaiton
Chuck Kaiton, radio play-by-play voice of the Carolina Hurricanes

Kaiton is a legend, having never missed a game in his entire career. Radio people deal with colds and the flu and sore throats like everyone else, but Kaiton has not once been sidelined by any ailment. He is the sound that Hurricanes fans expect to hear booming through their radios when they can’t get to the game or in front of their television.

Alexander also wrote, “The expiration of Kaiton’s contract and change in ownership has prompted a reevaluation of the team’s broadcast strategy. Among the possible alternatives to the status quo are Kaiton doing only home games – or none at all – while the team’s radio affiliates carry a simulcast of the television broadcast.”

I listen to Kaiton regularly, mostly during away games as I am in the press box during home games. There is no radio play-by-play announcer in the NHL that is what Kaiton is, a literal encyclopedia of the history of teams and players and seasons, who can make the game come alive as if you were sitting at center-ice.

When I interviewed Kaiton in 2015, he said this about his own future in radio after have called a Stanley Cup Final and made it into the hall of fame,

“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.”

The artist is best at work when the teams are on the ice and the puck is whizzing across from zone to zone. The ice is his canvass and he paints a verbal picture like no other.

Is Silencing Kaiton Best for Business?

The relatively new owner of the Hurricanes, Tom Dundon is a businessman. He is a successful businessman, a billionaire before hitting age 50. Along the way, he’s trimmed payrolls, looked at balance sheets and made adjustments where necessary and cut things that have not made sense from a profitability standpoint. The Hurricanes are now the recipients of his business acumen.

Tom Dundon
Tom Dundon, center (Carolina Hurricanes)

Alexander wrote that from a bottom-line view, continuing the radio might not be in Dundon’s view of what is best for business. Alexander quoted newly minted general manager, Don Waddell as saying,

We haven’t made a final decision on that yet. We think it’s important to continue to do radio. Radio is not a prudent financial decision. It’s important, I think, to have it for the people that still want to listen to it, but it’s something from a business standpoint that doesn’t make a lot of sense.

In other words, Kaiton is very likely to be gone and not broadcasting Hurricanes’ radio next season. In the world of what’s best for business, artistry is not a listed item on the profit and loss statement.

In part two of my feature on Kaiton, I asked him why hockey is the best sport in the world. Kaiton said,

“The fan reaction, the speed of the game, the elegance of it and how talented these guys are. People don’t realize how great athletes hockey players are, doing things on skates and having to master that art before they can even do anything like have the courage to go into a corner and take a hit. There’s no out-of-bounds in hockey, you can’t run away from physicality, and you can’t run away from intimidation. All of those things combined with the beauty of the game make it what it is. I fell in love with it when I was five or six years old so to me it’s the greatest sport in the world.”

You can hear the passion and sincerity in Kaiton when he talks about the sport he loves and has devoted his life to describing for its fans through the medium of radio. He is an artist without peer. The market value of art might be able to be assessed and entered into a profit and loss statement. In this case, Kaiton’s salary and the associated overhead of the broadcast 82+ times a year can be inputted as expenses.

But, there is an intrinsic value of art that cannot be quantified. It may be best for business to give Kaiton the boot, but it is not the way an artist should be treated. The public nature of the proceedings as reported by Alexander and others is disconcerting. The very least Kaiton deserves is respectful treatment, not a public recitation that says, “We may simulcast the away games or all the games.” His dedication and commitment to the team add up to say that he deserves better than what has been afforded him over the past week.

Maybe silencing Kaiton is what is best for business. Or, perhaps selling the broadcast better to make it a profit center might be best. For the fans who have never known anything other than Kaiton, the thought of him being gone is heartbreaking.

Forslund on the Spot About Kaiton

John Forslund
John Forslund, play by play voice for the Carolina Hurricanes and the NHL for NBC Sports (File Photo / Carolina Hurricanes)

Thursday morning Forslund was on NHL radio on Sirius XM. The host asked him about the situation with Kaiton. Always a gentleman who exudes nothing but class, Forslund said, “Chuck’s a dear friend of mine. We’ve worked together since 1991 as you guys know. It’s difficult. It’s hard for me because I’m kind of on the outside watching this, and then I’m kind of not because it might go that way and then I’m involved in terms of the simulcasting and all that. I think they’re going to have another opportunity to get together and figure out the best situation.”

Forslund also said, “You know the radio landscape in this market is not anywhere close to some of the bigger cities where there is competition for rights and so on. That part of it has changed, and I think they’re trying to look at a business situation and also address the fact that you have a longstanding, historical, legendary radio voice. So, this is a very complicated situation.

In conclusion, Forslund said,

It’s emotional for me because of our friendship. I want what’s best for Chuck, that’s the bottom line. Let’s hope in the next couple of weeks they can figure this one out and make a decision that’s best for everybody.

What is best for everybody might be different than what is the black and white world of numbers and what is best for business. Dundon has shown that he is willing to cut cost and try to save money where he can. It was reported that he was offering interviewees for the then-vacant general manager position $400,000 per year, an amount that is significantly lower than the going rate.

In the end, he hired Waddell who was already in-house. For now, it looks like a similar thing will happen with the radio and Chuck Kaiton. They will go with a simulcast which, like Waddell is already in-house with Forslund doing the TV.

It is disconcerting that former general manager Ron Francis was reassigned and then fired, with much of what was going on being played out in the local paper. Now another hall of fame member in Kaiton is going through a similar thing, with his contract and possibility of being nixed being played out publically. Hurricanes fans understand the notion of what is best for business. They just wish their heroes would be treated with more respect. After nearly 40 years with the Hurricanes, Kaiton has earned at least that much.