Hall of Fame broadcaster Chuck Kaiton is a decorated National Hockey League play-by-play announcer who missed just one game in his 39 seasons in the league.
In 1979, Kaiton was appointed the original Voice of the NHL’s Hartford Whalers after the league merged with the World Hockey Association and in the process absorbed four teams, the Whalers, Winnipeg, Quebec and Edmonton. A native of Michigan, Kaiton followed the Whalers to North Carolina in 1997 where they still play as the Carolina Hurricanes.
Kaiton graced the Carolina radio microphones for 20 seasons, including the team’s Stanley Cup championship in 2006. He was with the club until 2018 when he and the club couldn’t come to terms on a renewal.
Kaiton is highly respected throughout the NHL and was elected president of the NHL Broadcasters Association in 1986, a position he still holds. In 2004, his peers at the NHLBA named him the recipient of the Foster Hewitt Memorial Award, the highest honor in hockey broadcasting. To this day, Kaiton is tied with longtime New York Islanders broadcaster Jiggs McDonald as the youngest person ever to receive the award, 52.
Among the many assets Kaiton brought to the broadcast was his meticulous pronunciations of players’ names. Not easy in a league whose participants span much of the globe, from North America to Russia, Scandinavia and the old Eastern bloc.
When the team moved to Carolina, a hotbed of basketball, Kaiton smartly used parallel rules to teach listeners, who were new to hockey, more about the game.
We’re privileged to have Chuck provide a tutorial on how to prepare for a hockey radio broadcast
Chuck Kaiton – How to prepare for a hockey broadcast:
When I was asked to write an article by Sports Broadcast Journal on what I do to broadcast an NHL game, I had to think about it for a few minutes since it’s been three years since I’ve done one. Nevertheless, like riding a bike, one never forgets; especially when I’ve been fortunate to do it over 3,900 times in 39 years in the NHL.
- Doing NHL hockey on radio can be very challenging, but I was very lucky to grow up with the game in Detroit during the romantic six team days and felt very attached to the game. In order to do the job properly, you must have a solid knowledge of all the players in the league, not just yours, which way they shoot, how they skate and other mannerisms that will help you identify them at a glance because most broadcast locations are tantamount to being in a zeppelin.
- You need quick and precise identification as a foundation of doing a great job for your listener. Notice I said listener (singular). My philosophy is that you are talking to people as individuals, one on one and must approach your broadcast that way to preserve a unique connection to each of them.
- On game day, I attend the morning skate to glean as much information I can from coaches, players and fellow broadcasters for that game. Any tidbit you can offer that can educate, inform and entertain a listener prompting them to say “I didn’t know that!” is part of your job. I loved to create smiles for my listeners.
- The common misconception is that you can just show up an hour before the broadcast, pick up the lineup card and sit down and talk. My day following the morning skate consisted of writing down in short form little stats and colorful facts that I may want to incorporate in the broadcast. Nine times out of 10 these prep pieces wouldn’t make the broadcast unless they were salient to what was unfolding on the ice.
- I never want young announcers to feel compelled to “get it all in” with those tidbits. It can’t be forced just to impress someone. Since part of my job was to watch as much hockey as I could, memorizing numbers never came into play. I knew the numbers and players rote.
- I would advise watching the next opponent at least twice or certainly the game before they played my team so I could refer to something that occurred in that game if it could enhance the broadcast.
- Many have asked me why I’m such a stickler for pronouncing foreign names accurately. I believe a player is proud of his heritage and must be asked before a broadcast how to correctly pronounce his name, first and last. Even though the NHL provides a pronunciation guide on its website, (which by the way was originally conceived and compiled by Doc Emrick and me years ago), I still go to the player to confirm the pronunciation. Young broadcasters should do this systematically each game.
- As far as style is concerned, always be yourself and self-edit the action on the ice as you see fit. That means you don’t have to go nuts trying to describe every single pass, but do a little “mental paraphrasing” with your descriptions and the listener will absorb it more comfortably. Strive to vary your vocabulary when calling the play without sounding arrogant. As an example, when a player is skating with the puck, is he “chugging”, “gliding”, “steaming”, or “barging” up the ice?
- In short, the more vivid you make the picture the more entertaining you’ll be. At day’s end, broadcasting hockey is the most satisfying sport you can handle when you enhance the fundamentals imparted herein.