This one borders on the politically incorrect: but dammit, it’s funny.
I’ve mentioned my time as Executive Producer for WISH-TV in Indianapolis here before; and the station’s controversial, colorful, way, way bigger-than-life sports director Chet Coppock.
Did I say bigger than life? How does 6’8” sound? Did I say colorful? The guy at one time was the track announcer for the roller derby! I’ve seen pictures of him in a white floor-length fur coat sporting a white fur gangster’s hat.
Did I say controversial? Chet would say just about anything to get a rise out of people, to get the juices flowing, to spur conversation. Example? Longtime WISH-TV anchor Mike Ahern (now retired) was a Notre Dame grad. Chet would rag on Notre Dame every Friday night during the college football season just to see if he could make mild-mannered Mike take the bait.
Controversial? One night he asked if I’d like to go down to Market Square Arena with him for a quick appearance between newscasts. He was giving away a new Cadillac at halftime of a Pacers game. Just walking into the place with Chet was an experience. He moved steadily forward like a boat cutting through water, leaving a wake behind. In his case the wake was people parting, letting him pass, standing, staring, whispering “That’s Chet Coppock.” “There goes Chet Coppock.” “Isn’t that Chet Coppock?” I’d been around famous people before—but at that place at that time Chet received a kind of jaw-dropped-in-awe reception I had never seen before.
Come halftime Chet was introduced—to the loudest chorus of boos you ever heard. He grinned, waved, and walked (OK, strutted) to center court, drew the winning name, and with both hands waving over his head made his way to the bench. He was almost beside himself with joy.
“Uh, but, Chet,” I said, “uh, you DID notice that 18,000 people were ALL booing?” And he flashed me that klieg-light smile and said, “Yeah, and they ALL WATCH! How great is that?”
In an Indianapolis Star poll Chet was named the area’s most-liked sportscaster, and the most disliked. He still brags about that!
My favorite story, though, is from behind the scenes. WISH-TV was owned by Corinthian Broadcasting—a division of Dow Jones—and the station was run by a man named Bob McConnell, son of the founder and owner of the station, and the man who sold it to Corinthian. Bob stayed on as the hired GM.
In 1976 Chet was involved in negotiations for a new contract. There was a lot of back-and-forth. How do I know? I heard the play-by-play. Chet delivered not only the PBP but also the color commentary on his own contract negotiations!.
You see, the WISH-TV newsroom had its own PA system: newsroom only, not heard anywhere else in the building. Chet got into the habit of coming downstairs after a bargaining session, picking up the PA mic, and giving us a running commentary—as if it were a prize fight.
And here’s where I’m going to get into hot water. Bob McConnell spoke with a pronounced lisp, and Chet could imitate him with dead-on accuracy.
So one day we heard:
"McCONNELL THROWS HEAVY LEATHER: Chet, no one in thith market ith making the kind of money you’re athking.
“COPPOCK COUNTERS WITH A SERIES OF STINGING JABS: Mr. McConnell, you know my value. You hear it in word-of-mouth on the street, and you see it in every rating book. Since I arrived here every book shows that every newscast on which I appear has experienced constant and dramatic audience growth. I wouldn’t be silly enough to claim full credit, but I do want to be rewarded for my part in our success.
“BUT McCONNELL COMES BACK SWINGING: Lithen, Chet, all of uth think you’re doing a nithe job. But my father didn’t thine this thtation on the air twenty-theven yearth ago for me to hand it over to thome thporthcaster on a thilver platter.
“AND THE BELL RINGS ENDING ROUND FOUR!”
And the crowd went wild!
Honestly, now: we were all in hysterics, but I don’t think we were laughing at Bob McConnell’s speech impediment. We were just amazed at Chet Coppock’s audacity, his chutzpah, his perfect mixture of self-confidence and impudence, his bad-boy persona, his gift for mimicry. I’m still laughing, 32 years later.
Tho thue me!