For almost four decades, Chuck Kaiton has been the radio voice for the Carolina Hurricanes and Hartford Whalers. How much history does Kaiton have with the franchise? He first started calling games for the Whalers when they entered the NHL, all the way back in 1979. In 2004, he was recognized by the Hockey Hall of Fame with the Foster Hewitt Award, which commemorating broadcasters who make substantial contributions to the sport.
But this year, Kaiton (seen calling his 2,900th NHL game back in 2012) won’t be behind the microphone for the Hurricanes. The longtime announcer failed to come to an agreement on a new contract with the team. And Kaiton has already spoken out publicly that the parting of the ways came down to money, with the franchise offering him an “80 percent pay cut” and making an offer that “was an invitation to leave.”
Via the Raleigh News & Observer:
After 39 years, Chuck Kaiton was officially out Tuesday as the Carolina Hurricanes’ radio play-by-play announcer after the Hall of Fame broadcaster was unable to agree on a new contract with the team. The Hurricanes plan to use a simulcast of the FS Carolinas television broadcast on their radio network this season instead.
Kaiton’s agent submitted a counterproposal to the Hurricanes after Kaiton’s contract expired on June 30, but the team stood firm on its final offer to the broadcaster, which included what Kaiton’s agent, Lou Oppenheim, said was an 80 percent pay cut as the Hurricanes and new owner Tom Dundon attempt to reckon with their money-losing radio broadcast while giving Kaiton the opportunity to recoup some of the losses by selling sponsorships, an arrangement more typical on the minor-league level.
“I was hoping for a reasonable offer to stay but obviously the offer was an invitation to leave,” Kaiton said. “That is how I look at it. I really was hoping we could make some headway. It’s his decision to offer what he offered and it was quite a substantial decrease. It really basically told me they weren’t that interested in keeping me. That’s life. It’s his team.”
Here’s the kicker – instead of hiring a new radio voice, it sounds like the team will just go ahead and air a simulcast of the television broadcast on radio for their listeners. John Forslund is the team’s television announcer and he’s accomplished in his own right, as hockey fans will recognize him from NBC telecasts, and the team’s statement to the paper said “We are exploring our options, especially the possibility of airing the audio from our FS Carolinas television broadcast.” However, calling a game on television and radio are two very different things.
No matter how well the announcer may be calling things on television, the radio audience is naturally going to miss out on a lot. Not only is the mechanics of the play-by-play very different, as the radio announcer has to be much more descriptive, but the radio listener will also miss out on replays and other things that are meant to be seen by the television audience.
Carolina wouldn’t be the first NHL team to do this kind of simulcast, with Dallas and Buffalo already doing that. And the unfortunate thing is it could signal a trend where teams are inclined to focus on cutting costs. The Hurricanes only estimate a couple thousand listeners for their radio broadcasts and the team basically admitted that it was mainly a financial decision to cut out individual radio broadcasts.
“Radio is not a prudent financial decision,” [Hurricanes GM Don] Waddell said earlier this summer. “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.”
It’s certainly an unfortunate way for such a long and distinguished run to end. But the relevant question from here is how many other teams are staring at similar financial decisions where it’s just not worth carrying on with two different broadcasts?
It may be more cost-efficient, but it is sad given how many fans over the generations develop relationships with teams through their local radio announcer. But if teams are looking at shrinking radio audiences with more tablet and mobile viewing capabilities, this could be a trend we see growing across sports.