Because there was much less sports on TV in the early 1970s than there is now, radio was where sports happened from day to day. And since I was a sports fan before I became obsessed by radio, it was natural that both passions would eventually come together. As a boy, I listened to Chicago Cubs games all summer and after school in the spring and fall. I listened to Milwaukee Bucks basketball because I worshipped Lew Alcindor—and I loved the sound of Bucks’ play-by-play man Eddie Doucette. I listened to Wisconsin football because those games were never on TV. I listened to our local high school football and basketball games because my father did. And I listened to the National Hockey League’s Chicago Blackhawks.
I can’t remember how I found my way to the Blackhawks, or to hockey in general. I can remember organizing hockey games at grade-school recess, where we’d kick a puck-sized piece of wood from one end of the playground to the other. (I later owned my very own regulation rubber puck, which I brought to school the same way other kids brought their favorite basketball or baseball glove.) And many nights, I would listen to the Blackhawks on WMAQ from Chicago.
In memory, it was always a Sunday night, although I could be wrong about that. But here’s how the evenings would go: first I would catch the Dennis Swanson Sports Show, recapping the day’s sports news. (Swanson would later become head of ABC Sports and a top executive at FOX.) Then the hockey broadcast would begin with The First Period Show. For some reason, WMAQ carried only the last two periods of the game, starting off with a show that featured highlights of the first period.
When I was listening, the games were called by the great Lloyd Pettit. Hockey is not an easy game to call on either radio or television. Pettit’s gift was a natural ability to keep the listeners’ “eyes” clearly focused on the action no matter how frenetic it got. (A lengthy clip of some famous Pettit calls is here.) Pettit called Hawks games for a dozen seasons from the mid 60s to the mid 70s, and also did Cubs baseball on TV alongside Jack Brickhouse. After his retirement, Pettit and his wife Jane Bradley Pettit became major Milwaukee philanthropists, bankrolling the Bradley Center and the Pettit National Ice Center, and they tried unsuccessfully to bring an NHL franchise to Milwaukee.
Apart from Lloyd Pettit’s voice, there are other sonic memories deeply associated with Chicago Blackhawks hockey. One is “Here Come the Hawks.” First recorded in 1968 by the Dick Marx Orchestra and Choir, it has been used in team promotions, radio broadcasts, and at the games themselves ever since. And here’s the best piece of trivia we’ve uncovered around here in ages: Marx, a jazz musician and jingle composer from Chicago, was the father of rock singer Richard Marx.
And let’s not forget “Chelsea Dagger” by the Fratellis, which became a sports anthem in Europe immediately after its release in 2006, and has blasted over the public address system at the United Center following every Hawks goal for the last three seasons. The Fratellis are from Scotland, and while they take a songwriting credit for “Chelsea Dagger,” they were clearly helped by the rock gods, because a hook this big has to be of supernatural origin.
The Blackhawks’ ride to the Stanley Cup finals this spring has been fun to watch. But not quite as much fun as tuning my green plastic Westinghouse tube-type AM radio to WMAQ and listening for Lloyd Pettit and “Here Come the Hawks.”