RALEIGH — As milestones go, a 2,900th game is significant only in that it's the last stepping stone before 3,000. That's where Chuck Kaiton is tonight: In the radio booth for his 2,900th Hartford Whalers or Carolina Hurricanes game, on the verge of joining the elite group of hockey announcers who have hit 3K.
"That means I'm old, I guess," Kaiton said.
There's not much left to accomplish. He's called a Stanley Cup championship and Kaiton already has received his profession's highest honor, receiving the Foster Hewitt Award from the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2004.
He's president-for-life of the NHL Broadcasters Association - "I can't get anyone else to take the job," Kaiton claims - and two decades ago, Kaiton and Mike "Doc" Emrick created the pronunciation guide that broadcasters and public-address announcers still use today.
"It took me a couple years up here in the NHL to realize how long he has been around," Hurricanes forward Chad LaRose said. "Everything that he's seen and done, and being in the Hall of Fame and everything. He's had some great accomplishments in his life."
There are a handful of active broadcasters who have cleared the 3,000-game mark, with Peter Maher of the Calgary Flames the latest to reach it. The other names are familiar to hockey fans as well: Emrick, Bob Miller of the Los Angeles Kings and Mike Lange of the Pittsburgh Penguins, to name a few.
Kaiton's closing in: If all goes well, he'd hit the mark before next season ends. And he doesn't plan to stop then, either.
"I'm 60 years old. Bob Miller's my idol. He's 73 and still doing the Kings," Kaiton said. "I feel better now than I ever had, as far as health and desire. It's always a challenge to do the games because they're faster and quicker now, but I don't have any designs on quitting, unless someone's going to throw me out."
Radio hasn't changed much in that time, but everything else has. There was no email when Kaiton started calling Whalers games in 1979, but he has been soliciting listener emails for years for his "Kaiton's Corner" intermission feature.
He even created an inadvertent catch phrase with his entreaties to send questions to him at firstname.lastname@example.org: "That's 'Chuck' and the letter 'K' " - a signature slogan that, this season, became his Twitter handle as he embraced that technology as well.
The biggest change from Kaiton's perspective, though, has been the way the satellite radio and the Internet have broadened his audience, with games broadcast around the world on nhl.com.
"That's the cool thing about it," Kaiton said. "People have sent me emails from anywhere - like I've gotten them from China, Japan, Europe, Russia. ... I think (radio) is probably more valuable than it ever was before."
Still, after all these years, some things haven't changed. His intermission interviews are still as much question as answer - "He talks more," LaRose said - and he still works alone, a one-man booth in an age of color commentators and expert analysis.
Years ago, in Hartford, Andre Lacroix would occasionally join Kaiton. When the team moved to North Carolina, television play-by-play broadcaster John Forslund used to sit in with Kaiton on non-TV game nights. Aaron Ward even auditioned as an analyst a few years ago when an injury kept him out of the lineup.
But for game No. 2,900, and almost every one of the preceding 2,899, Kaiton was alone in the booth: Just Chuck. And the letter K.