Chuck is leaving, and the letter K is going with him.
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.”
Instead of Kaiton, the plan is for fans to hear television play-by-play voice John Forslund and analyst Tripp Tracy on the radio, both of whom have been with the franchise for two decades or more.
“After a series of discussions with Chuck and his representation throughout the summer, Chuck informed us today that he will not be returning as our radio broadcaster,” Hurricanes general manager Don Waddell said in a statement. “We thank Chuck for his service over 38 seasons and appreciate everything he has done to represent this franchise for such a long time.
“As for the future of our radio broadcasts, we are exploring our options, especially the possibility of airing the audio from our FS Carolinas television broadcast. John Forslund is one of the top play-by-play men in our sport and we are confident his call will sound terrific on the radio as well.”
The broadcasters are employed by the team, and Forslund and Tracy both signed two-year extensions last summer while Kaiton chose to take a one-year deal. The expiration of his contract combined with the change in ownership from Peter Karmanos to Dundon brought a re-examination of the economics of the team’s radio deal. The team’s deal with WCMC-99.9 FM to carry the broadcast has no lucrative rights fee like its television deal, incurring six-figure losses while drawing what the team estimates to be fewer than 2,000 listeners per game in the absence of any official metered ratings. Kaiton’s salary was a big part of that expense.
“Radio is not a prudent financial decision,” 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.”
Kaiton, 66, won the Hockey Hall of Fame’s Foster Hewitt Award in 2004, honoring excellence in broadcasting. He started with the Hartford Whalers in their first NHL season, 1979-80, and moved with the team to North Carolina in 1997. He has been president of the NHL Broadcasters Association since 1986. In 2016, the National Sports Media Association named him North Carolina Broadcaster of the Year
“As a hockey announcer!” Kaiton said. “I think the game’s come a long way in this state and I am honored to have been a part of that,”
There are few franchise icons more enduring than Kaiton, who invited emails at “Chuck K, that’s Chuck and the letter K, at carolinahurricanes.com” and insisted on what he said were the correct pronunciations of foreign names, including Sam-SOHN-ov instead of SAM-son-ov and Kab-er-LUH instead of KAB-er-lay.
His booming voice and solo operation in the booth transcended generations, chronicling Ron Francis’ rookie year and, later, his tenure and firing as general manager. He called games involving players and later their children (and at one point, both at the same time), from the Howes to the Kapanens.
When the Hurricanes moved to Raleigh, his broadcasts were the point of entry for many nascent fans, especially in the early days when only a portion of the schedule was televised. Now that the television deal covers the full schedule, and the reach of radio has waned as the TV broadcast has become more readily available on mobile devices, the economics of the industry finally caught up with one of its legends.
“I always envisioned being with one organization,” Kaiton said. “That’s the positive to me. I’ve been lucky to work 39 years with one, through a move and three ownerships. They’ve treated me well. I can’t complain about that at all. The fans have been great and I admire and wish Rod Brind’Amour the best of luck in his coaching career. I think he’ll do well.”
The Dallas Stars and Buffalo Sabres already simulcast their television broadcasts on radio, and while the Hurricanes are the next to join them, they will not be the last. Radio voices will likely survive in baseball and the NFL and in college sports, but in the NHL and NBA, their jobs are under threat.
Kaiton isn’t ready to retire, and the potential NHL expansion franchise in Seattle could be one landing spot. Dave Tippett, who is leading the hockey operation, is a former Whalers player, someone whose name has been called many times by Kaiton. One of Kaiton’s sons lives there, so it’s a natural fit if there’s mutual interest.
The Seattle team will need someone to pave the way, to voice its embryonic moments, to be the voice that reaches out to fans. Kaiton has already done that once, here, even if those services are no longer as essential as they once were.