The Howie Followup

The death of a popular and well-regarded media personality, particularly when it comes in such a sudden way, often feels like a body blow to the rest of the broadcast community.

So it has been after Saturday’s untimely death of WNIR/100.1 “The Talk of Akron” midday talk show host Howie Chizek of a massive heart attack at the age of 65.

Chizek had another range of admirers – those who had no idea he had an Akron talk radio show (let alone for 38 years running, most of those years dominant in the ratings). His voice intoning lines like “Mark Price for thaaa-REEEE!” as the 17 year public address announcer for the NBA’s Cleveland Cavaliers at the old Richfield Coliseum brought him a legion of other fans.

Chizek reportedly didn’t follow the Cavaliers to their new home at then-Gund Arena for two reasons: one, he feared the demanding voice work as a public address announcer was ruining his voice, and threatening his radio career, and two, he was not at all interested in commuting to downtown Cleveland.

(The photo is from the WNIR website, by Shane Wynn Photography.)

And now, after nearly 40 years as the top radio talk show host in his quickly adopted radio home of Akron, Howie Chizek didn’t get to keep that streak going.

Chizek’s funeral arrangments have been announced.

His funeral will be held this Thursday, June 21 at 10 AM, at Berkowitz-Kumin-Bookatz Memorial Chapel on South Taylor Road in Cleveland Heights.

A private burial will be held after that, and WNIR will broadcast the audio from Thursday’s funeral service at 7 PM that evening.

In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to The Gathering Place in Beachwood, or to the Howie Chizek Fund at Communion of Saints Parish in Cleveland Heights.

Although we are far too early to ask “what’s next”, both callers and station staffers were well aware of the Importance of Howie, with many callers to WNIR’s weekend and Monday shows basically wondering what becomes of the station now that its most popular personality is no longer on this earth.

Quoting an OMW commenter:

With Howie’s passing, it’s inescapable that WNIR is done in its current form.
He WAS that radio station and everyone else was along for the ride.
It seems that their only sensible plan for survival would be to go mostly syndicated or completely change formats.

The thought of “what now, for WNIR” was clearly also on the mind of Howie’s grieving co-workers the past few days. Hosts frequently reassured listeners that WNIR would soldier on with local talk radio, together with them, and that Howie would want it that way.

Yes, Howie Chizek was clearly the highest performing personality at WNIR. But from this corner, we can’t see the station throwing in the towel for syndicated talk – even to partially or fully fill the five hour, 10 AM to 3 PM time slot Howie once did every weekday (and 9 AM-noon on Saturdays). “The Talk of Akron” is far too established on the local radio landscape, even without Howie.

The station will likely offer a long-term rotation of Chizek substitutes. Jim Isabella and Bob Earley were already scheduled to cover the show during Howie’s scheduled time in Florida.

But yes, the question of “How do you replace Howie?” is best answered, “you don’t”…as Bill and Bob Klaus have a difficult decision on what to air from 10 AM to 3 PM on a permanent basis. (And yes, after your last host was virtually cemented into the time slot for 38 years, what is “permanent”?)

Howie Chizek “bragged” on the air about a lot of things…mostly having to do with his show, its reach and longevity, and much of the “bragging” wasn’t terribly far from the truth.

But Howie never bragged about what he did off-air.

We’re not even sure he ever mentioned his yearly trips taking underprivledged children and their chaperones to Disney World in Orlando FL, trips Howie paid for out of his own pocket. If he mentioned them, it was only in passing.

Howie Chizek’s off-air life was just that, off-air and private.

When he turned off the WNIR microphone at 3 PM weekdays or shut down the phone line to the Klaben dealership at 12 noon Saturdays, that was it.

He might have mentioned his work as a youth sports umpire or coach from time to time, when the topic called for it, but that’s about it.

It was no secret that he lived in Twinsburg in recent years, but that generally only came up if he had a story to tell related to the topic at hand, or a funny story about a neighbor.

He obviously enjoyed interacting with the community, but aside from meeting listeners at those Klaben remotes, it was as “Howie, real person”…not “Howie Chizek, popular radio personality.”

Most of his listeners probably would have bet that he had no surviving family members, but he did…and Howie’s relatives talked with Gannett NBC affiliate WKYC/3 “Channel 3 News” reporter Pamela Osborne.

For relatives like Howie’s brother Larry, sure…they’re well aware of his impact as a broadcaster. But it’s what Howard Alan Chizek did off the air, for family and many, many others, that’s being remembered on this day.

Go ahead and go back through the nearly 30 comments we’ve received on our Saturday night item on Howie Chizek’s passing. They range from the intensely personal to the professional, including many personal, off-air tales.

Yeah, the word “iconic” is a bit overused, though on Saturday night, we were far from the only ones throwing that word around.

Within the scope of Northeast Ohio media, which is what we cover here, the word seems almost inadequate to describe the impact Howie Chizek had on the area broadcasting community…


6 Responses to The Howie Followup

  1. Mark in Atlanta, GA says:

    Reading the great articles by Sarah Reymond and Les Levine in the Cleveland Jewish News and Terry Pluto’s article in the Plain Dealer, I had no idea about Howie outside of the radio show other than the occasional mention of coaching a game or a trip to Florida, but that was it. This guy was Superman!

    Watching Bob Klaus on the many television interviews, it was evident that he was upset, not at the loss of a employee, but a friend which whom he had worked with for nearly 38 years.

    As for future of WNIR, my bet is that Bob Golic moves to Howie’s timeslot, with either Phil Ferguson or Jim Isabella taking over Bob’s slot. Chances are that any official announcement won’t occur for a while.

  2. Cles Holbrook says:

    I started listening to WKNT in 1979. I was 16 and had just got my drivers licence. I loved radio. Local radio. I would go on to work in it for many years myself At that time WKNT had Stan in the morning playing some music then Howie doing a Swap and Shop segment til noon then general talk after noon Bruce Wilson followed then Jim Albirght and Dial a Date. Remember I was 16. Way out of the target. I never stopped listening. Thru the end of music thru the end of Swap and Shop. Thru the switch to WNIR. Thru the name change to The Dating Show. Game Radio, Americas audio arcade the ComedyShow. Monday Night Football. Bennie the Bookie. ABC news to CBS news and back to ABC news. I’ve been there. I hope the best for that great station. They knew the end would someday come just not so soon. Howie can’t ever be replaced in anyway. Someone, hopefully Bob Early in my opinion, can keep things afloat. It should stay local. No doubt. But WNIR is and will never again be the same. Rest well Howie. Thank you for all the great years

  3. Perhaps five hours of Terry Pluto reading from the Bible would get big ratings and make for some scintillating radio.

  4. Jonathan in Lake County says:

    I have fond memories of Howie not only doing the Cavs PA work, but also doing PA work for the old Cleveland Force at the Coliseum. “Kai Haaaaaasskiiiiiiviiii”, just one example. Even loved the way he opened the evening with “Ladies and Gentlemen, boys and girls (too hard to type the inflection of his voice). Welcome to the Coliseum…”. Still have that etched into my memory.

    RIP, Howie.

    • We have been listeners of Howie since 1985, doing Cavalier games as well as his talk show from 10 to 3. Howie was a great person and inspiration. WNIR will always be a huge success
      because of Howie and all his co-workers. We love you and miss you Howie. Couch-Burner keep the faith and call the station. You were Howies # 1 fan.

  5. Howie has been a part of our lives since 1985. We listened to him doing cavalier games as well as his daily talk show from 10 to 3. Such a great person and inspiration. WNIR will always be a huge success because of Howie and all his co-workers. Howie would have it no other way. God bless you Howie we love you and truly miss you.Couch-Burner, keep the faith and call the station. You are Howies # 1 fan.

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