For decades, Chicago’s TV play-by-play voices had gone largely unchanged. Entering 2020, Pat Foley was in his 37th season calling Blackhawks games, Neil Funk was in his 28th calling the Bulls and Len Kasper would begin his 16th with the Cubs. Ken “Hawk” Harrelson had bowed out from the White Sox in 2018 after 33 years.
Now look around. Adam Amin completed his first season as the Bulls’ lead voice in May. Jon “Boog” Sciambi is in the middle of his first with the Cubs. Jason Benetti is in his third full season with the Sox after sharing the booth with Harrelson for three years. It won’t be long before Benetti is the longest-tenured TV play-by-play voice in town.
That’s because next season will be Foley’s last, as the Hawks announced last week.
(Since we’re lauding longevity, let’s not forget the city’s longtime radio play-by-play voices. Pat Hughes is in his 26th season with the Cubs, Jeff Joniak has 20 with the Bears, John Wiedeman 14 with the Hawks and Chuck Swirsky 13 with the Bulls. Kasper, in his first year with the Sox, has some catching up to do.)
Though the Hawks haven’t made much positive news on and off the ice this year, their play-by-play voice is a plum job. They’ll have no shortage of candidates as a team in the country’s third-largest market. But how will the process work, and what type of candidate might they be looking for?
First, fans should know that neither Foley nor the Hawks harbor animosity. This isn’t a repeat of 2006, when a previous management group fired Foley after a rift had developed. He called Wolves games for two seasons before returning to the Hawks under the leadership of Rocky Wirtz and John McDonough.
This time, the Hawks are planning a yearlong celebration for Foley. His departure is more a matter of timing than anything. His contract has a year remaining, and under first-year president of business operations Jaime Faulkner, the team is undergoing a reboot.
Plus, Foley is part of the conversations about his successor. After all, he’ll be sharing the mic with the person next season as the Hawks work the new voice into the broadcast, much like the Sox did when Harrelson passed the torch to Benetti. The Hawks noticed how effective that plan was.
As far as candidates, expect the Hawks to go young, like the Bulls did with Amin, 34, and the Sox with Benetti, 37. Foley, 66, was even younger when he became the Hawks’ voice in 1980. Generations of fans grew up listening to him and watching him. The team figures to try to replicate that.
The Hawks could hire a contemporary of analyst Eddie Olczyk, who’s 54. The expansion Seattle Kraken hired John Forslund, 59, who had called the Whalers/Hurricanes since 1995 and has a national profile. But it seems unlikely the Hawks would go in a similar direction.
With the new person calling an undetermined portion of games next season, a well-established announcer might not want to leave a full-time job for a year of part-time work, unless the person has no issue waiting out the year or would overlook it because of a connection to the city.
And with Olczyk also under contract with TNT, the Hawks might not hire another person who would miss games for a national network. They already have pre- and postgame analyst Steve Konroyd to fill in for Olczyk. They probably don’t want to hire another announcer to fill in for the one they’re hiring.
Two names that fall into that category are the Kings’ Alex Faust, 32, and the Islanders’ Brendan Burke, 36. They’re rising talents but with national commitments. Still, they appear to be the type of broadcaster the Hawks would want – young yet experienced.
Another riser is Stephen Nelson, 32, who hosts on NHL and MLB Network. He did a fine job calling play-by-play for the hockey world juniors last winter. He also is the lead voice for NHL Network’s in-studio game broadcasts.
Fans craving a local connection might like to see Judd Sirott return. He called the Wolves for 12 seasons and was the Hawks’ pre- and postgame radio host before becoming the Bruins’ radio play-by-play voice in 2017. But he said he’s focused on his current job.
Those are just a few names that figure to pop up in conversations as the Hawks prepare to add another new face to the local broadcasting landscape.
- Longtime Chicago broadcaster Chris Boden announced Wednesday on Twitter that he’s no longer the Blackhawks’ pre- and postgame host on WGN-AM (720). “After 4 years, my time with the Blackhawks ends today, informed at season’s end the Pre/Postgame host position is being eliminated due to Covid-related financial losses,” Boden posted.
- Another former Blackhawk has joined the broadcasting ranks. ESPN announced that Hockey Hall of Famer Chris Chelios will serve as an analyst when the network begins airing NHL games next season.
- Notre Dame football has a new radio home in Chicago. Starting this fall, the Irish will be heard on WBBM-AM (780), also the home of the Bears. Notre Dame had been on WMVP-AM (1000) since 2016.