Arguably the most famous voice in Akron has been silenced.
Howie Chizek, the longtime talk-show host on WNIR radio (100.1-FM), died of an apparent heart attack Saturday on a trip to Florida, according to friends. He was 65.
For the past 38 years, Mr. Chizek entertained his loyal Akron-area listeners with his sometimes controversial takes on current local and national news.
The radio station’s announcement Saturday night of Mr. Chizek’s unexpected death was met by tears from callers.
Jim Isabella, a longtime friend who sometimes filled in for Mr. Chizek on the air, said the radio host “had an uncanny ability to take a topic and come at it at an angle nobody else in the world would come at it.”
Isabella was the substitute host for Mr. Chizek’s show on Saturday morning, before learning of his friend’s death.
He said Mr. Chizek would often show up at least two hours before he went on the air to prepare topics.
“He researched, and then he’d come at you at an angle you never thought of,” Isabella said. “He could play devil’s advocate. But unless he was really upset with the demeanor of a caller, he went out of his way to be nice to a caller. If they were nice to him, he was nice to them. He was not a confrontational guy, though he could take a ‘zinger,’ as he used to call it, at people.”
When he wasn’t on the air from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday and 9 a.m. to noon on Saturday, Mr. Chizek often was found doing something to benefit children.
In fact, when he died, Mr. Chizek was in Florida for his New Adventures youth program, which treated 10 children each summer to a trip to Disney World.
He also created the Helping Hand food program to feed people in Akron.
“He was literally one of the most generous people,” Isabella said.
Mr. Chizek was a graduate of Cleveland Heights High School and Ohio University.
Before joining WNIR’s predecessor, WKNT, Mr. Chizek worked at a radio station in Youngstown.
For 17 years, he also was the public-address announcer for the Cleveland Cavaliers at the Richfield Coliseum. He was the man behind the microphone at Cavs games in the 1980s, roaring “World B. Free — for THA-REE!”
During a Beacon Journal interview in 1984 marking his 10th anniversary on Akron airwaves, Mr. Chizek said he’d turned down offers for talk shows in larger markets, including Atlanta and Houston.
“But if you’re in a market that makes you happy and the people like you, it’s stupid to jump from place to place,” he said.
Mr. Chizek said he wanted to be himself on the air, unlike some other radio hosts.
“I’m an entertainer and an informer, but I’m not trying to be disliked,” he said. “In fact, I definitely want to be liked. But I can stir up controversy. I don’t have the only answers; I just have the ones that stir up interest.”
Beacon Journal staff writer Cheryl Powell can be reached at 330-996-3902 or firstname.lastname@example.org.