CLEVELAND HEIGHTS: Friends, family and radio callers gathered at 10 a.m. Thursday, just as they’d done nearly every weekday for the beginning of The Howie Chizek Show.
The “Couch Burner” was there. So was “Mr. Stow” along with other popular listeners. It seemed like old times on WNIR (100.1-FM).
On this morning, however, Howie’s bravado and booming voice were not there to lead the discussion. Instead, his callers and loved ones took over the microphone, recalling the life of Akron’s self-proclaimed No. 1 radio talk-show host.
Chizek, 65, was buried Thursday afternoon following a funeral service that drew about 400 mourners and a diverse crowd of radio celebrities, family, fans, friends and children at Berkowitz-Kumin-Bookatz Memorial Chapel.
They recalled Chizek’s humor and charisma on the air, and his kind generosity away from the studio, where he held court six days a week for more than 38 years, the longest tenure in America.
Moving right along, as Howie would say, others talked of his longtime volunteer tenure as a youth football coach and his charity work with New Adventures, where he mentored local children and provided annual trips to Disney World, just as he was doing when he died Saturday, shortly after his plane landed in Florida.
Tim Deininger met Chizek in 1991 when he went to Klaben Ford, Howie’s usual spot for his Saturday show. Deininger was there to recruit the radio host as an assistant football coach for his St. Ann’s School in Cleveland Heights. After 30 minutes, Chizek finally relented and agreed to help out the young offensive linemen, but only for a couple of days. St. Ann’s got more.
“Howard didn’t miss a practice for 12 years,” Deininger said. “I think that sums up Howard’s motivation and dedication and everything he stood for.”
Chizek’s nephew, Michael, recalled the “fun uncle,” who greeted him with “Who wants to have fun today?” and then spoiled him and his siblings with gifts, overnighters, talks or vacations.
He also recalled Chizek’s days as the public address announcer for the Cavaliers, Crusaders and Force, and how he’d have the run of the Richfield Coliseum, where his uncle was held in high esteem.
Most importantly, he said, Chizek mentored through leadership, not lectures.
“No matter what, when he said fun, he meant it,” Michael Chizek said. “Whatever we did, we did it together. But even more importantly, he was a friend. He mentored us, he educated us with his actions and his encouragement.”
Station owner reflects
Bob Klaus, one of the owners of WNIR, recalled his three decades of mornings seeing Chizek at his desk, preparing for his show with newspaper, pen and legal pad at hand. He called himself a Chizek fan as well as a friend. Chizek was without a doubt, he said, the station’s top star, offering controversial comments, often with clever comedic timing.
“Howie loved a juicy story like a kid with a new bike,” Klaus told mourners. “His excitement was contagious. … I loved listening to his show and I did so for thousands of hours.”
Klaus later remembered his last conversation with Chizek, one in which he expressed disappointment that the day’s radio callers were being tough on good old Howie that day. He told Chizek “it was another great show” except for the rudeness of some listeners.
Chizek brushed it off with his usual sarcasm, Klaus said, imitating the booming voice from “The Talk of Akron.”
“That’s what they do when you’re No. 1,” Chizek told him.
Regular caller speaks
After the service, John “Couch Burner” Denning, who has been a regular caller to Chizek’s show for more than 25 years, spoke about his radio friend. Their nearly daily jousting made for intelligent and entertaining talk radio.
But their relationship extended beyond the airwaves. Last summer, Denning and his family took food to Chizek’s home while the radio host recovered from surgery.
And while a eulogy of sorts has been playing on WNIR since Saturday night, with nearly every caller this week reflecting on Chizek’s life and career, Denning’s voice has been noticeably absent.
“I just haven’t been in the mood,” he said after the memorial service. “It’s been weird. It’s been the hardest thing. You just don’t realize the depth and breadth. My dad died, family and friends have died. My relationship with Howie was public, but it was very private as well.”
Inside the funeral, “Mr. Stow,” another Chizek regular, gathered with radio host Jim Isabella and media personality and Howie caller Joe “Kastaway” Kulis. Nearby was TV personality Vic Gideon and his son, Louis, both of whom had been a part of Chizek’s New Adventures program and remained close friends.
Outside in the foyer, dressed in a tie and white shirt. was Reginald Willis, 13, a football player of Chizek’s since second grade. “He always taught ways to be better,” the teen said.
The diversity of mourners was apparent.
Behind the scenes
His friends talked about Chizek away from the microphone and how he’d hold court with his friends, offering his same opinions around the dinner table on everything from politics to sports.
“He was very opinionated,” Vic Gideon said. “He was Howie all the time. He wasn’t the kind of guy where the mic turned off and the personality disappeared. He argued and told stories and gave inside information and held court no matter where he was.”
Mr. Stow estimates he has called Chizek more than 6,000 times over 30 years. He recalled Howie’s positive impact on his three sons, delivering Chizek a birthday card this month and calling WNIR on June 15 for the radio host’s last show.
“I used to kid with him that he’d never be able to retire because the Kaiser [the nickname for WNIR’s Klaus family] would put a leg chain around one leg, tie it around the desk because you’re like an ATM,” Mr. Stow said, fighting back tears. “He was more than just a talk-show host. He was a great, great guy.”
Phil Trexler can be reached at 330-996-3717 or email@example.com.