WNIR (100.1-FM) will broadcast the funeral of its longtime host Howie Chizek at 7 p.m. Thursday.
The funeral will be at 10 a.m. Thursday in Berkowitz- Kumin-Bookatz Memorial Chapel in Cleveland Heights. Burial will be private.
An Akron-area event celebrating Chizek, who died Saturday, apparently of a heart attack, may yet take place. But no plans have been made as yet.
The 65-year-old Chizek, also a former announcer for the Cleveland Cavaliers, hosted a talk show on WNIR and its predecessor, WKNT, for 38 years. According to WNIR, the most recent Arbitron ratings for Akron/Canton had Chizek at No. 1 with adult listeners, averaging close to 14,000 each quarter-hour of his five-hour weekday show.
He established the sort of connection with his audience that is increasingly difficult in a broadcasting environment where local stars come and go in a few years — or months.
While Chizek had his detractors, his fans were numerous enough to fill WNIR’s hours with fond memories from Saturday night, when news of his death became public, into Tuesday. The Beacon Journal’s obituary for Chizek was the most read item on Ohio.com for days, with hundreds of comments, and still stood among the more frequently read stories Tuesday afternoon.
Fans spoke of his colorful opinions, his broadcasting style — and the many good turns he did.
Chizek died on his way to Florida with young people from his New Adventures youth program. He created the Helping Hand food program. And his family has asked that, in lieu of flowers, contributions be made to the Gathering Place, a support center for cancer patients and their loved ones in Beachwood, and to a new Howie Chizek Fund through Communion of Saints Parish in Cleveland Heights.
Indeed, one WNIR host on Monday urged that people remember Chizek by helping someone else in need. WNIR planned to keep the talk about Chizek going on the air as long as the audience needed it.
Asked whether he was prepared for the extent of the reaction to Chizek’s death, WNIR General Manager Bill Klaus said no.
“I knew Howie very well,” Klaus said. “I talked to him every day for 38 years. But every call is one story after another, about how he touched people’s lives both on the air and off the air.
“I always had a feeling for some of that. … I knew in general what kind of person he was, and what he was doing for people.”
But as the stories came recently, most were ones Klaus had not heard before and “a lot of them were pretty significant.”
“When it goes on and on and on, it’s a legacy that’s hard to compare to anything,” Klaus said.
Klaus was also impressed by Chizek’s audience bridging generations: “The grandparent telling the parent telling the son telling the grandson … When they were 7 or 8, they heard their parents or grandparents listening and thought it was terrible. Then, when they turned 21, they started listening and thought it was great. … He had been their friend and companion for the last 15, 20, 35 years.”
And would anyone from this point on be able to have that kind of durability on radio? “I don’t know,” Klaus said. “Probably not.”
Family-owned, local radio operations like WNIR are increasingly rare, and with corporate ownership has come increasing pressure to perform well in the ratings and the bottom line. “The time frame to succeed has been shortened to such a point that it makes an almost impossible type of situation,” Klaus said. “As I said, people grew up with [Chizek], grew into it. It’s more than just a radio show. And he was more than just a talk host.”
As a result, Klaus said, listeners will be talking about Chizek as long as they want to. “We’re not going to put the brakes on it. We’re just going to let it naturally flow. And as people feel they want to talk about other things, we’ll evolve into a mixture of things.” For now, the station is letting people “mourn and grieve on the air.”
At some point, the station will have to decide what to do next about its lineup, which had been dealing with the absence of an ailing Tom Erickson before Chizek’s death. Erickson could be back around the end of next week, Klaus said.
But the loss of Chizek “isn’t something that will be resolved anytime soon. It’s going to be fill-in situations for an extended period of time. It’ll be both the people we’re currently using and we may have other people come in and help.”
Rich Heldenfels writes about popular culture for the Beacon Journal and Ohio.com, including in the HeldenFiles Online blog (www.ohio.com/blogs/heldenfiles). He is also on Twitter and Facebook. You can contact him at 330-996-3582 or firstname.lastname@example.org.