It was his customary conversation-starter for phone calls and voicemails. I’ve been listening to it for over 25 years. Those two words were not so much enunciated as they were propelled, like a missile, into the phone or the answering machine. There was no more powerful or recognizable baritone in Akron rock radio than the one possessed by my idol and my friend, Jim Chenot.
On Thursday, December 1, I was informed of his death. Like many of the people I spoke with at his life-celebration a week later, the concept of ‘Jim Chenot’ and ‘died’ appearing in the same sentence seemed surreal and unbelievable. But as I stood in a corner at the funeral home and watched family, friends, cohorts, and fans of both WONE-FM and 91.3 The Summit trying to make sense of it, I felt an even stronger wave of sadness envelop me. Had I known him only as a listener and a fan, that grief would have proven to be catastrophic in and of itself.
And on a Fall evening in 1992, I was just that. I was a fan and I was a listener. I was also a radio disc-jockey who had waited years to be able to join the air staff at WONE. That night, I would fill in for J. D. Kunes, the evening air-talent, which meant I would take over the controls from the northeast Ohio radio luminary whom I had admired since the station’s inception.
“Coming up at 8, it’s the very affable Matt Anthony, filling in tonight for JD….”
Over the past 25 years, I shared that story with Jim Chenot on several occasions, my story of driving over to the Bernard Building on South Hawkins, nervously shaking his hand, and then shaking for the next couple of hours afterwards in realization that I was speaking into the same microphone as the one used by Jim Chenot. And, years later, whether it was during lunch at China Garden, waiting for The Kinks to come on at Nautica Stage, or eating all-beef kosher hot dogs at Progressive Field during an Indians game, that tale of a sheepish, wide-eyed newbie meeting his broadcasting idol for the first time usually ignited the same loud, volcanic howl, punctuated with that ever-present baritone rumble.
We shared some similar interests. We were both from Canton. We’re both products of Catholic upbringing. Our favorite bands were British. And we both loved the Cleveland Indians. The difference is that, aside from a brief stint at a station in Alabama, Jim stayed in northeast Ohio. I, on the other hand, traveled to several locales across the country, always, seemingly, in search of a few thousand dollars more.
But wherever we ended up, Jim Chenot always stayed in touch. Always.
He had a prodigious sense of humor. It revolved around classic comedy shows and movie quotes. Since Jim was a Beatles fanatic, some of those phone calls made to me in Washington, DC or Knoxville, Tennessee or Pittsburgh or St. Louis generally revolved around dialogue from “A Hard Day’s Night.” He could recite from it like most people reel off their Social Security numbers. After an air-shift, I’d return to my office and routinely see the red light blinking on the phone. That unmistakable voice would puncture through the voice-mail: “Hey, man…..are you a mod or a rocker? Um, no…I’m a mocker!” Click.
Jim’s broadcasting career was essentially split into two chapters: 97.5 WONE and 91.3 The Summit. WAPS General Manager Tommy Bruno’s stunning, emotional eulogy mirrored the same sentiments that I heard from several of the old WONE/WAKR staffers who were there. The same common threads that I’d witnessed as his friend for the past 25 years.
Jim Chenot was humble. He was a fan of his craft and a fan of the music. He was a very spiritual person, and he often practiced and talked about meditation. He was also gracious and abundantly friendly, especially to people he didn’t know. Ticket-takers at the ballpark, servers at a coffee shop or restaurant, or a parking-lot attendant…they all received the same genuine, amiable greeting, followed, many times, by Jim inquiring about how their day was going. All done with that mellifluous, resonant cadence.
Most importantly, Jim was a father, who adored his son, Evan.
Sure, we all cope with grief in different ways. The death of someone close to us usually kindles, or re-kindles, a ‘what’s-important-in-life’ flame. It’s common, I suppose. Many will remember Jim Chenot for his uber-popular and epic sign-off: “Peace…love….rock ’n roll…..and good night…” So will I, naturally.
But in addition to remembering, I feel a huge sense of gratitude, as well. Because for the past two-and-a-half decades, I’ve had the enormous privilege to know the late, great Jim Chenot, my idol-turned-friend. Right now, in this grieving process, I can think of nothing more eloquent to say other than, “Hey, man….we miss you.”
Matthew A. Sedmock (aka ‘Matt Anthony’) is a broadcaster, writer, photographer, and content-creator. He’s also a blogger, and you can read a more in-depth account of his friendship with Jim Chenot in his blog, ‘Piper Court’: pipercourt.wordpress.com
(Photos used by permission from WAPS-FM/91.3 The Summit)