You’d get a message during the day: “u avail tonite talk college football carli lloyd … 630 or 7.”
The lack of a question mark at the end seemed purposeful. For Chuck Betson, people made themselves available, to talk about college football or Carli Lloyd or horse racing or baseball or the Eagles or why wasn’t sports gambling legal in New Jersey or the glory that was the Atlantic 10 tournament when it was in Atlantic City — or when it wasn’t, Chuck really wanted to talk about how to get it back.
He switched radio stations and time slots, but none of that mattered. You were never sure if two people were listening to the Betson Connection or 200 or 20,000. It did not matter. It didn’t even matter if you were on the radio. You were talking sports with Betson. That was always enough.
Betson, 68, who died Friday of a heart attack after a lengthy illness, was a Philly guy who became a Jersey Shore staple, as a sports columnist for the Atlantic City Press, then on the radio, settling in Ocean City, while working for all sorts of local entities, including the Atlantic City Surf baseball team.
He loved his Florida Gators. He’d gone to the University of Florida, and his two sons went there, too. When son Scott was asked to list his father’s enthusiasms, he started with the Gators. “He met my mom there,’’ Scott Betson said.
That list of enthusiasms included: The Big Five, Atlantic City, especially covering Tyson fights, the Final Four, John Chaney, lifeguard races — Betson is in the Ocean City Beach Patrol Hall of Fame — plus all the Philly sports teams.
“My brother was born in ‘83,’’ Scott Betson said of his brother Matt. “When the Sixers won that year, he was trying to convince my mom to name my brother Moses.”
She didn’t go for that, even after Moses Malone had made his famous “fo, fo, fo,’’ playoff prediction. Betson’s radio shows were always born of such enthusiasm, which was consistently infectious.
“You can’t replace someone who is irreplaceable,’’ said Dave Coskey, who noted that Betson helped him get a job in the casino industry years ago, long before Coskey became Betson’s boss in the radio business. “A special guy. I used to tell him that he was a larger-than-life cartoon character of himself.”
The kind of guy who would leave a message for his boss, “I’ve done it again. I’ve gotten the best guest we’ve ever had. I continue to carry these stations.”
Chet Zukowski, retired after a long run in Temple’s athletic department, remembers how when John Chaney was going in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2001, Betson kept calling to get Chaney on his radio show. “Calling me every hour,’’ Zukowski said.
Finally, Zukowski cried uncle. He saw a window. He called Betson. “You’ve got 10 minutes,’’ he told him.
Anyone who knows Betson or Chaney knows neither ever had a 10-minute conversation with anybody in their lives. This one went 45 minutes. The next interview could wait.
“I get home, I’ve got three more phone calls from Chuck,’’ Zukowski said. “I call him …. ‘What, did you forget something?’ … ‘No, man, I just wanted to thank you for getting me Coach Chaney.’ ‘’
“I loved Chuck because you always knew when he was in any building,’’ said Jayson Stark, baseball writer for the Inquirer, ESPN, and now The Athletic. “He was about as passionate a member of our profession as I’ve ever known. And he had a fearlessness about him that enabled him to ask any question and pursue any angle, especially ones that other writers wouldn’t touch.”
Beyond that, Stark said, Betson was just so much fun. “Loved doing what he did and wanted everyone around him to love it, too.”
“To me he was Mr. South Jersey,’’ said retired Daily News college writer Mike Kern. “I don’t think anything happened down there without him knowing about it. Or maybe even approving it. Through his writing and later via the radio waves. … He was a little bit different, an acquired taste so to speak, but in a good way. His own way. And he wasn’t afraid to ruffle some feathers. He used to tell me, ‘Kernman, you have to ask the tough questions.’ And he did.”
In addition to his sons, who are both schoolteachers in South Jersey, Betson is survived by his wife, Barbara; Scott’s wife, LisaAnn; and two grandchildren. Hopefully, there will be a celebration of his life at some point. But you could argue that before he got sick, Betson already had made his life a celebration of local sports.
Betson was a Press columnist in Atlantic City, banging the local drum loudly for legalized sports gambling in New Jersey, finally seeing that happen before he died. Even without it, his city was sometimes the center of the sports world when some big fights were there, starting with Mike Tyson.