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Continued: March 21, 1993: Fans and foes alike notice it's Dark at the top of the heap

  • Article by: NOEL HOLSTON , Star Tribune
  • Last update: June 1, 2012 - 7:00 PM

On WCCO Radio's "Night Talk" recently, a caller suggested that
host Dark Star and his guest, Dave, toss their bags on North Stars
owner Norm Green's trailer and accompany him the heck out of town,
leading to the following exchange between the tweaked twosome:

Dave: Who is this guy?

Dark: Hey, you know, Dave, they all take their swings. They
take their shots. It's part of the deal, you know. That's why we
make what most people consider to be big money, which really isn't
as big as they think it is.

Dave: Exxxxactly. And we take all the stuff that goes with it,
too, right? Ha ha ha ha.

Dark: Dave, last question, and the most important question I
have to ask you this evening: If we do get run out of the state and
we wind up in Dallas, who's gonna play tennis with Norm and who's
gonna watch the dogs?

Dave: Ah ha ha ha! You're gonna end up doin' both.

Dark: I knew you'd stick me with both of them. I knew it.
David, thanks a million for being on.

Dave: Hey, my pleasure. I'm glad you're where you are.

Dark: Well, I'm glad you're where you are. I wish you nothing
but the best of luck.

Dave: Thanks a lot, Dark. (Click)

Dark: David Durenberger on WCCO Radio. We'll have open phones
the rest of the way. . . .

The funniest thing about this little lovefest, which stopped
just short of Dave joining Dark for a teary chorus of "You've Got a
Friend," is that Durenberger has been a U.S. senator for 15 years
while "The Darkman," until not too long ago, was best known for
handicapping races at Canterbury Downs.

Star's star has risen fast - and seemingly from out of nowhere.
One night he's yukking it up on 'CCO with Durenberger, the next
night maybe it's Al Checchi or Clem Haskins or Gov. Arne Carlson.
Whomever he's talking with, chances are he's talking with the
familiarity, the bonhomie and the sense of entitlement of an old
Army buddy.

In January, WCCO general manager Rand Gottlieb demonstrated his
confidence in Star by moving "Night Talk" from the wee small hours
to a more prime time - 9 a.m. to 1 a.m.

Knowledgeable people in radio talk about the possibility of his
show someday being syndicated nationally, like Larry King's or Rush
Limbaugh's.

It's enough to make you ask about Dark Star what Durenberger
asked about the cheeky caller:

Who is this guy?

George Chapple is who he really is.

Dark Star is the name of the 1953 Kentucky Derby winner.
Chapple said he took the horse's name as a pseudonym when he was
moonlighting as a handicapper for the Los Angeles Herald-Examiner
while working for a very conservative brokerage house.

Which was after he worked at the pro shop at L.A.'s ritzy Bel
Air Country Club.

Which was after he roofed houses and tended bar in Washington,
D.C.

Which was after he was injured in a helicopter accident in
Vietnam.

Which was after he was in an auto accident at Fort Hood, Texas,
that left the other four passengers dead.

Which was after he dropped out of the University of Connecticut
to join the Army.

Which was after he got his face sliced up with a broken Coke
bottle in a New York subway fight.

Which was after his family moved from Middletown, Ohio, where
he was born, to Long Island.

Which was after he had learned to play "barn ball" on his
grandfather's Ohio farm, sold sweet corn out of a wagon door-to-door
and saw his first horse race at a county fair when he was 6 (and
picked eight out of nine races, he says, for the day).

Chapple has almost as many stories as he does opinions, which
is to say a number approaching infinity. How he wound up doing a
talk show for WCCO is a story.

It began one night in late 1985. Chapple had moved to Minnesota
from the West Coast in 1979 to work for Gelco Corp., an auto leasing
company, and in a bar he overheard a well-lubricated fellow
connected to the Vikings brass blurt out that coach Bud Grant was
going to quit at the end of the season. From his car phone, Chapple
phoned columnists Patrick Reusse and Joe Soucheray on their KSTP-AM
radio show, `Monday Night Sports Talk," and predicted Grant's
resignation.

"Who is this?" said the hosts, whose skepticism is legendary.

"This is Dark Star," said the caller.

When the prediction proved credible, Reusse and Soucheray
started touting the mysterious Star as the Twin Cities' new
sport-scoop king - and they helped him get on the payroll at the St.
Paul Pioneer Press when the paper found itself in need of a
handicapper.

Two days after his embarrassing 0-for-9 debut in the Pioneer
Press, Star popped up as substitute host of "The Canterbury Report,"
the track's late-night replay show on cable TV. A week later the
show became "The Canterbury Report with Dark Star." Soon he was
doing handicapping seminars . . . and a column in Viking Update . .
. and a show for KANO Radio in Anoka . . . and Canterbury updates
for WCCO.

Some people question how deep Star's knowledge of horses
actually runs. No one disputes that he understands the meaning of
the word "parlay."
Shot in the Dark

Star got his foot in the WCCO door thanks to Pat Fallon of the
Fallon-McElligott ad agency. He had become friendly with Fallon when
they served together on a committee to save the University of
Minnesota's Memorial Stadium from the wrecking ball. Fallon's
secretary just happened to be the wife of 'CCO program director Jon
Quick. Through her, Fallon recommended Star.

Quick, now general manager of Fargo's KFGO-AM, didn't hire Star
immediately. But even in 1986, Quick said, he recognized Star "as a
colorful character, a natural personality."

As time went by, Quick said, Star "absolutely beat my door
down. He would call me every day - sometimes three, four times a day
- trying to get a shot. He'd say, `Hey, boss, gimme a shot, just one
shot, boss.' Naturally, I just grew to like the guy."

"When he wants something, he's a very hard charger," said Eric
Eskola, WCCO's political specialist and one of Star's closest
friends. "He's very focused and a tireless salesman of himself. He
just wore everybody down. "

Quick eventually let Star do guest shots on John Gordon's
"Sports Talk." "Even though he was pretty rough," Quick said,
"something told me to hang with this guy and use him from time to
time."

The big shot Star had been lobbying for came in January 1991.
Quick and general manager Steve Goldstein had been researching
possible changes in the station's overnight program, which was
presided over by low-key jazz buff Joe McFarlin. "We concluded that
the overnight audience had an appetite for more involving
programming," Goldstein said.

Star took over WCCO's midnight-to-3 a.m. shift. As luck would
have it, for him at least, George Bush declared war on Saddam
Hussein.

"It was a very fortuitous thing," said Eskola. "The Persian
Gulf War gave him a forum, something on which he could attach a
point of view - he was very `pro' the war. It was a time when Sen.
[Paul] Wellstone was against the war, so he [Star] was able to set
that up as a kind of protagonist-antagonist type of a deal. A lot of
things fell right, including his good hard work, and it happened."

Dark victory

Star's "Night Talk" caught on quickly. WCCO's management was
startled to discover how many people were awake and eager to put
their two cents in.

"He would routinely do touch-tone votes on topics he had
heated up, and it would not be rare that thousands of people would
call," Goldstein said, still sounding astonished. "In the middle of
the night!"

"You need a hook in this game, just to be heard above the
racket," Eskola said. "And the Dark Star hook - he's a very good
storyteller, he's got a kind of colorful urban patois - has sliced
through the typical babble of all the media."

Star also polarized listeners with his opinionated style. "Dark
Star evokes the emotion of, `What is that jerk gonna say tonight?' "
said Eskola. "He has the same kind of quality that Sid Hartman
brings to radio. If you love him, you love to listen to him. But if
you hate him, you still listen, because you love to hate him."

Quick compares Star to America's reigning radio heavyweight,
Rush Limbaugh. "Rush is more polished, but Dark is getting better
all the time," Quick said. "They're both very natural personalities
and characters who have an opinion on everything."

Listeners who think Limbaugh and Star are peas from the same
political pod aren't paying close attention, however. Star is no fan
of Bill Clinton, but he's no right-wing ideologue, either. A
flag-waver? You bet. Big booster of the military and the police?
Absolutely.

But he's also pro-choice on the abortion issue, in favor of
registering handguns, and of the opinion that homophobes should shut
up and tend to their own business. "I don't think he's doctrinaire
anything," Eskola said.

Star describes himself as a moderate Republican and says he
would have jumped party lines last year if "Clinton's lies" about
not taxing the middle class han't driven his guy, pro-business
Democrat Paul Tsongas, out of the nomination race.

"I think a lot of people on the radio gear their conversation
to the listenership," Star said. "I say exactly what I think every
single day, every single week, every second I'm on the radio. You've
got to have your own style and you've gotta be honest about what you
do. Because if you're not honest, then you gotta remember all the
lies you told."

Dark shades

Even some people who call Star a friend wonder how much of him
is fiction.

"To ask if he embellishes, I mean, it goes with the territory,
doesn't it?" said Chuck Wagner, Star's longtime friend and a
business associate in D.C. "I mean, he's an entertainment."

"I would never say he's devious," said Quick, "but he's like a
little boy sometimes, where he changes his story to suit his needs
at the time. He's the ultimate schmoozer, in a good sort of way, so
you never know quite whether to believe everything."

Star said people just find it hard to believe so many things
could have happened to a guy who's only 46 years old. He also said
he "would rather burn to death in a fire than bore somebody."

The most commonly heard comment about Star is that he kisses up
to people with power or authority - politicians, business leaders,
his bosses.

"If you ask 50 people about George, 40 of them will use the
word unctuous," said Mike Gelfand, who also handicapped Canterbury
races. "It's just the way he is."

"He would have been the first kid to clean the blackboards
after school," said Quick, "because he knew it would have been a
good investment for something later."

Star brought this matter up in an interview without being
asked. He sounded more annoyed than hurt. "Why should I hang around
with bums who don't have the same drive and ambition that I do?" he
said. "If you want to learn, you have go to the people who know."

He noted, for instance, that he "bothers" Gottlieb, the WCCO
general manager, "all the time, to find out what's going on in the
enterprise. Anybody who doesn't do that is a fool."

He calls himself "a classic workaholic" and expresses great
admiration for other people who pour themselves into their work.
Quick says "life-aholic" would be more accurate because Star "can't
stand to not be part of the whirlwind of life."

He's on the air four hours a night and says he gets by on five
hours' sleep. The rest of his typical day is spent going to the
Flagship Athletic Club, where he plays basketball and reads
newspapers while he rides a bike or saunas; playing gin rummy in the
afternoons at the Lafayette Country Club; going to Timberwolves
games (he is the original season-ticket holder) and other sporting
events; and making calls from the phone in his Saab.

Quick estimates that Star makes close to 100 calls a day,
greeting his grapevine members with, "What's goin' on, boss?"

Star is separated from his wife of only a few months, Debra
Kockos Chapple, because his life-aholism didn't mesh well with
marriage. "It's very difficult to maintain anything but what I do on
a day-to-day basis," he said. "It takes about 90 percent of the gas
out of the tank."

Since the separation, he has been living at his mother's home
in Edina.

Heart of Darkness

Friends say that he's sentimental and an easy touch. Wagner
talked about his sensitive side. Quick said he is "a very emotional
guy. He's not afraid to shed a tear for the people he really cares
for."

Star revealed some of that when he talked about his father, his
lifelong golfing buddy, who died in late 1990. "The one thing I miss
the most is playing golf with my dad," he said. "I'd give everything
I have to be able to spend one more summer with my father playing
golf. And I mean everything.

"My father was ultraconservative, totally strait-laced,
demanded your respect through his deeds and doings," he said. "He
worked hard, came home every night. He was a family man. Great
father. And a great person. He's the best friend I ever had. And it
leaves a tremendous void in my life, because now I have to refer
almost on a daily basis to what he taught me and what he wanted me
to be. And in his lifetime, I think I lived up to what he wanted me
to be."

Notwithstanding what Eskola calls Star's " `Guys and Dolls'
persona," his background is business and country club. He said that
a basic difference between him and his friend and fellow sports
addict, Pat Reusse, is that Reusse sees owners and management as the
enemy. Star doesn't.

His father was a Buick dealer in Ohio and later a Gelco
executive in the Twin Cities area. His grandfather was president of
Armco Steel, and his father's brother was an executive at U.S.
Steel. One of his great pleasures today is the gin game at Lafayette
with a group of retired businessmen. He inherited his father's seat
in the game, and he said he goes there not just for the camaraderie
but to tap into the business acumen they have to share.

He talks about having "secondary variables" - options, other
irons in the fire. "You've got to have more than one thing going for
you by the time you're 47," he said. He has an interest in a
lighting company in the Twin Cities and real-estate holdings with
Wagner in Washington. "At some point I may have to go back to
Washington to work," he said.

Yet, even when he says that, even when he opines that you
should change jobs every eight years to stay fresh, it's hard to
imagine him walking away from a high-profile platform such as "Night
Talk," where he gets to swap stories nightly with coaches and
politicians and corporate executives and newspaper editors.

"He's getting paid for what he would be doing anyway," said
Wagner. "When he had straight jobs, his real love was sports and all
the stories he told and his viewpoints on things. Now he's in a
position where it's more defined. He's where he should be."



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  • WCCO's Dark Star (George Chapple) in March 1993

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