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INSIDE TRACK | TV-RADIO / LARRY STEWART

Forte Rebuilt His Life, Only to Have It Cut Short

May 24, 1996|LARRY STEWART

Maybe nobody can change totally, but Chet Forte came close.

There was the fast-living, free-spending, action-crazed, hot-tempered Chet Forte who was bringing in $900,000 a year as ABC Sports' top director.

And then there was the Chet Forte of the last five years, humbled by a gambling sickness that left him $1.5 million in debt and with legal problems that almost sent him to prison. But he was determined to rebuild his life.

Forte was given a new beginning when XTRA hired him five years ago, even though he was facing a possible prison sentence because of fraud and income-tax charges.

In March 1992, he was given five years' probation, ordered to perform 400 hours of community service, make restitution of past debts and pay $39,000 in back federal taxes. With a starting salary of $57,800 a year, he faced a difficult road.

"He could have taken the easy way out and declared bankruptcy, but he was determined to pay off his debts," said Steve Hartman, the other half of "the Loose Cannons," the popular XTRA broadcasting team. "He was making every public appearance he could and doing everything he could to pay off those debts."

Despite Forte's financial problems, he was upbeat.

"The past five years were the happiest of Chet's life," Hartman said. "He said it so often it had to be true.

"He learned what is important in life. He became a good husband and a good father. He worked so hard to get his life back in order."

That life came to an abrupt end last Saturday at 5 a.m. at his home in Fairbanks Ranch. He died of a heart attack at age 60.

He is survived by his wife, Tricia, whom Forte gave credit for "saving his life" and often called "the greatest person in the world" for sticking by him after he lost his job, his money, his home and his dignity.

Forte also is survived by his daughter, Jacqueline, a junior at Torrey Pines High and a member of the girls' basketball team.

"Chet rarely missed one of her games," Hartman said. "He had a lot of making-up to do with Jacqueline."

The timing of Forte's death was particularly hard on Jacqueline, because it came on the day of her prom. Her mother and friends convinced her to go anyway.

"Her dad would have wanted her to," Hartman said.

A funeral service, open to the public, will be held today at 11 a.m. at the Church of Nativity, 6309 Apajo, Rancho Santa Fe. Hartman will deliver the eulogy.

Also, a scholarship fund has been set up for Jacqueline. Contributions can be sent to the Jacqueline Forte Scholarship Fund, care of Scripps Bank, 7817 Ivanhoe Ave., La Jolla 92037, attention Jim H. (Jim H.'s full name, coincidentally, is Jim Healy.)

Hartman will return to his 1-4 p.m. slot Tuesday, after the Memorial Day holiday, and devote most of the week to honoring Forte.

Hartman says he prefers working with a partner, but there has not yet been any talk about hiring a replacement for Forte.

"We may hire someone, but I know one thing," Hartman said. "No one will ever replace Chet."

*

Vin Scully, after being named best radio play-by-play announcer at the fifth annual Southern California Sports Broadcasters Assn. Awards luncheon at the Biltmore on Wednesday, humbly said, "I didn't come here for any awards. I came here to honor Jerry Doggett."

The climax of the affair was Scully inducting Doggett, his sidekick on Dodger broadcasts for 32 years and his good friend, into the association's Hall of Fame. Doggett, 79, retired in 1987 after 49 years in sports broadcasting.

But before the Doggett induction and after Scully was also named best television play-by-play announcer, master of ceremonies Pat O'Brien cracked, "Welcome back to the Vin Scully Awards banquet."

There were some other winners, however. Bill Walton was named best television commentator, and John Wooden, at the luncheon to receive the Lifetime Achievement Award, accepted the award for Walton.

"You're fortunate he's not here," Wooden quipped, "because, unlike Vin Scully, Bill would have talked for an hour."

Other winners were: Stu Lantz, best radio commentator; KNX, best radio anchor staff; Prime Sports' "Press Box," best television anchor staff for the third year in a row, and Irv Kaze, in an upset, best radio talk-show host. Past winners Lee Hamilton and Ross Porter were the other nominees in the radio talk-show category.

TV-Radio Notes

OK, auto racing fans, Sunday is your day. Not one but two Indy car races--the traditional Indianapolis 500 on ABC, with coverage beginning at 8 a.m. and the race at 9--and then the upstart U.S. 500 on ESPN at 11 a.m. ABC spokesman Mark Mandel says his network is confident that since the Indy 500 is a Memorial Day tradition, viewers will still tune it in. . . . Also, TBS has the Coca-Cola 600 stock car race from Charlotte at 2 p.m.

NBC is getting great ratings for the NBA, and Fox's NHL playoff ratings are also up, averaging a 2.5 compared to a 1.9 after five weeks last year. . . . In Detroit last Sunday, the Chicago-Orlando NBA game got a 6.0 rating, the Red Wings and Avalanche an 18.0. . . . KWNK (670) is carrying USC's postseason baseball games. . . . ESPN made a good acquisition by luring college sports guru Len DeLuca away from CBS this week. DeLuca will be involved in all programming at ESPN.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

Tuning In

A sampling of L.A. Nielsen ratings for sports programs May 18-19.

SATURDAY

*--*

Event Ch. Rating NBA: Utah at Seattle 4 7.1 Horse racing: Preakness 7 3.2 Baseball: Angels-Yankees 9 2.7 Bowling: PBA in Canada 7 2.7 Golf: Colonial 2 1.4

*--*

SUNDAY

*--*

Event Ch. Rating NBA: Chicago-Orlando 4 11.6 NHL: Colorado-Detroit 11 2.7 Figure skating exhibition 7 2.6 Baseball: Angels-Yankees 9 2.4 Soccer: New York-New England 34 2.0 Golf: Colonial 2 1.4

*--*

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