Indianapolis Motor Speedway Radio Network
|Sid Collins, Paul Page, Bob Jenkins, Lou Palmer, Mike King|
|May 30, 1952|
|Indy Racing Radio Network (1998–2002)|
The Indianapolis Motor Speedway Radio Network (known typically as the IMS Radio Network), is an in-house radio syndication arrangement which broadcasts the Indianapolis 500, the Verizon IndyCar Series, Indy Lights, and the Brickyard 400 to radio stations covering most of North America. The network, owned by the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and headquartered in Speedway, Indiana, claims to be one of the largest of its kind in the world. It currently boasts over 400 terrestrial radio affiliates, plus shortwave transmissions through AFN, the LeSEA broadcasting network, and World Harvest Radio. The network is carried on satellite radio through Sirius/XM, and is also accessible through online streaming, and downloadable podcasts.
The longtime flagship of the network is 1070-WFNI (formerly WIBC) in Indianapolis. Paul Page is the current anchor for the Indianapolis 500 and all other IndyCar Series events. Pippa Mann is the driver analyst, except for the Indy 500, where she was replaced by Robbie Buhl.
- 1 History
- 2 Network details
- 3 Personalities
- 4 On-air talent (Indianapolis 500)
- 5 On-air crews and broadcast details by year
- 6 Notes
Early radio coverage
Coverage of the Indianapolis 500 on radio dates back to 1922. Two small stations, WOH and WLK broadcast descriptions of the race to a small number of households in the Indianapolis area. Starting in either 1924 or 1925, WFBM and WGN carried the race, broadcasting periodic updates. The first major coverage came in 1928 when NBC covered the final hour of the race live, with Graham McNamee as anchor. NBC continued until 1938, in some years also carrying live segments at the start. CBS also covered the race in the late 1930s, with Ted Husing anchoring the coverage in 1936. WIRE and WLW also reported from the race during the 1930s.
Mutual / WIBC
From 1939 to 1950, Mutual Broadcasting System covered the Indianapolis 500 nationwide with live segments at the start, the finish, and live periodic updates throughout the race. Bill Slater was the anchor. In the years after WWII, Mutual provided Slater as the anchor, but utilized the services of WIBC-AM to produce the broadcast and provide the additional talent. In 1950, Sid Collins joined Slater as co-anchor. Charlie Brockman was also part of the early broadcasts.
For 1951, Mutual substantially raised its advertising rates, and its primary sponsor, Perfect Circle Piston Rings, pulled its support. Mutual eventually decided to stop covering the event, and it appeared for a time that the 1951 race would not carried on radio. In early May of 1951, Speedway president Wilbur Shaw consummated a last-minute deal for WIBC-AM to cover the race, with Sid Collins as anchor. WIBC's format followed that of Mutual's, with live coverage at the start, the finish, and periodic updates throughout the race. WIBC provided its signal to approximately 25 other Mutual affiliates.
IMS Radio Network
After the success of WIBC's radio effort in 1951, the Speedway management became interested in taking the broadcasting duties in-house permanently. In 1952, the Speedway officially launched the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Radio Network, utilizing on-air talent and technical support from WIBC. The format again followed the Mutual-style format, with live coverage at the start, the finish, and periodic updates during the race. Starting in 1953, after complaints from the other four stations in the area, the talent pool was extended to feature personalities from all five Indianapolis radio stations. The 1953 race was notable in that it expanded to feature the first live "flag-to-flag" coverage, and the affiliate count had already grown to 130 stations. During this time, the broadcast was typically simulcast on all of the major stations in Indianapolis, and the nationwide affiliate count continued to grow rapidly. By 1955, the broadcast was carried in all 48 states (there were only 48 states at the time). In 1961, it reached new states Alaska and Hawaii as well. Worldwide shortwave transmission through Armed Forced Radio started in 1953, and claimed to reach every country where English was spoken.
Former Indy 500 driver Elmer George, husband of Mari Hulman George, and father of Tony George, would eventually become the director of the network. He served in the position until his death in 1976.
From 1952 to 1985, the IMS Radio Network was the only outlet for live coverage of the Indianapolis 500. Television coverage on ABC at the time was a tape-delayed format, and for only a very brief time (1965-1970) MCA aired a closed-circuit live telecast of the race. The radio broadcast was the primary coverage of the race for most fans in the U.S. and around the world, including many thousands at the track itself. The network experienced its heyday of popularity from the 1960s to the early 1980s. During the late seventies and early eighties, its affiliate count swelled to over 1,200 stations. Along with shortwave transmissions, and various foreign language translations, the network boasted at one time over 100 million listeners worldwide. After the race went to live coverage on ABC-TV in 1986, the number of radio affiliates for the network steadily declined over the next two decades. However, the radio network's popularity remains strong, and maintains a cult following, particularly in the greater Indianapolis area, where the live television broadcast remains blacked out locally.
As of 2014, the broadcast is carried on approximately 400 terrestrial radio affiliates, shortwave (AFN, LeSEA, and World Harvest Radio), satellite radio (Sirius/XM), online streaming, and podcast. Official releases of historical radio broadcasts have also been available for purchase.
In 1994, the network began broadcasting the Brickyard 400 as the only NASCAR races not broadcast by MRN or PRN , and in 1996, began covering all events of the Indy Racing League. The network's name was briefly changed in 1997-2002 to the Indy Racing Radio Network to reflect the expanded content. From 2000-2007, the network also carried the F1 U.S. Grand Prix. In addition to live race coverage, the network provides reports at Indy 500 time trials, and a talk show titled "Indy Live" which features interviews and other race news.
The broadcast originates from the main control tower at the Speedway, known as the Pagoda. From 1957-1998, the broadcast originated from the glass and steel Master Control Tower, which was formerly sat in that location. Prior to that, a radio booth was situated inside or in front of the wooden pagoda that proceeded the Master Control Tower. For the 1999 race, a temporary makeshift booth was utilized during construction of the new Pagoda.
Since its inception, additional reporters have been part of the broadcasting crew, covering the vast circuit in the turns and in the pit area. In the 1940s and early 1950s, a roving reporter was assigned to the south turns (turns 1 and 2), and another was assigned to the north turns (turns 3 and 4). A vantage point on the backstretch was also manned. By 1957, the crew was expanded with a reporter assigned to each of the four turns, as well as the backstretch, for a total of five remote locations. In the pit area, the crew expanded to three men, one each covering the north pits, center pits, and south pits. With the starting field traditionally composed of 33 cars, each pit reporter was assigned roughly eleven pit stalls to observe and report from. The three-man pit reporting crew of Chuck Marlowe, (north), Luke Walton (center), and Lou Palmer (south) became a fixture of the broadcast for over twenty years. Other key fixtures in the turns included Jim Shelton (turn 4), Howdy Bell (turn 2), Mike Ahern, and Ron Carrell. When the length of the pit road was lengthened in 1974, a fourth pit reporter was added. Also in the 1970s, a roving reporter was added with his duties primarily to cover the garage area and track hospital.
Starting in mid-1980s, and permanently since 1991, the backstretch reporting location was eliminated. Due to the rising speeds of the race cars, the position was deemed unnecessary. Furthermore, due to an improved location, the turn three reporter was now able to see the entire backstretch from his vantage point.
For the 2010 race, the once prestigious turn one location was left vacant. The faster pace of the broadcasts, as well as the fact that the chief announcer in the pagoda had a clear view of the entire turn, was the reason for the change. The position was brought back for the 2011 race when the league adopted double-file restarts. The position was used again in 2012, even though the league went back to single-file restarts, but it was eliminated again for the 2013 race. When Paul Page returned to the network in 2014, he reinstated the turn one position.
The broadcast traditionally opens and closes with a rendition of the song called "The 500", originally recorded by the Singing Hoosiers and Jazz Ensemble of Indiana University, (lyrics written by Joe Jordan). Several versions of the song have been used over the years. The original 1961 recording is often played briefly during a cold open segment, followed by an updated version and the official opening credits sequence. In 2014, when Paul Page made his return as anchor, he chose to feature his signature "Delta Force" intro instead of "The 500" song.
Since 1954, broadcast has featured the famous phrase "Stayed tuned for the Greatest Spectacle in Racing." Due to the increased number of affiliates at the time, the network needed a scripted "out-cue" to alert producers when to manually insert local commercials. A young WIBC marketing staff member named Alice Greene (née Bunger) is credited with inventing the phrase, and chief announcer Sid Collins coined it on-air. It has been used ever since, with all of the chief announcers proudly reciting it during their respective tenures.
The play-by-play, or "Chief Announcer" of the race is known as The Voice of The 500. Though Bill Slater anchored early broadcasts on Mutal, Sid Collins is considered by most as the first true Voice. Collins had served alongside Slater in previous years, working as a turn reporter or analyst. Collins served the chief announcer duty from 1952 to 1976. One of Collins' most notable moments in broadcasting came during the 1964 race. After a fiery crash on the mainstretch, Collins delivered an impromptu eulogy for Eddie Sachs, who was killed in the accident along with Dave MacDonald. The network received over 30,000 letters asking for a transcript of the on-air eulogy. Collins committed suicide on May 2, 1977, after being diagnosed with ALS.
Paul Page, whom Collins mentored, took over as chief announcer from 1977 to 1987. Lou Palmer, formerly a pit reporter, then served the shortest tenure to date as Voice, (1988–1989). Bob Jenkins replaced Palmer, and called the event from 1990 to 1998. Mike King elevated to the position in 1999, after serving four years as a pit reporter. At fifteen years, King served the second-longest tenure as Voice, until his resignation in 2013. King was replaced by veteran Paul Page, who returned to the role after a 27-year absence.
Some historians and traditionalists prefer not to bestow Collins' successors with the prestigious title of Voice, arguing that Collins is the only true original "Voice of the 500," and in fact coined the moniker for himself. There has been no consensus ever reached, and Page, Palmer, Jenkins, and King, all have been referred to over the years as either "Voice" or "Chief Announcer" whether formally or informally.
In addition to the chief announcer, turn reporters, and pit reporters, there are several other personalities that join the broadcast. Since 1955, a "driver expert" has been part of the broadcast, serving as a color commentator. The position is typically held by a retired/inactive driver, or in some case a driver who failed to qualify for the race. Fred Agabashian held the seat for several years. Speedway historian Donald Davidson has appeared on the broadcast every year from 1964-2014. In 1964, he was a guest interviewed in the booth during the race, and starting in 1965 he joined the crew in an official capacity. Other former analysts include Chris Economaki and Dave Wilson. During its heyday, the broadcast crew was a Who's Who of notable radio talent from Indiana, both on-air and technical staff. Being named to the crew was considered a prestigious honor.
From the inception of the network through the early 1990s, a "Statistician" position was used. The statistician kept track of the race scoring, and would come on air to recite the scoring serials and average speeds at regular intervals - typically every 10 laps. The position was demanding, requiring close coordination with the USAC officials downstairs in race control. The radio network crew typically facilitated its own team of unofficial serial scorers to follow the progress of the race. That allowed the scoring reports to be announced on-air faster than the official scorekeepers could produce them from race control. The two-man scoring crew of Bill Fletemeyer and Bill Lamm was a fixture of the network for many years. During the network's heyday, it was a popular rite for many listeners at home to chart the scoring throughout the race. The statistician position quickly became outdated and obsolete when sophisticated electronic scoring equipment was adopted in the early 1990s. By the 2000s, the position was retired.
From 1994–1999, Mike Joy anchored the Brickyard 400 broadcasts. Mike King took his place from 2000–2003. Since 2004, King or Bob Jenkins has co-anchored the broadcast with Doug Rice, part of a joint arrangement with PRN.
Each of the different anchors had a noticeably different respective broadcasting style, and the race coverage was heavily influenced by the chief announcer's direction. During the Sid Collins era, the broadcast resembled more of an entertainment-based broadcast than a sporting event, with Collins old-time radio style setting the tone. Particularly in the 1950s and 1960s, there was limited play-by-play commentary, largely because during this period, it was not unusual for long stretches of the race to see little or no action. Turn reporters typically did not "call" the race live, in-part due to the limitations of the equipment. Rather, when incidents occurred on the track, the information would be relayed on cue cards to Collins, and the reporters would be called upon to summarize the details of what had happened. A unique individual, Collins was characterized by his contemporaries as a perfectionist and a proud person. The Collins era was also noted for its popular culture and social appeal. Booth interviews with celebrities, politicians, advertisers, retired drivers, and other famous personalities in attendance were used to fill the downtime of the broadcast. On other occasions, telegrams might be received from celebrities listening at home, and Collins would read some of them on-air for the listeners. Starting in 1971, Collins made an effort to curtail booth interviews, in order to improve the flow of the race, and to assuage listeners' complaints. Collins also had a popular custom of signing-off the broadcast by reciting poetry or other literary vignettes.
When Paul Page entered the booth in 1977, he swiftly changed the face of the network, and in his own words, "brought the broadcast into the present tense." He turned the coverage into a true live, play-by-play, sporting event broadcast. He "locked the doors" of the broadcast booth, effectively eliminating the mundane celebrity interviews, and gave the turn reporters a higher level of play-by-play responsibility. With the help of technicians, Page invented a custom switchboard to facilitate the turn and pit reporters. Page himself donned a headset that had instant communication between himself and the turn reporters, and without hesitation, would throw the call to the turn reporters as he saw appropriate. The new improved style of broadcasting was well-received, and earned critical praise for the seamless around-the-track call of the 1982 finish.
During the years Bob Jenkins anchored the network, the quality of the broadcast continued to excel. Praised by members of his staff as always being well-prepared and in complete control of the broadcast, Jenkins' team was praised for their flawless call of the 1992 finish. Jenkins enthusiastically served as chief announcer for nine years, but characterized the job as "complex" as well as physically and mentally "exhausting." During the 2000s, with Mike King as anchor, several new personalities joined the crew. After King retired from the position, Page made a well-publicized return as chief announcer in 2014.
On-air talent (Indianapolis 500)
Booth and turn announcers
|Turn 1||Chief Announcer||Turn 4|
|Turn 2||Backstretch||Turn 3|
|Driver Expert||Color Commentators|
Pit and garage area reporters
|Garage Area / Hospital reporters|
On-air crews and broadcast details by year
- 1940s: 1946 • 1947 • 1948 • 1949
- 1950s: 1950 • 1951 • 1952 • 1953 • 1954 • 1955 • 1956 • 1957 • 1958 • 1959
- 1960s: 1960 • 1961 • 1962 • 1963 • 1964 • 1965 • 1966 • 1967 • 1968 • 1969
- 1970s: 1970 • 1971 • 1972 • 1973 • 1974 • 1975 • 1976 • 1977 • 1978 • 1979
- 1980s: 1980 • 1981 • 1982 • 1983 • 1984 • 1985 • 1986 • 1987 • 1988 • 1989
- 1990s: 1990 • 1991 • 1992 • 1993 • 1994 • 1995 • 1996 • 1997 • 1998 • 1999
- 2000s: 2000 • 2001 • 2002 • 2003 • 2004 • 2005 • 2006 • 2007 • 2008 • 2009
- 2010s: 2010 • 2011 • 2012 • 2013 • 2014
- Mutual Radio Network: Indianapolis 500 Radio Broadcasts (1946, 1947, 1949, 1950)
- Indianapolis Motor Speedway Radio Network: Indianapolis 500 Radio Broadcasts (1953-1955, 1958, 1960-2014)
- Van Camp's Pork & Beans Presents: Great Moments From the Indy 500 - Fleetwood Sounds, 1975
- INDYCAR Radio: Official site
- Indiana Broadcast Pioneers - Hall of Fame
- 1977 Carl Hungness Indianapolis 500 Yearbook, pg. 134-135
- 1995 Indianapolis 500 Official Program. IMS Corporation. 1995. pp. 121–125.
- "Voices From the Speedway: 50 Years of the Indy 500 on Radio" - 1070 WIBC-AM & IMS Radio Network, 2002
- The Talk of Gasoline Alley. April 29, 2014. WFNI.
- "Voices of the 500: 50 years of the Indy 500 on Radio". Indy 500 DVD Legacy Series. 2002.
- Highway Traveler 11, no. 2 (April–May 1939), p. 27.
- The Talk of Gasoline Alley. May 14, 2005. 1070 WIBC-AM.
- The Talk of Gasoline Alley. May 17, 2013. WFNI.
- The Talk of Gasoline Alley. May 2, 2012. WFNI.
- Oreovicz, John (2011-05-16). "Indy at 100: Fatalities mar the '70s". ESPN.com. Retrieved 2011-08-02.
- The Talk of Gasoline Alley. May 16, 2009. WFNI.
- 1991 Indianapolis 500 Official Program. IMS Corporation. 1991. pp. 179–183.
- "Sid Collins - 1979 Inductee profile". Indiana Journalism Hall of Fame. Retrieved June 18, 2014.
- The Talk of Gasoline Alley. May 11, 2008. WFNI.
- Cavin, Curt (December 2, 2013). "Paul Page returns as Indy 500's voice". The Indianapolis Star (Karen Crotchfelt; Gannett Company). Retrieved December 2, 2013.
- The Talk of Gasoline Alley - 1070-AM WIBC, May 20, 2007
- The Talk of Gasoline Alley. August 7, 2004. 1070 WIBC-AM.
- The Talk of Gasoline Alley. May 15, 2002. Network Indiana.
- "The Talk of Gasoline Alley," Network Indiana, May 11, 2006
- 1977 Indianapolis 500 Hungness Yearbook: "Never To Be Forgotten - Sid Collins", pg 129-133.
- Trackside with Kurt Cavin and Kevin Lee. December 11, 2013. WFNI.
- "Heroes of the 500: A Conversation With Paul Page" - WFNI, 2014