ABC/ESPN Should Take A Page From Its Past

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A couple of weeks ago, ABC/ESPN released the lineup of the broadcast team for the five Izod IndyCar Series races they will broadcast in 2010, beginning with the second race of the season at St. Petersburg. My reaction was ambivalence, at best. The lineup features very few changes – Marty Reid and Scott Goodyear in the booth, to be joined by Eddie Cheever at Indianapolis; along with the recently demoted Dr. Jerry Punch, Jamie Little, Vince Welch and newcomer Rick DeBruhl on board as pit reporters.

Vince Welch is as solid as they come. Ditto for Jamie Little. Rick DeBruhl is a former Phoenix TV reporter with a motorsport broadcasting background that includes Champ Car, IMSA and the Nationwide series. Jerry Punch came under fire for being too boring for the booth at NASCAR events, but personally – I’ve always liked him. The fact that NASCAR fans rejected him speaks highly of him.

A noteworthy absence from the lineup is the name of Jack Arute. It had been rumored since late last season that Arute was going to move exclusively to Versus, although I had never seen a confirmation. I guess this serves as confirmation. Say what you will about Jack Arute – he sometimes seemed to consider himself one of the stars of the show and his “emotional” interviews grew tiresome – but there was never any questioning his passion for the sport. This will be the first ABC telecast of the Indianapolis 500 in almost twenty-five years that won’t feature Arute in the pits. Something seems a little unnerving about that.

My problem with the ABC/ESPN lineup is in the booth. The tandem of Marty Reid and Scott Goodyear is one of the best cures for insomnia that I can think of. Goodyear is OK, but is just very dry. He would do well when paired with someone that is not as humorly challenged, however he does NOT do well when paired with Marty Reid. There is a noticeable lack of chemistry beyond those two, which is perplexing since they are headed into their fifth season together. If it hasn’t developed by now, it probably isn’t going to.

The only thing that really made Marty Reid an attractive choice as lead announcer for the Izod IndyCar Series races is the fact that his name was not Todd Harris. Harris was a one-year experiment in 2005 that proved disastrous for ABC/ESPN. In the name of going after younger viewers, Harris was chosen to replace Paul Page in the booth. In defense of Todd Harris, he himself recognized that he was woefully unprepared for the role – his background included the X-Games and the World’s Strongest Man competition – and he feared long-term IndyCar fans would reject him. His concerns were well founded as he alienated most fans with his overall lack of knowledge and his over-the-top fawning over anything that involved then-rookie Danica Patrick.

If it were left to me (which for some reason, it isn’t), I would choose to bring Paul Page back to the ABC/ESPN booth. To me Paul Page is the quintessential broadcast voice of the Izod IndyCar Series. As much as I admire Bob Jenkins and the presence he brings to Versus – Paul Page is THE most representative living voice out there for the series.

Although he grew up as a military “brat” in Stuttgart, Germany; Paul Page is considered a Hoosier by most. After his freshman year at the University of Tulsa, too much fun caused his GPA to drop low enough to make him eligible for the draft. He beat them to the punch and signed up and spent six years in the U.S. Army.

Page began his broadcasting career in Indianapolis at WIBC in 1968. In 1974, he joined the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Radio Network as a pit-reporter. Longtime IMS Radio anchor, Sid Collins, was diagnosed with ALS in April of 1977 and took his own life the next month – just weeks before the Indianapolis 500. He and Paul Page had become good friends. It was Sid Collins’ desire that Paul Page assume his role as the chief anchor on the IMS radio network.

So when the green flag dropped for the sixty-first running of the Indianapolis 500, it was Paul Page assuming the role that Sid Collins had held since 1952. Page did a masterful job at filling in with little notice. He did such a good job, he held the post as “Voice for the Indianapolis 500” for the next eleven races before moving over to the ABC broadcast booth in 1988. It was there that he began working with Bobby Unser and Sam Posey where they formed the unlikeliest trio on the air.

The Unser-Posey on-air squabbles were legendary. In the meantime, Page was at his best calling the race and interjecting his own passion and enthusiasm for the sport, while also trying to maintain some sanity in the booth. If the racing was ever dull, at least you knew that the trio in the booth would be entertaining.

When the split came in 1996, it affected the broadcast booth as well. Page stayed with the IRL for the first few years, while Bob Varsha called the CART races. Then, Page was moved back over to cover the CART races in 1999 leaving Bob Jenkins to handle the IRL duties. The 1999 Indy 500 was the first time that Paul page had not had a hand in broadcasting the race since 1973.

For the 1999 CART season, Paul Page was paired with whom I consider one of the worst analysts ever – Parker Johnstone. Page continued on as the true professional he is, despite the bad pairing. He was behind the microphone when Greg Moore was fatally injured. Although you could sense the tremendous loss in his voice, Page never wavered.

By 2002, Paul Page was back at the Speedway covering the IRL. That stint lasted through the end of the 2004 season. That’s when ABC inexplicably gave Page the hook, in favor of the young and inexperienced Todd Harris who lasted just one year before yielding to Marty Reid.

While Reid is a massive improvement over Todd Harris, he is no Paul Page. The best way I know how to describe Page’s style is “controlled passion”. His passion and enthusiasm for this sport oozes through his delivery, yet he has never been “over the top” as is the case with younger sportscasters who are always trying to convey that whatever they are calling is the ultimate event…until next week’s.

Instead, Paul Page is usually under control. He can shout a bit, but it always seems to be appropriate. Like so many of us, he has lived and breathed the Indianapolis 500 his entire life. Over time, he has learned to merge his love of the sport with his trained profession. Lately, he has been seemingly shoved to the side calling NHRA, snowmobile races and hot-dog eating contests for ESPN. The executives at ESPN will tell you that the NHRA was their top-rated motorsports programming before they got NASCAR back in 2007. I know they will because that’s what they told me after I wrote a disparaging article about them last May, but I digress.

Regardless of the ratings, NHRA is not where Paul Page needs to be. His love and passion falls with the IndyCars and most importantly, the Indy 500. My seats at Indy are directly behind the number-two pit stall. A couple of years ago, I saw Paul just milling around behind the Ganassi pit during the race as if he really didn’t know where to go. He hung out there for a while and then wandered off down pit lane. It struck me how hard it must be for him to spend race day at Indianapolis with nothing to do. Fortunately, Mike King was gracious enough to have Paul Page join him in the IMS Radio broadcast booth in 2009.

To have such a talent to be sitting idle on race day, while Marty Reid rambles on up in the booth is almost criminal. Marty sounds like he doesn’t really want to be there, while you certainly know that Paul Page wants to be there. He is only in his early to mid-sixties (as is Bob Jenkins) and has many good years left. Most fans I talk to really miss Page in the booth. Did Page make someone mad at ESPN? That’s the only explanation I can come up with as to why a talent like Paul Page is allowed to be misused on NHRA broadcasts.

The broadcasts on Versus are excellent and Bob Jenkins does a great job. The problem is that no one sees them except for us die-hards. With the five races on ABC, that’s about the only real opportunity the Izod IndyCar Series has to shine to a potentially large audience. It’s a shame the series can’t put together a one-two punch of Jenkins and Page. Instead, Marty Reid is heading up the showcase while Paul Page wastes away in the ESPN doghouse.

George Phillips

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33 Responses to “ABC/ESPN Should Take A Page From Its Past”

  1. That was a great article about Paul, but why so disparaging towards Parker Johnstone? Sure, 99% of America has never heard of him, but he provided sharp analysis and wit. He was better than Scott Goodyear, for certain sure (to borrow a Bobby Unser phrase).

    I do agree that though Marty Reid isn’t the best IndyCar commentator, he his FAR better than Todd “Drama Queen” Harris. Page is and always will be THE voice of the Indy 500.

    My number two pick for the ABC lead announcer: Jack Arute. I didn’t realise that he was not on the list for this year’s Indy 500. Hopefully he will have plenty to do in the month of May for Versus (though I won’t get to watch it).

    Otherwise, Mike King seems ready to be a network TV braodcaster.

    • Brian McKay Says:

      I also wondered about the slam of Parker, whom I’d respected as a racer. I assume that George has a better memory of broadcasts than than I do.

      • I lost all respect for Parker Johnstone when he speared Bryan Herta in an extremely low percentage move on a RC (LBGP?) & then unstrapped from his car & tried to push start Herta :!: :!: Great way to screw up BOTH of their races :roll:

        I could never take his “expert” commentary seriously… I must
        have flashed back to that moment. :)

  2. Jim Gallo Says:

    The trio of Page, Unser and Posey were great entertainment in themselves. Whenever I need a recharge, I go to You-Tube to replay the 500 broadcast intros from the early/mid 90s. The hair on my arms and neck stand up just thinking about it.
    With Jack Arute and Bob Jenkins you get passion and Jerry Punch is just good at what he does.
    When Scott Goodyear and Eddie Cheever were together, I thought some Unser/Posey similar moments would occur at any time.

  3. I didn’t know Nascar canned Dr. Jerry. I always thought he was pretty good so I’m glad to hear that. Vince Welch is solid and I’d like to see more of him but I think Nascar has him fairly busy. Jenkins is pretty good, but Goodyear is boring and I think Cheever only seems decent compared to Goodyear.

    As far as Page, having him in the booth might just be the one thing all open-wheel fans could agree on.

    • ~ absolutely ~ I always loved Paul Page as the emcee and Gary Gerould in the pits!

      Vince Welsh and Dr. Jerry Punch are smooth, professional successors to Gary Gerould, while Jack Arute is way too big for his britches.

      • Sorry guys… I’ve been an OW nut since the 70′s & I partied like a rockstar the day Paul Page was dropped :idea: If I had to hear another “BACK in the FIGHT” line I was gonna scream :!:

        I know I’ll be in the minority (based on the pole results…) but Page & Posey were the absolute WORST announcers… only SPEED’s Rick DeBruel tops them as my least favorite race announcers.

  4. Absolutely about Paul Page. I never understood why he was pushed out.

    But I’ll take this opportunity to complain again about the non-continuity between ABC and Versus broadcast crews. Sometimes you’ll get one group, sometimes another. It’s ridiculous.

  5. I agree with what you wrote about Paul Page, but I also agree with Steve about Parker Johnstone, who I enjoyed very much when he was the analyst for CART for a few seasons.

    The Marty Reid-Scott Goodyear booth is, in my opinion, to put it charitably, dreadful. Not quite as bad as Todd Harris-who was dreadful but also not helped by having the likes of Jason Priestly as an “analyst”;whose idea was THAT!!!!!!!-but clearly I think this shows what ESPN/ABC thinks of IndyCar. For an organization that certainly has the money to hire the best talent, ESPN/ABC clearly doesn’t care about IndyCar and puts it’s below JV roster on those broadcasts. It’s why I HOPE when Comcast buys NBC Universal , that the over-the-air broadcasts go to NBC.

    The only saving grace of Reid-Goodyear is that it could be worse. Just be thankful Rusty Wallace and his “fast hot rods” or Andy”Mr. Obvious” Petree, and Brad Daugherty of ESPN’S NASCAR broadcast team aren’t doing IndyCar. THAT would be unbearable.

  6. tim nothhelfer Says:

    Paul Page is the standard which broadcast teams should aspire.

    • I’ll take Bob Varsha over Paul Page ANY freakin’ day :!: :!: :: He’s my standard as a motorsports broadcast host :idea:

  7. Bring back Parker Johnstone!! :)

    • I liked him. I thought that he brought insights to the table. I don’t remember well his delivery. I remember that he had enthusiasm and ALOT of knowledge. Other IndyCar and ChampCar racer can also work the booth. How ’bout Al Unser, Junior and John Andretti and Davey Hamilton?

      • A mid-pack Indy driver offering “expert commentary” never washed with me. Parker questioning a move by Emerson Fittipaldi or CART’s winningest driver Michael Andretti was completely comical.

  8. Savage Henry Says:

    I grew up in Indianapolis in the ’70s and Paul Page will always be the voice of the Indy 500 for me. In the years that I was too young to go to the race, we would always have the radio broadcast on at home. Paul Page was always spectacular. I remember his excitement bubbling over when the races would get good. My favorite call of his was in 1987 when Al Unser, Jr. was blocking Guererro so his dad could win the race – “Little Al SLAMS THE DOOR!” There was nothing controlled about his passion that day.

    I’m surprised you didn’t make mention of the disaster of putting Rusty Wallace in the booth that one year. Maybe you have blocked that out, which I wish I could do. The best part was how he prefaced every remark with a disclaimer that he didn’t really know that much about the Indy 500, had never participated in the race, nor had he ever driven and open-wheel racecar. I would take years of Todd Harris before I sat through Rusty Wallace again.

    • Several months ago, someone — Oilpressure George, I think — mentioned Rusty Wallace comically referring to “them cats” drivin’ “hot rods,” causing us to roll our eyes (and him to be dismissed).

  9. H. B. Donnelly Says:

    Two words: Delta. Force.

    God help me, they need Paul to do the intro for the 2011 race.

  10. George,

    Great article on Paul Page. I completely agree with you regarding–it is a shame Paul is not still in the booth. Personally, I would love to see NBC air all of the races (including the 500) with Versus keeping qualifying and the “lifestyle” shows. Let Paul call the race and qualifying and pair him with Jon Beekhuis and Robbie Buhl (or Little Al….). Let Bob Jenkins act as “host” of the telecasts and as the main commentator for the lifestyle shows.

    That would be my dream outcome of the current TV “situation”.

    Keep up the great work, George.

  11. I’ve always liked Jon Beekhuis. If Brienne Pedigo is staying at home with her newborn, let’s have Jon and Jamie and Vince and Dr. Jerry in the pits at every race!

  12. I wish they’d get Varsha and Hobbs from Speed over to Indycar

  13. Trick Dickle Says:

    Page’s day has come and gone. He was flat out AWFUL the last time he tried to do Indy Car races. If he got the car and driver correct and actually pronounced a driver’s name correct, it was a miracle. Time to move on from that.

    Davey Hamilton should be the TV driver guy. He is great in the radio booth and actually has a personality, without going over-the-top. Once he is done driving, he should be hired IMMEDIATELY.

    Again, what was a reason that NASCAR boomed in popularity? Personalities and comfortable voices on TV. Jenkins, Joy, Parsons, Jarrett, Baker and later DW, were guys who were pro’s and conveyed the storylines and intrigue each week.

    Reid and Goodyear are awful and add zero personality to a broadcast. Reid is a drag racer at heart (he should be doing the drags and Page should stick to the X-games at this point) and Goodyear is a complete bore who hasn’t added anything of interest or substance ever.

    Find a good play-by-play guy (hopefully under the age of 60) and team him with Hamilton and you have your team for years to come.

  14. I love hearing Paul Page call races. He has added tremendously to the NHRA broadcasts and I find them far more enjoyable than I used to.

  15. Mark Fresher Says:

    Is there any way possible to get the results of your poll to the right people? I am a native and current resident of Speedway IN and a passionate supporter of the IRL and IMS. I have a ton of friends that are IRL fans and everyone of them hates that Marty Reid will be doing races. Everyone I talk to for the past several years always talks of bringing back Paul. Marty is the wrong guy for the job. He seems to be doing a job and could care less what the event is. And he just isnt very good at it. Is this ABC’s way of throwing in anybody so that excitement isn’t built for their competitor? He may or may not be a nice guy, but he is horrible on IRL races. I’d rather have Jason Priestly, because he was at least passionate about racing.

  16. tom king Says:

    I met paul Page in the garages at indy in 2006.The man was as personable as you could ever want.He was outside ryan briscos garage just talking to whoever came by.I asked him what is abc’s problem with why they removed him.he said they want to go with a younger crew in the booth.i told him i didnt want to bother him anymore so i was going to move on.paul said i was no bother .and he would like to talk more if i had the time.paul page should be in the booth instead of scott(i got cheated in 1995)goodyear.you know scott we are tired of hearing about your problems every year.paul was just another fan at indy that year.and he was just as comfortable talking with his fans as any guy could be.my group in the booth would be paul page,bob jenkins and robbie buehl.and whatever they do.dont dare pull jack arute from anything involved with the 500.

  17. Curt Gowdy Jr Says:

    I cannot believe what I have read! What a total waste of time. I am amazed you idiots can even log on. Wow what a bunch of total BS! 99% of what has been written is total crap and unfounded rumor or opinion being passed off as fact. Todd Harris came off of 5 years of supercross and motocross racing and the x games and the Rose Bowl. He tested off the charts and during his one year of doing pxp the ratings have never been higher! Those are the facts. Harris was a breath of fresh air from that stale old ass motor head babble that we had for the prior 10 years ad ratings dont lie! As far as Harris being a drama queen or a Danica fan,,truth be told- he was told to do that by one exectuve at espn which was taking over the races from ABC. Harris was totally caught between serving two stupid and mis guided masters. I would take Harris over Marty Reid 10 x over and twice on sunday. Ratings dont lie you bunch of hill billy rednecks! Get out of your moms basement and get a freaking life you tools!

  18. Susan Green Says:

    That was a classic rant! I met Mr Todd Harris once and he is was so nice to my family and took the time to answer questions. I liked the fact that he was not a INdy insider and he always spent time asking questions so the viewer was educated. The guys they have now are so boring to say the least. I rarely watch Indy anymore as espn has buried it and VS is so bad at promoting the sport that it, like Nascar is dying! I know you all have favorites for different reasons but I would have to say that Todd Harris is the most versatile of any of the above mentioned announcers. He does the Olympics and Dew Tour for NBC and college football and basketball for ESPN and also cagefighting(WEC) on Versus and does a good job on all of them! Chill out on banging on Harris, Paul Page and Marty Reid are not as good as you think. By the way what else do they call? Nothing!

  19. jrm111881 Says:

    I somewhat agree with Curt and Susan. Do I miss Paul Page calling Indycar? Yes, I do. But, here soon, Paul, Bob Jenkins, and even Marty Reid will all be retiring (or forced out, whichever comes first). That being said, Indycar is going to need some type of younger lead announcer. For a rookie, I thought Todd Harris did decent, especially considering that he was an Indy-outsider, and considering he was being forced by producers to push Danica. And I think that, if he had been given more time, he could have gone from decent to good at Indycar announcing. So, if not Todd Harris, who? Maybe Vince Welch…

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