IndyCar Booth Choices Facing TV & Radio

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As we all know, there are two main anchor jobs up for grabs for the 2014 IndyCar season – the announcer spot for ABC/ESPN caused by the departure of Marty Reid and the anchor chair for the IMS Radio Network that came open when Mike King stepped down a couple of weeks ago.

Since ABC broadcast the Indianapolis 500, next May will be only the third time in history that there will be a new “Voice of the 500” on television as well as radio. In 1988, Paul Page moved from radio to television and Lou Palmer, a familiar voice in the Indianapolis market, took over radio duties – albeit for only two years. In 1999, Bob Jenkins moved over from radio to television and Mike King assumed his duties at the IMS Radio Network.

Curiously enough, Mike King held his seat at the IMS Radio Network longer than anyone except for the legendary Sid Collins who held the job as chief anchor from 1952 through 1976 before he passed way in May of 1977.

I’ve vented enough about Marty Reid over the years, that I’ll leave him alone now that he’s officially off the network. My opinion of Mike King was not as harsh. Although I found his voice to be a little irritating, I  had no problem with Mike King’s race day delivery. When Nashville had their famous flood in 2010, our local ABC affiliate dumped coverage of the Kansas race in order to cover the ongoing flood. I was forced to listen to Mike King over the internet. I was very pleasantly surprised. He did a good job with his descriptions and I felt he painted a picture with his words.

Where I had problems listening to King was during practice and qualifying. His on-air dialogue with Davey Hamilton when there were no cars on the track, revealed that he had no awareness of the day-to-day news of the day that a simple subscription to Trackside Online or the listening of a Trackside podcast would have told him. He came across as clueless as to why a driver was in danger of losing a ride or why certain sponsors were no longer on a car.

When he sounded like he was delivering a scoop that no one else knew about, it would be a news item that we had all heard three weeks earlier. Davey Hamilton seemed to be doing damage control constantly, while trying to cover up King’s gaffes. But I will emphasize – I had no problem with his actual race coverage, which was the most important part of his job. He was passionate about the sport and you could tell he loved his job.

But now that Reid and King are both gone, who will be hired to take their place? I know who I would like in either booth, but it probably won’t happen in either – Paul Page. Page would bring an unmatched passion to either booth – TV or radio. Not only is he passionate, but he has a style that is easy to listen to and he is extremely knowledgeable about the past as well as the present and future. But I get the impression that Page made someone mad at ESPN and is not wanted back for whatever reason. Plus, Page will turn sixty-eight just before Thanksgiving. That may be considered too old for the young fans that the series so covets. I don’t think he has made any enemies on the radio side and he carries the distinction of being Sid Collins’ hand-picked successor. That should count for something.

But more than likely, Paul Page won’t be tabbed for either spot. If that’s the case, who might be picked? There have been all kinds of names tossed about. On the TV side, the pick that makes the most sense to me is Vince Welch. He is a racing fan at heart. He has covered the series from the pits for years, even before covering NASCAR for ESPN. With NASCAR a lame duck series on ABC/ESPN for next season, it makes sense to let him go ahead and move over to the IndyCar side – especially since all of the ABC IndyCar races will be run at the first part of the season, long before ESPN picks up NASCAR in the second half of the NASCAR season. Welch is likeable, has a good delivery and has the knowledge and passion required for the job. I think he would be an excellent choice.

On the radio side, I’ve heard many names, but there are two names that stand out to me that both make sense – Mark Jaynes and Jake Query. Both have vast experience on the IMS Radio Network and either one would do an excellent job. Quite honestly I’m torn as to which one would do the best job. If either of them got the job – I would be just fine with it.

Some might think I’ve neglected Kevin Lee. If you listened to Trackside last week, you heard him say that it would be a dream job, but the timing is not right for him to pursue it. In all candor, he has a bright future with NBCSN and that is a much more lucrative gig.

Whoever gets the job, will probably be heavily scrutinized. Mike King was not popular with a lot of fans. The best thing you could say about Marty Reid was that he was not Todd Harris. Both positions need to be filled with someone who will resonate with the current fan base and be able to connect with new fans, as well. Some say that an announcer makes no difference in luring in viewers. That may be true, but they certainly have the ability to drive viewers away.

Hopefully, each entity will make the right choice. NBCSN has had two outstanding announcers in their IndyCar booth in Bob Jenkins and Leigh Diffey. Now it’s time for the IMS Radio Network and ESPN to follow suit. If not, the Legions of the Miserable will have something new to gripe about to the Sunshine Squad.

George Phillips

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21 Responses to “IndyCar Booth Choices Facing TV & Radio”

  1. Radio: If he were still alive, I would nominate the legendary Fred Foy who brought the Lone Ranger to life in the imaginations of listeners young and old. For those occasions when one must catch a race on the radio, I think we need an announcer who is knowledgeable and up to date about the sport, of course, but most of all someone who can create images in listeners minds.

    In recent years it seemed that Davey Hamilton was always correcting Mike King’s mistakes. The program seemed disjointed.

    TV: Since a televised race is largely a visual experience, I don’t think we need an announcer who feels the need to “juice” what we are seeing. Enthusiasm………Yes. Artificial excitement……….No.
    A good example during NFL games is the announcing team of Troy Aikman and Joe Buck who don’t see the need to enhance what we all can easily see.

    IMHO, there should be more in car segments, particularly on road and street courses, with no announcer voice overs. Those segments, more than anything else, really capture the thrills, skills, and dangers of open wheel autmobile racing. When you see an in car segment of an IndyCar driver thrashing his or her car around a road or street course, that gets and holds your attention, fan or non fan.

    I also think that IndyCar needs to find a way to return to live streaming on the internet and to make entire races available on YouTube after they have run. (Thanks to the IndySnake in the meantime) Internet connected TVs seem to be what the future holds. Cable is losing viewers annually in droves.

  2. I will let the powers that be pick whomever they think will deliver a quality broadcast, but NBC should get Sara Underwood on the broadcasts as a pit reporter. Give her some training and she would be great!

  3. PLEASE NOT PAUL (Wrong) PAGE!

    George, you must not have been an IndyCar fan from way back, otherwise you would know how truly clueless Wrong Page was “back in the day.” I am an Indianapolis native (Broad Ripple), my first trip to The Track was in 1967 and my first Indianapolis 500 was 1970. Wrong Page was one of the most arrogant people to be around (my sister had his brother as a grade school teacher and he wouldn’t even talk about Wrong and his red Ferrari) and he clearly had his favorite drivers and teams. His most disliked driver was AJ FOYT! He hated that man, who is my personal hero, and it showed. I was there watching and listening throughout the ’70s & ’80s when Foyt was running (and winning) and you could feel and hear the disdain dripping from his voice whenever the REAL King was leading or won something. And he never seemed to be watching the race that he was broadcasting, I found myself yelling at the screen all the time about stuff he would miss that was as plain as the nose on my face.

    There are so many others who would be great at that job, let’s not go backward again (as IndyCar is wont to do most of the time), let’s move forward with someone who is in it for the love of the sport and who knows what is going on all the time.

    By the way, Sid Collins did not “pass away,” he committed suicide after being diagnosed with a terminal disease. That’s a bit different….

    Phil Kaiser
    Indianapolis

    • I rarely reply here, but feel that I must today. First of all, my first 500 was 1965. When you saw your first 500, that was my fifth (I missed the 1966 race). I was a rabid fan then, as I am now – even though I was not a Hoosier. So, yes – I’ve pretty much been exposed to Paul Page’s entire Indianapolis 500 and IndyCar career. You are obviously entitled to your opinion, but mine is far different than yours.

      I’ve met Paul Page and found him to be the same person we see on the air. To me, he does not come across as arrogant at all – in fact, quite the opposite. He always seems humble, self-effacing and you could tell that he always considered it an honor to be able to call the race that he truly loved. As for Foyt, he has always been my favorite driver. I never once picked up on the fact that Page had a disdain for Foyt. It was my opinion that Paul Page had a great admiration for him.

      As for Sid Collins – yes, I’m aware that he hung himself instead of facing the ravages of ALS. Was it really necessary to go into that kind of detail? No. I preferred to treat it with a little more dignity and merely state that he passed away. – GP

      • Ben Twickerbill Says:

        Good job George..

      • I’m sorry, didn’t mean to offend about Sid, I loved the guy. But obviously you never saw Page when he was a reporter on local TV here and you probably didn’t meet him when he was the big dude @ IMS or ABC back in the day. Just sayin’. It’s funny how celebs get real humble when the stardom has been yanked out from under them. I was just a teen-aged kid trying to get an autograph while he was walking along at The Track one practice day and he was a complete jerk to me and I’ve never forgotten it. Counter that with when I asked AJ or even Tony Hulman (waaaay more important than Page), they were complete gentlemen about signing an autograph for a kid.

        Go back and listen to Page call Foyt’s fourth Indianapolis win as he crosses the line for the checkered flag, he can barely spit it out and stumbles badly. He doesn’t even sound like he knows which race he is calling. It was the greatest day of my life (I was 14)! That’s just one example off the top of my head, but there were many more, oh so many more, lol.

        I just think we need to move forward and not get caught up in the past. Hell, if bringing back the old days would work so well why don’t we get AJ and Mario to dust off their helmets and get some butts back in the stands? PREPOSTEROUS. Let’s move forward.

        I do appreciate that you left my comment disagreeing with you up though; many others wouldn’t and it is a credit to your blog. Again, love your work and am sincerely sorry if I offended you.

        Phil

      • I stand with you, George. Back in 1979 or 80, I had the opportunity to work on an American Cancer Society project along with Paul Page. He was outstanding as our event spokesman and gave liberally of his time to help us make it a success.

        As for his radio and TV performance, I find no such arrogance as Phil Kaiser suggests, and, as a Foyt fan, no such indication that he had any disdain for A. J. He did, in fact, learn his job at the feet of the master, Sid Collins, though I have to confess, as one who listened to the IMS Radio broadcast (usually on a transistor radio) at the 500, I was a bit disappointed when he moved from radio to TV. If IMS Radio tabs him to return to their booth, I can guarantee that at least one TV will have it’s sound off and the radio broadcast on.

        I lobbied long and hard for Page to return to the ABC telecast to replace Brent Musberger, a job that was subsequently given to Lindsay Czarniak. That “host” position is one that I think would be fitting for an “elder statesman” type.

        I still think Kevin Lee is the future of the NBCSN anchor chair. If it was my decision to make, he would be doing that job when Leigh Diffey has a conflict with F-1 in preparation for that role.

        • Skip, I might join you in tuning in the radio broadcasts and turning down the sound on the flat screen if Paul Page becomes the radio voice.

      • The Lapper Says:

        Indeed George! We all know about Sid Collins and I appreciate your tac. As for Page and Foyt, I, also, never felt that there was any animosity coming from Paul Page.

  4. Ben Twickerbill Says:

    I like Mark Jaynes for the IMS network and Bob Varsha for the ABC gig.

  5. With my being a fifth generation Hoosier and long time state taxpayer from Indianapolis whose family has been going to the Indianapolis 500 since 1913, George, because of your valuable insight and passionate dedication, I anoint you as more than worthy of speaking about anything concerning the present and history of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the Indianapolis 500, the IndyCar Series and tenderloin sandwiches.

  6. H.B. Donnelly Says:

    I think radio will go to Mark Jaynes just because of tenure as the second-in-command on the radio. Plus, he has a classic IMS Radio resume: voice of the Indiana High School championships for years now and longtime turn reporter. Dave Furst would certainly be a good choice, as would Jerry Baker (though Bake would be much better on the PA…that voice!)

    TV…I don’t care if they yank someone from the ranks of unknown ESPN3 PxP guys, as long as they sound like they know what they’re doing, I’m good with them. It’d be nice if they would normalize the booth with NBCSN and plug in Leigh, Wally, and Townsend.

  7. On the general subject of announcers, do we really need the guy who screams out “RACE FANS, ARE YOU READY!!!” before races?

    • billytheskink Says:

      I’m not sure I’ve ever attended a race that did not have a guy who screams that. It’s worse in Formula 1, because they have to do it in 5 languages…

  8. billytheskink Says:

    I like the idea of Welch doing the ABC races. ESPN still has the full NASCAR Nationwide series next year, though I don’t recall if Vince has a regular gig on those broadcasts. I’d love it if Welch moved to the booth and his pit reporter spot was filled by Gary Gerould, but I’m not gonna hold my breath.

    I would like to hear Page back on the radio. While I wouldn’t bet on it happening, it would not shock me to see him take King’s place. Page has assisted King on the 500 broadcast for the past several years.

  9. Anyone that comes from a racing background as opposed to a generic sports broadcasting background would be okay.

  10. I voted for Jake Query as “Voice of the 500″ and here is why, Jake has considerable past experience working both TV and Radio. He also likes history, which would serve him well. Jake is personable and is a guy the every day race fan can talk too. I had the lucky experience to do so in Milwaukee this year, thanks to my son T.J. Hopefully the powers to be will name Jake as the new “Voice”. In my humble opinion, he is the choice for the job.

  11. From a tradition standpoint, I’d go with Page as “the voice” He ties things back to Sid Collins which will please many of the old timers. Even for the Paul Page detractors he is almost 70 so his tenure as the voice would, in all likelihood, be 5-7 years at most (although Tom Carnegie was great well into his 80’s)

  12. Boot Davey and bring on Pippa.
    While we’re at it, get rid of the guy who says “climb on the binders” and “if you will” repeatedly.

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