Paul Page – Welcome Home!
To those on the inside, this was apparently no big secret. To people like me, it was a very welcomed surprise. This week, we learned that forty years after he first debuted as a pit-reporter; Paul Page will return to the IMS Radio Network as the “Voice of the 500” as well as all other IndyCar races throughout the season.
When it was announced last month that Marty Reid nor Mike King would not return for their respective roles for television or radio; I lamented that Paul Page would be an excellent choice to fill one of those openings, but would probably not be chosen for either. Sometimes, it’s good to be wrong.
In hindsight, Page probably landed in the most logical role. He is sixty-eight now, and probably will not resonate with the young demographic that ABC/ESPN and the series so desperately covet. He has had a great broadcasting career in both television and radio. But as Kevin Lee explained on Trackside the other night – you tend to love what you did first. For Page, that was radio.
Paul Page was the hand-picked successor to Sid Collins when Collins passed away in May of 1977. The last time I referred to the passing of Collins, one reader pointed out that Collins didn’t pass away, he committed suicide. However true that was, I saw no need to go into the gruesome detail that Collins took his own life rather than face the ravages of ALS. I felt his death deserved a little more dignity, but apparently our society demands cold hard facts. So for those that wanted that additional information – there you go.
Whatever the case, Sid Collins knew his time was short and that he would not be able to broadcast the 1977 race. He informed Page that it was his wish that he succeed him in the booth and in the role he loved as the Voice of the 500 from 1952 through 1976.
For ten years, Paul Page embraced the role, but immediately adopted his own unique style. As Kevin Lee pointed out the other night – the lead anchor is also the director and producer. They are the ones to make the decisions on the fly about who to go to and when. Page was much more aggressive in utilizing the technology of the day, much more so than Sid Collins. But like Collins, Paul Page was very adept at telling the story that was unfolding in front of him. He painted a picture for the listener. Collins was very good at precisely describing what he saw. To Collins, a car wasn’t just red. It was brilliant candy-apple red. The skies were not gray, they were leaden skies. Paul Page took that cue as well.
In 1988, Paul Page moved over to the ABC booth to anchor the television broadcast. His replacement was local favorite, veteran Lou Palmer – who started on the IMS Radio Network as a Turn Three reporter in 1958, when they had the opening-lap crash that took the life of popular driver Pat O’Connor. Palmer chose to step down as Chief Announcer after only two years. Bob Jenkins followed, before giving way to Mike King in 1998. Strange as it seems, King’s tenure behind the mike, is the second longest behind Sid Collins.
So, with the return of Paul Page in the booth; since the IMS Radio Network was founded in 1952, there will still be only five men who have ever held the title of “Voice of the 500”.
From what I can tell, the reaction to this move has been very positive. Some consider this as throwing a bone to the old-timers (like myself), but I don’t see it that way. In my opinion, he was the best person for the job. According to Trackside, many very qualified individuals pursued this position – including Mark Jaynes, Jake Query and Dave Furst. Any of those would have done an excellent job, but going up against Paul Page – there was no real decision, in my book.
We old-timers are thrilled to have the voice of Paul Page back. Although I grew up listening to Sid Collins, Paul Page is the voice I listened to on radio and television as an adult. Some of the biggest moments I can remember in IndyCar came with Paul Page at the microphone. He described AJ Foyt’s fourth victory to me, while I was driving back to college on Memorial Day weekend to complete my freshman year.
Page was manning the TV booth with Sam Posey and Bobby Unser when Rick Mears won his fourth. He was on hand at Phoenix in 1993, when Mario Andretti earned his final win. He tried to lend comfort to listeners when Greg Moore was fatally injured at Fontana in 1999. You could hear the anguish in his voice as he held it together throughout the broadcast. To me, the voices of Paul Page and Sid Collins are synonymous with the Indianapolis 500. Although I plan on being in attendance at each Indianapolis 500 for the foreseeable future, I now have a reason to turn down the sound on the TV broadcast and listen to the IMS Radio Network for the other IndyCar races – depending on who ABC/ESPN hires to replace Marty Reid.
I’m sure there are some who will complain about this move. There’s always someone not happy. But I don’t see how anyone can complain about this. It’s not as crucial a hire as the TV job. That’s the one where an announcer can make a difference in whether or not they can keep young viewers. A bad announcer may not necessarily pull in an audience, but they can certainly drive one away. I keep my fingers crossed that ABC/ESPN will get it right this time. But let’s not lose sight of things and do everything in the name of potential fans. The hard-core fans should not be totally ignored. This will please a lot of the die-hard, long-term fan base.
I am hoping that Page will be in the radio booth for all the IndyCar practices throughout each race weekend. There was some speculation by Curt Cavin the other night, saying they may groom Page’s eventual successor by having them do practices. That would make sense, because at his age, you know he won’t be doing this for another twenty years. But this much I know – I’m really hoping I can pull up the internet on a late March Friday morning and listen to Paul Page’s voice describe that first practice at St. Petersburg. It’ll be like hearing from an old friend – an old friend that has come home.