500’s Miracle: How The Radio Broadcast Comes Together

IMS radio network logo

IndyStar Reporter Gets To “See” Behind-the-scenes Prep, The Teamwork, The Magic.

Excerpts below from IndyStar’s Dana Hunsinger Benbow story May 27, 2015

IMS radio network logo

The Indy 500 is, arguably, the last major sporting event in the world that many people still prefer to listen to on radio.

In 2014, nearly 11 million people tuned in to the race that is broadcast worldwide, with 400 affiliates, satellite radio, online streaming and downloadable podcasts.

The Indianapolis Star was granted a rare glimpse at something, by definition, few ever see: The Indy 500’s radio broadcast.

It doesn’t matter that the Indy 500 is televised globally.  Or that there are more than 200,000 fans at the track watching live.  People still listen on the radio.

They mute televisions to watch and turn the radio on. They sit at family picnics under shade trees with the radio blaring. They fill the stands at IMS watching with their own eyes, an announcer calling the race. Yet, they drown that out with the sounds of the radio broadcast emanating from their headsets.

“It’s not just another game or race. It’s the big one,” said Chris Denari, IMS Radio’s turn 4 reporter. “You’re always thinking about the moment and where it will be in history because you are always going to be a part of it.”

And how that all comes together, how this team of guys — inside the booth, on the turns, in the pits — manages to call a 200-lap race with cars coming at them at 200-plus miles per hour is fascinating.

How they call it seamlessly, switching from one reporter to the next within split seconds is a feat you have to see to believe.

“No. It’s not as easy as it looks,” said former IMS Radio Network Anchor Paul Page. “It happens because it’s a team, a regular team.”

***

It’s 9:30 a.m. Sunday inside Page’s booth on the 9th floor of the Pagoda — and it’s standing room only. This is the pre-race meeting where last minute questions are answered, a rally of sorts.

Kevin Lee in pit reporter fire suit

Kevin Lee, right, of IMS Radio Network talks about an incident in the pits during the 99th running of The Indianapolis 500, May 23, 2015, in Speedway, Ind. Juan Pablo Montoya (2) of Team Penske won the race for the second time. (Photo: Kerry Keating/for The Star)

There are turn reporters Jake Query, Jerry Baker, Mark Jaynes and Denari. There are pit reporters Dave Furst, Kevin Lee, Nick Yeoman, Michael Young and Doug Rice. IMS Radio’s general manager Wally Leavitt is there. The broadcast this race day will also include Dave Wilson, Davy Hamilton and Donald Davidson.

“Keep the chatter down on intercom,” Leavitt says. Intercom is the way the broadcast team talks to one another off air. Too much chatter and it’s tough to make the calls.

Page reminds the team, as soon as there is a caution flag, the broadcast should go to break. Might as well get commercials in while the cars are driving slowly.

Put on sunscreen. Keep cell phones off in the booth. Let the turn reporters call the first 20 laps and the last 20 laps, Yeoman says.

Unless there is a fuel finish, “Then pit guys can step in,” he says. And as soon as the race is finished, “Pit guys start grabbing owners, engineers and wives,” he adds.

“You want us to stay up after white flag or checkered flag for observation?” Query asks.

Yes, Page says, unless the weather’s bad. “If it’s raining or storming, we’ll want to get you out as soon as possible.”

***

Query takes the directions to heart. He heads off to Turn 2 for his ninth year calling the Indy 500. He’s up in his stand nearly two hours before the race starts.

Jake Query climbs ladder to turn 2 post

Announcer Jake Query climbs the tower to reach his position as the voice of Turn 2.

He’s not nervous, he says. He’s excited. For him, this is Christmas Day.

“It’s the only sporting event left where the 10-year-old me comes out again,” he says. “I love the sights, the sounds. I get the feeling again I did as a kid here with my dad.”

Query says there is a feeling of making history each time he calls an Indy 500.

“What are we going to see today that we will be talking about 20 years from now?” he says.

It doesn’t take long to find out. On the very first lap of the race, a crash happens right in front of Query. Sage Karam into the wall. Query has to call it quickly as the rest of the cars whiz past.

Within minutes, Hamilton has Karam on the air, an unhappy Karam, a disappointed Karam.

***

Lap after lap after lap, the magic happens. The broadcast switching from Baker to Query to Jaynes to Denari. Then to the pits. Then back to Page. Then a historic tidbit from Davidson. Then a race analysis from Hamilton. Then back to Page.

This is what the radio can do. That no other media can do. Live, minute-by-minute calls and in-race interviews of the Indy 500.

Click here for the full story from Dana Benbow.

Tune in Sunday to 93.5/1070 THE FAN to hear “The Greatest Spectacle In Racing”.  The Indy500 starts at Noon, pre-race coverage begins at 5:00am.