The Indianapolis 500 has been broadcast on television in the United States dating back to 1949. Local Indianapolis television station WFBM-TV (now WRTV-6) carried the “500” live for the first time in 1949 and again in 1950. Then from 1964 to 1970, MCA broadcast the race live on closed-circuit television, a telecast which was available in theaters and other venues across the country. The American Broadcasting Company (ABC) first covered the “500” with highlights on its popular anthology series “Wide World of Sports” from 1965 to 1970. ABC’s coverage of Time Trials dated back to 1961. From 1971 through 1985, the race was aired on same-day tape-delay in primetime on ABC. Since 1986, the race has been has aired live in “flag-to-flag” format. A year later in 1987, cable network ESPN joined the fray covering qualifying (and later practice), sharing Time Trials coverage with ABC.
In 2009, cable network Versus (later NBC Sports Network, and then simply NBCSN) covered Time Trials and Carb Day as part of a ten-year contact, while ABC continued to air the race itself. In 2019, after more than five decades on ABC, the race made a highly publicized switch to NBC.
In addition to Indy 500 race coverage, time trials, practice, and other ancillary events (including the 500 Festival Parade and the 500 Victory Banquet) have also been aired on television, dating back to as early as 1950. While some film and newsreel footage of the race exists as far back as the first “500” in 1911, the earliest telecasts are generally presumed to be “lost”. Much like race itself, the Indy 500 has a colorful and extensive history on television in the U.S.. This six-part series will dive deep into the history of the Indianapolis 500 on television.
|Indianapolis 500 on Television — Six-Part Series|
ABC Live Era
Closed Circuit Television &
Wide World of Sports era
By the early/mid-1960s the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Radio Network had exploded in popularity. Sid Collins anchored the coast-to-coast radio broadcast which by 1963, was carried by 700 affiliates in 49 states. By the end of the decade, the affiliate count would grow to over 900 affiliates, and the network boasted a worldwide audience of over 100 million listeners. The broadcast was carried overseas on Armed Forces Radio, and heard in English-speaking countries abroad. Foreign language translations were heard in other countries. Nationwide interest in the “500” was growing rapidly and speculation of national network television coverage became a topic of serious discussion. The biggest obstacles remained the high cost and overwhelming logistics of such an effort.
On October 8, 1963, the Music Corporation of America (MCA) signed a multi-year deal to broadcast the Indianapolis 500 live, flag-to-flag, on closed-circuit television beginning in 1964. The telecast would be aired in theaters and arenas, and similar venues across the country. At the time, closed-circuit television had already been used for other sporting events, such as boxing and football, and was also being experimented with in the education field. The deal would be in place from 1964 through 1970. Charlie Brockman, a veteran of the IMS radio network, and sports director for WLW-i (channel 13), served as the anchor.
The closed circuit television broadcasts effectively ushered in a new rule change pertaining to the race. Prior to 1964, once the winner crossed the finish line, the race was not immediately over. Officials permitted a certain amount of time for the other participants to finish the full 500 miles. In the very early years of the race, completing the full 500 miles was even a requirement to receive prize money. Beginning in 1934, membership into the exclusive Champion Spark Plug 100 MPH Club was a highly sought after honor. It required drivers to complete the “500”, without relief help, at an average speed of better than 100 mph. The so-called “extra time” allotted by the officials at the end of the race provided as many drivers as reasonably possible the opportunity to not only finish the race, but to qualify for that prestigious club. Over the years, the specific amount of time varied, and was sometimes loosely based on a desired number of finishers (e.g., ten cars). Extra time of 35-45 minutes was not uncommon, and sometimes as much as an hour was observed. Beginning in 1964, however, at the request of MCA, owing to the closed circuit broadcast (and not wanting the race to run too long), the amount of “extra time” was reduced. Once the winner crossed the finish line, a maximum of only 5-10 minutes was allowed for the remaining drivers on the track to finish the full 500 miles. Some races appear to have been red flagged and officially stopped as soon as the top five cars finished, regardless of time. The rest of the cars running were “FLAGGED” and directed back to the pits.
ABC-TV gradually expanded their coverage of the “500” during the 1960s. After covering time trials/previews only from 1961 to 1964, in 1965 they aired dedicated coverage of the race for the first time. Taped highlights were shown about a week after the race on ABC’s Wide World of Sports. The delay was not only due to logistics, but also due to the fact that MCA’s contract included a 72-hour “embargo” of home television viewing. Chris Schenkel served as ABC’s anchor for the first two years (1965-1966). In 1967, hall of fame sportscaster Jim McKay covered the “500” for the first time, the first of twenty years that he would cover the race.
MCA Closed Circuit television
Broadcast Details: After signing the broadcasting contract, in the fall of 1963, MCA descended upon the Speedway to scope out the project. Former “500” winner Sam Hanks joined the network as a technical advisor. Incidentally, Hanks had just ended his role as Director of Racing. From 1958 to 1963, he held that position, one duty of which was to drive the pace car at the start of the race. Crews installed 16,500 feet of bundled cable and telephone wires, two microwave antennas, platforms or towers for eleven fixed camera positions, new power lines, and broadcast infrastructure equipment downtown, all at a reported cost of over $300,000 – though some estimates went as high as $1 million (roughly $2.9-$9.7 million adjusted for inflation in 2023). A production crew of 60 technicians and over 100 persons in total, in conjunction with WFBM-TV, confronted what was described as the largest communication system ever provided for a sporting event.
Charlie Brockman, the sports director at WLW-i (channel 13), was named the chief announcer for the live telecast. Brockman had worked for several years on local “500” coverage on WLW-i, and also worked on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Radio Network. Production began on May 1, as various highlights, features, and interviews were taped throughout the month for playback on race day.
The telecast signed on twenty minutes before the scheduled start of the race. At 10:40 a.m. local time (11:40 a.m. in New York, and 8:40 a.m. on the west coast), live coverage of pre-race ceremonies preceded the green flag. Twelve cameras (eleven fixed and one roving) comprised the black and white broadcast, which covered the entire 2.5-mile oval. The plans called for a four-hour broadcast, which would include a post-race interview with the race winner.
Venues/Blackout: The closed circuit telecast was carried live in over 100 cities at over over 130 venues in 35 states & D.C., and Canada. Prominent theaters included the Orpheum Theater in Los Angeles, Grauman’s Chinese Theatre in Hollywood, Fox Theater in Atlanta, Boston Garden, and the Texas State Fair Auditorium theater. The largest venue was the Los Angeles Sports arena, which aired the race on four screens with seating for up to 16,248. A total coast-to-coast audience of over 600,000-700,000 paying viewers was expected. Depending upon the venue, tickets were in the range of $3-$10.
In an effort to prevent the gate attendance from suffering, the telecast was blacked out inside a large radius surrounding the Speedway. The entire state of Indiana was blacked out, as were nearby cities such as Columbus (OH), Cincinnati, Louisville, and parts of Illinois. The closest theater to the track which carried the telecast was the International Amphitheatre in Chicago, about 158 miles away.
On-Air Crew: Jay Michaels was the broadcast supervisor, and Frank Chirkinian served as the director. Tom Carnegie, who served as the public address announcer at the track on race day, recorded various segments earlier during the month, which were played back during the broadcast. However, Carnegie did not appear live. The broadcast crew was stationed in a glass booth in the “Paddock Press Penthouse”, the press box which is suspended under the Paddock Penthouse grandstand.
Charlie Brockman, a veteran of the Mutual Broadcasting System radio coverage of the “500”, as well as the IMS Radio Network, served as the play-by-play anchor. Sam Hanks (1957 Indy 500 winner) and Bernie Herman were analysts. Driver Roger McCluskey, who was injured in a sprint car crash in April, and sidelined for the month, was added to the crew as a consultant and analyst. Chris Economacki and Darl Wibel covered the pit area.
Broadcast Critique: The first nationwide telecast of the “500” was generally considered a success. Innovative features in the very first telecast included an on-screen stopwatch graphic and video taped replays. Some venues complained about audio problems, video problems and others had various growing pains. At least one venue complained that they did not receive their programs from the track until two days after the race (official race programs were supplied to the venues for them to sell during the telecast).
Attendance was reported as a sellout at some venues, but disappointing at others. Financially, Tony Hulman stated that the broadcast “about broke even” in its first year. The admission fees were split between MCA and the venues, but none contributed towards the race’s purse.
The fiery crash which killed Eddie Sachs and Dave MacDonald on the second lap cast a pall over the race. Some venues reported a somber mood by attendees. The 1 hour and 42 minute red flag to clean up the crash stretched the broadcast out to almost six hours. The down time was filled by interviews, highlights, and various features, and as a result, there were no significant reports of people leaving the theaters after the crash. However, some critics noted that the cameras did not catch a good angle of the crash, and few details were reported about the incident.
Broadcast Disposition: Despite being aired nationwide to as many as 161 outlets, it is not clear if any full recordings were captured. No copies, presumably kinescopes, of the full 1964 MCA telecast are known to exist. However, a newsreel advertisement for the 1965 broadcast (comprised of footage from the 1964 telecast) has surfaced on YouTube. Another highlight reel includes brief footage that may have been taken from the MCA telecast. Additionally, a 2-minute clip from a British newsreel includes some video of the race that might have been taken from the MCA feed.
ABC’s Wide World of Sports
Time Trials: ABC’s Wide World of Sports returned for the fourth year of national coverage of time trials. Pole qualifying was featured on Saturday May 16. The 90-minute broadcast aired from 2:30-5:00 p.m. (eastern) in most parts of the country, and was taped-delayed on WLW-i in Indianapolis. The episode included coverage of “500” time trials with Charlie Brockman, the Eiffel Tower Climb, and the Oxford-Cambridge Boat Race.
Race: The WWOS episode of Saturday June 6 included a filmed review of the race between coverage of the English Derby and the National AAU Gymnastics Championships. A syndicated highlight film produced by Race Film Productions was also offered to television stations.
Local Indianapolis television channels WFBM (channel 6), WLW-i (channel 13), and WISH (channel 8) continued to feature extensive coverage of the month of May at Indy. Daily wrap-up shows, all four days of time trials, special features, festival events, and various ancillary events were televised across all three channels, each utilizing in-house dedicated crews.
WFBM-TV continued to be the leader in local coverage, their 15th year covering the “500”. The on-air crew on TV and radio consisted of Tom Carnegie, Jim McIntyre, Fred Agabashian, John Totten, Fred Everett, Jim Gerard, and Frank Prater. The daily wrap-up show “Trackside” once again aired nearly every day leading up to the race with McIntyre & Agabashian hosting.
WISH stepped up their coverage, airing a nightly wrap-up show titled “Track Talk” with Rodger Ward and Jim Wilson.
MCA Closed Circuit television
Broadcast Details: The second closed circuit broadcast utilized 12-14 cameras, three video tape recorders, 30 microphones, 11 announcers, and a 79-person crew. Interviews, highlights, and features were recorded during the month for playback on race day. After foreseeing a color broadcast for 1965, that would have to wait for an additional two years. The race aired again in black & white, and expectation was a paid audience of 500,000 viewers nationwide. WFBM-TV once again provided technical support.
After receiving no money from the closed circuit broadcast in 1964, reportedly each car in the starting field received $2,000 out of the ticket sales.
Venues/Blackout: The broadcast was aired in over 200 venues in at least 143 cities (37 states), up about 50% from the first year. Once again, the broadcast was blacked-out in Indiana, Cincinnati, and Louisville, a radius of approximately 180 miles. Quelling fears that the closed circuit broadcast might hurt ticket sales, the Speedway ticket office still reported the race was sold out.
On-Air Crew: Charlie Brockman, Bernie Herman, Sam Hanks, and Chris Economacki (pits) returned as announcers. Two-time Indy 500 winner Rodger Ward, who failed to qualify for the 1965 race, was added as a color commentator. The announcing crew expanded for 1965, this time featuring reporters in each of the turns, similar in practice to the IMS Radio Network format. Jay Michaels (producer) and Frank Chirkinian (director) were again part of the telecast.
Broadcast Critique: Jim Clark dominated the race, leading 190 laps en route to victory. In contrast to the tragic 1964 race, the race was clean with no major crashes. A relatively unexcited crowd was reported at some venues, but the telecast received positive reviews.
Broadcast Disposition: No copies, presumably kinescopes, of the full 1965 MCA telecast are known to exist. However, a newsreel advertisement for the 1965 broadcast (comprised of footage from the 1964 telecast) has surfaced on YouTube.
ABC’s Wide World of Sports
For the first time since arriving at Indianapolis in 1961, ABC’s Wide World of Sports produced dedicated coverage of the Indianapolis 500 on race day. It does not appear that WWOS featured any coverage of time trials, however. The coverage was tape-delayed until the following Saturday, and was fairly brief, but it was the first official race day telecast of the “500” on U.S. network television.
On Saturday June 5 (5-6:30 p.m. eastern), Charlie Brockman narrated taped/filmed highlights of the previous Monday’s race. The race segment(s) were combined with Jim McKay and Johnny Johnston reporting from the World Pocket Billiards Championship in New York. As of 2022, the broadcast has not been re-aired in its entirety, but it is understood that a copy of the episode is in the archives at the Speedway. A brief clip of the 1965 ABC telecast was included on the VHS video “Live and Drive the Indy 500“. In 2022, another clip, this time of Brockman interviewing race winner Jim Clark, was posted on the Speedway’s Facebook Watch page.
WFBM-TV (channel 6) featured daily coverage of practice, time trials, highlights, and various festival events during the month. The daily wrap-up show Trackside was hosted by Tom Carnegie and Jim McIntyre.
Coverage on WLW-i (channel 13) was anchored by Charlie Brockman. “Today at the Track” aired daily throughout the month.
During race week, local coverage of the 500 Festival golf tournament, awards banquet, highlights of classic races, celebrity gatherings, and race previews, aired across all four channels.
MCA Closed Circuit television
Broadcast Details: The 50th running of the Indianapolis 500 would be the third year for the MCA-TV closed circuit telecasts. For the first time, the telecast was beamed via Early Bird satellite to Europe. The production utilized 13 cameras, 25 microphones, three tape recorders, five spotters, three reporters, and four announcers. For the second time in two years, an early race red flag (due to the multi-car crash on the opening lap), extended the broadcast beyond its scheduled four and a half hour duration.
Venues/Blackout: About 190-200 venues in over 65 cities across the United States and about a dozen sites in Great Britain, carried the broadcast. Approximately 3,000 British households also viewed the race on pay-per-view TV. A relay transmission in London sent the signal further to home TV sets in Germany, Yugoslavia, Italy, and Spain. Kinescopes were used to record the broadcast, and a French translation was also made. A paid audience of 500,000–800,000 was predicted. Notable venues that carried the telecast again included Grauman’s Chinese Theater and Fox Theater (Atlanta).
Due to the growing popularity of the telecast, some venues started selling advanced tickets as early as February. At least one venue, the Civic Auditorium in Albuquerque, New Mexico, suffered a broken projector and had no video. Organizers were forced to cancel their showing and issue refunds.
On-Air Crew: Producer Jay Michaels departed and a new producer, William “Bill” Burch, took over the broadcast in 1966. One of the changes he made was to eliminate turn reporters. Burch felt that the loud engines drowned out the voices of the turn and pit reporters, rendering their commentary ineffectual. Charlie Brockman, Sam Hanks, and Chris Economacki (pits) were the lead announcers, with Frank Chirkinian director.
Broadcast Critique: It was the third year for MCA-TV’s closed circuit broadcast, and for the third time, they were faced with an unexpected and rather unusual race. In 1964, they were faced with the tragic Sachs/MacDonald crash, in 1965 they witnessed Jim Clark score a runaway victory, and in 1966 it was a topsy-turvy race from the drop of the green flag. The multi-car crash on the opening lap eliminated 11 cars, including several pre-race favorites. With a depleted field, a late-race scoring controversy emerged when the crew of second place Jim Clark (looking for back-to-back victories) thought they were the rightful winner. First-year starter Graham Hill won the race, to the surprise of many in attendance. One writer in Miami called the production “theater of the absurd“. Chief announcer Charlie Brockman was tasked with sorting through the confusion, and at the same time keeping the live audience informed and interested. At times the announcers sounded confused, but the video quality was reported as excellent, and the driver interviews were well-received.
As far as fans were concerned, the crowd in Oakland, California (who had to arrive at 7 a.m. local time in order to get in) was enthusiastic. Meanwhile, patrons at Atlanta’s Fox Theater – in the heart of NASCAR country – seemed less than impressed.
A significant portion of the 1966 MCA-TV broadcast was captured on kinescope, and surfaced in trading circles around 2016. The recording was video only, and lacked the original audio commentary. Eric Paddon painstakingly synchronized the video with audio from the 1966 Indianapolis Motor Speedway Radio Network broadcast. The coverage picks up just after the opening lap crash, and includes much of the latter parts of the race. The video is available on YouTube at the following links: [PART 1] & [PART 2]. An 11-minute video clip from a British newsreel report on the race includes some video footage of the race, but it does not appear that it came from the MCA feed.
ABC’s Wide World of Sports
Chris Schenkel anchored taped coverage of the 1966 Indianapolis 500 on ABC’s Wide World of Sports. The race was held Monday May 30, and the 90-minute broadcast aired on Saturday June 4 (5 p.m. eastern). The episode was intermixed with Jim McKay and Muriel Grossfield reporting from the National AAU Gymnastics Championship from Bartlesville, Oklahoma.
The broadcast was notable in that it was advertised as ABC’s first color telecast at Indy. Surviving copies, however, are only available in black & white. An official, restored version (black & white) of the original Wide World of Sports broadcast is available on YouTube. [LINK]
WFBM featured extensive coverage of the race, with the daily show “Trackside” starting on April 30. WFBM was live at the track each day from Opening Day running through the Victory Banquet on May 31. Coverage of Time Trials, the Old Timers’ BBQ, Governor’s Ball, Press Party, Drivers’ Meeting, and various other “500” Festival events filled the month of May. Highlights films of old races, race previews, and a post-race recap were part of WFBM’s traditional coverage. Tom Carnegie, John Totten, Jim Gerard, Dave Piontek, and Len Sutton led the coverage team.
Coverage on WLW-i was led by Charlie Brockman and Carl Grande. The daily wrap-up show “Today at the Track” aired Monday through Friday at 7:15 p.m., along with time trials coverage and a post-race wrap-up show.
Jim Wilson and Rodger Ward led the coverage on WISH.
MCA Closed Circuit television
Broadcast Details: The 51st running of the Indianapolis 500 would be the fourth year for the MCA-TV closed circuit telecasts. For the second time, the telecast was beamed via Early Bird satellite to Europe. The race was scheduled for Tuesday May 30. After 18 laps, rain brought out the red flag and halted. The race was resumed and concluded on Wednesday May 31. The closed circuit telecast was carried on both days, once again extending well beyond its scheduled four and a half hour duration.
The production utilized 14 cameras, 25 microphones, 14 monitors, three tape recorders, five spotters, three reporters, and four announcers. For 1967, the telecast continued to be in black and white, despite plans each year to upgrade to color. The reason it was kept in black and white was largely due to the limitations at the individual venues, and the prohibitive cost of upgrading their equipment. Nevertheless, power lines and over 17 miles of cabling was installed at the track, marking overall upgrades to the system.
The Early Bird satellite beamed the signal to Europe, and for the first time, the Lani Bird satellite sent the signal west over the Pacific Ocean to Japan. However, due to scheduling conflicts with the Early Bird, they were not able to carry the conclusion of the race on the second day.
Venues/Blackout: The broadcast was carried in approximately 173 theaters/venues across the country. That number appears to be down from the previous year. The broadcast was blacked-out within a 200-mile radius, including all of Indiana. The overseas versions sent to Europe and Japan were planned to be condensed to three hours. A one hour highlight digest was to be followed by the final two hours of the race live.
Broadcast Critique: In its fourth year, once again, the MCA closed circuit broadcast had to deal with circumstances beyond its control. For the third time in four years, a red flag stopped the race, this time due to rain. After less than twenty minutes of racing, the race was halted, and washed out for the day. The announcers did their best to fill the down time, resorting to interviews with drivers, celebrities, and spectators in attendance. Replays of the start, as well as highlights from 1966 were also aired. But after five hours, the weary and hoarse crew could not be expected to keep the attention of the restless patrons across the country. Theater owners reportedly called the production staff throughout the afternoon, griping and anxious for any information as to when the race was going to be resumed. Shortly after 4:20 p.m. local time, USAC finally postponed the race until the next day.
When the race resumed on the second day, most venues carried the conclusion. Despite May 31 not being a holiday, some venues still reported good attendance. However, at the Tampa showing, a transmission interruption lasted over an hour, and when the broadcast finally connected, it was poor quality. Refunds had to be issued at the Curtis Hixon Convention Center. Similar technical difficulties were noted at one venue in New York. In San Francisco, the Richmond Auditorium was booked for Wednesday, necessitating patrons to go to theaters in Oakland to catch the conclusion.
No copies of the 1967 MCA closed circuit broadcast are known to exist. Clips from a Newsreel and a British newsreel report on the race includes some video footage, but it does not appear that it was taken from the MCA feed.
ABC’s Wide World of Sports
The 1967 Indianapolis 500 was carried on ABC’s Wide World of Sports. Legendary sports broadcaster Jim McKay anchored the broadcast, his first of twenty years at the Indy 500. The race was scheduled for Tuesday May 30. After 18 laps, rain brought out the red flag. The race was resumed and concluded on Wednesday May 31.
The 90-minute broadcast was aired on Saturday June 10 at 5 p.m. (eastern). Highlights of the Indy 500 were intermixed with the National AAU Women’s Indoor Platform Diving Championships from Arlington, Texas and a preview of the U.S. Open from Baltustrol Golf Club in Springfield, New Jersey. The segments that made up the “500” coverage totaled about 48 minutes.
Jim McKay hosted the broadcast and handled the play-by-play commentary. Rodger Ward served as driver analyst, and Chris Economacki helped cover the pit area. During much of the running of the race, McKay spent time in the pits and garage area, taping interviews with drivers and participants. Some of those segments were edited in to the final broadcast. The booth commentary by McKay, Ward, and Economacki would have been recorded in post-production, not “live” while the race was going on. It does not appear that ABC included any highlights of practice or time trials in 1967, except for a very brief mention. They did feature some pre-race segments focusing on the STP Turbine machine (Parnelli Jones). Tony Hulman’s starting command (“Gentlemen, start your engines”) was heard, but Hulman himself was not shown on-screen. It is possible his audio was edited in later during post-production. After the race, winner A.J. Foyt was shown in victory lane, but the televised interview (by McKay) was conducted later at the start/finish line after the winner’s victory lap in the pace car.
The 1967 Wide World of Sports telecast is the oldest surviving broadcast in its original color. The 1966 broadcast originally aired in color, but no color copies are known to exist. Clips of the 1967 telecast have been staples of Indy 500 highlight compilations and other various ABC Sports clips shows. A clip of the finish was included in the 1988 VHS release “Live and Drive the Indy 500”, as part of an A.J. Foyt segment. A snippet of the 1967 finish also appeared on the 1990 direct-to-video VHS documentary The Best of ABC’s Wide World of Sports: The 60s. On May 22, 1993, ABC Sports aired a retrospective episode of Wide World of Sports, in which viewers voted for the top ten favorite events covered over the years. A.J. Foyt winning the 1967 Indy 500 was voted #1, and slightly expanded highlights of the 1967 finish were featured.
In May 2011, in celebration of the 100th anniversary of the Indianapolis 500, ESPN Classic aired numerous never-before-reran Indy 500 telecasts. On May 23, 2011, what is presumed to be the full, original 1967 broadcast, was aired at 1 p.m. on ESPN Classic. It was also made available on ESPN on-demand outlets. The 1967 telecast was rerun numerous times on ESPN Classic (usually during the month of May) until ESPN Classic officially folded in 2021. An unofficial copy of the broadcast is available on YouTube.
One of the biggest developments in local coverage for 1967 was the “500” Festival Parade being broadcast nationwide. The “500” Festival Association consummated a deal, spearheaded by Burger Chef president Frank Thomas, to syndicate the parade coverage (produced by WFBM-TV) to over 130 stations across the country. Sports Network Inc. arranged the telecast, which was hosted by James Garner and Pat Priest, on Sunday May 28. Both WFBM and WISH aired the parade locally. WTTV later showed the parade on tape delay.
WFBM featured extensive coverage of the race, with the daily show “Trackside” starting on April 29. WFBM was live at the track each day from Opening Day running through the Victory Banquet on May 31. Coverage of Time Trials, the Old Timers’ BBQ, Governor’s Ball, Press Party, Drivers’ Meeting, and various other “500” Festival events filled the month of May. Highlights films of old races, race previews, and a post-race recap were part of WFBM’s traditional coverage. Tom Carnegie, John Totten, Dave Piontek, and Len Sutton led the coverage team.
Coverage on WLW-i was led by Charlie Brockman and Carl Grande. The daily wrap-up show “Today at the Track” aired Monday through Friday at 10:00 p.m., along with time trials coverage and a post-race wrap-up show. WLW-i boasted the first local coverage all in color.
MCA Closed Circuit television
Broadcast Details: The 52nd Indianapolis 500 was the fifth year for the MCA-TV closed circuit telecasts. The race was scheduled for Thursday May 30. The broadcast began with a half-hour pre-race at 10:30 a.m., and the race started on-time at 11 a.m. (eastern). For only the second time since the closed circuit broadcasts began (1964), the race started on-time, was not halted due to a red flag, and did not push into a second day. For the second time, the telecast was beamed via Lani Bird to Japan. Australia also picked up the Lani Bird transmission, boosting the potential worldwide audience to over 11 million. The production utilized 15 cameras including two wireless cameras, 25 microphones, and an 83-person crew.
Venues/Blackout: The broadcast was carried in approximately 170 theaters/venues across the country. The broadcast was blacked-out within Indiana, but the surrounding cities such as Cincinnati and Louisville now carried the telecast. Along with the international satellite transmissions, the broadcast was also delivered by special cable hook-up to Mexico and Central America, and parts of Canada. Among the notable venues included the RKO Orpheum Theater in Davenport, Iowa, Atlanta’s Fox Theater, and a new addition, the West Palm Beach Auditorium.
On-Air Crew: Charlie Brockman, Rodger Ward, and Chris Economacki (pits), were joined by the recently retired Parnelli Jones. Bill Burch again served as Producer/Director.
Broadcast Critique: In its fifth year, the MCA closed circuit broadcast finally had a race without a red flag interruption, rain, or controversy. Most venues reported enthusiastic crowds, a welcome contrast from previous years. In Chicago, the Brotherhood of Electrical Workers were on strike. Union projectionists refused to cross picket lines, forcing a cancellation of the telecast in that area. Meanwhile, a sold out crowd in Wichita reportedly cheered when the Turbine of Joe Leonard came to a halt, and applauded Bobby Unser’s victory. After having to issue costly refunds in 1967, the Tampa venue reported a successful airing for its 4,000 viewers.
No copies of the 1968 MCA closed circuit broadcast are known to exist. As of 2023, no clips have surfaced.
ABC’s Wide World of Sports
The 1968 Indianapolis 500 was carried on ABC’s Wide World of Sports, once again in color. The race was held on Thursday May 30, 1968. The telecast was originally scheduled to air on Saturday June 8, a little over a week after the race. However, the funeral of Robert F. Kennedy (who was assassinated on June 6) pre-empted that day’s afternoon lineup. The telecast was pushed back one week to Saturday June 15 at 5:30 p.m. eastern. In the Indianapolis area, the Wide World of Sports telecast was blacked out on Channel 13. It was aired one additional week later on June 22 at 9:30 p.m.
Jim McKay hosted the broadcast and handled the play-by-play commentary. Rodger Ward served as driver analyst, and Chris Economacki helped cover the pit area. During much of the running of the race, McKay spent time in the pits and garage area, taping interviews with drivers and participants. Some of those segments were edited in to the final broadcast. The race booth commentary by McKay and Ward would have been recorded in post-production, not “live” while the race was going on. At the finish, Jim McKay for first time uttered his famous phrase “…and it’s all over!” as the checkered flag fell. After the race, winner Bobby Unser was shown in victory lane, but the televised interview (by McKay) was conducted later at the start/finish line after the winner’s victory lap in the pace car.
An Official version of the telecast was posted on YouTube in 2018.
For the second year, the “500” Festival Parade was broadcast in syndication nationwide on Sports Network. Garry Moore and Sid Collins hosted the telecast. On WISH, Mike Ahern and Eileen Smith covered the parade locally.
WFBM featured extensive coverage of the race, with the daily show “Trackside” starting on April 29. WFBM was live at the track each day from Opening Day running through the Victory Banquet on May 31. Coverage of Time Trials, the Old Timers’ BBQ, Governor’s Ball, Press Party, Drivers’ Meeting, and various other “500” Festival events filled the month of May. Highlights films of old races, race previews, and a post-race recap were part of WFBM’s traditional coverage. Tom Carnegie and Dave Piontek led the coverage team.
Coverage on WLW-i was led by Charlie Brockman and Carl Grande. The daily wrap-up show “Today at the Track” aired Monday through Friday at 10:00 p.m., along with time trials coverage and a post-race wrap-up show.
MCA Closed Circuit television
Broadcast Details: The 53rd Indianapolis 500 was year six for the MCA-TV closed circuit telecasts. The race was scheduled for Friday May 30. The broadcast began with a half-hour pre-race at 10:30 a.m., and the race started on-time at 11 a.m. (eastern). Two IBM 2250 graphic computers were employed by the network for the first time, which provided viewers with instantaneous race data. The computers kept track of the race leaders, average speed, margins, pit stop information, best laps, and other interesting data. The Goodyear Blimp carried an overhead camera, and an unmanned camera was positioned for “speed shots” of the cars coming off of turn four.
Revenue generated by the broadcast was estimated to be $2 million, of which the network was said to collection roughly 55%. The production utilized 15 cameras, including two wireless cameras, 25 microphones, and six internal communication systems for an 82-person crew. Depending upon the venue, individual tickets ranged anywhere between $4 to $10 apiece.
Driver Al Unser Sr. suffered a broken leg after toppling his motorcycle in the infield on May 17. He was forced to sit out the race, and was invited to serve as an analyst on the broadcast. However, it wound up being too late for Unser to take part. He instead promoted the broadcast back in his hometown of Albuquerque, New Mexico.
Venues/Blackout: The telecast was carried in approximately 150-175 theaters/venues across the country. Once more, it appeared that the venue count was declining slightly compared to the previous year. The broadcast was again blacked-out in most of Indiana, however, the town of Hammond (a Chicagoland suburb in northwest Indiana) had a venue carrying the broadcast. Owensboro, Kentucky, just across the Ohio River from Indiana was able to carry the broadcast, drawing viewers from nearby Evansville, Indiana. Big cities including Atlanta, San Francisco, Orlando, Nashville, Louisville, and Lincoln all tuned in. International satellite and cable transmissions beamed the broadcast to Puerto Rice, Canada, and Central America, and South America. But for 1969, perhaps the most notable broadcast was a private screening arranged for the Apollo 10 astronauts. Thomas Stafford, John Young, and Gene Cernan – who had just days earlier returned from their lunar mission – watched the race while at debrief at the Manned Spacecraft Center in Houston.
Broadcast Critique: More than one venue across the country reported a blurry picture, poor reception – or even no picture – another frustration for the fledgling network. The enthusiastic Tucson crowd collectively sighed when hometown favorite Roger McCluskey dropped out of the race, while patrons in Miami became a little bored during the somewhat uneventful second half.
After six years, the MCA closed-circuit broadcast was still being shown in black & white, and still trying to gain a footing against the better-established, and critically superior IMS Radio Network. While the Sid Collins-anchored radio broadcast was growing to near 1,000 affiliates nationwide (not to mention available for free in every household that owned a radio), the closed circuit broadcasts were losing venues and crowds continued to be stagnant. Only one year remained on MCA-TV’s contract, and for 1970, the network was preparing to finally produce the broadcast in color.
Raymond Johnson, a columnist from The Tennessean – who had worked the race nearly every year since 1928 – watched the closed-circuit telecast in Nashville. While he enjoyed being able to see all the way around the track, and the ability to see replays, something not possible in person, he opined that the telecast simply was “not like being at the track”. Famed west coast racing promoter J.C. Agajanian, presenting the telecast at the Swing Auditorium in San Bernardino, was forced to issue refunds after their projector broke. One venue in Fort Worth, Texas even sported a modestly self-deprecating marquee, seemingly protesting the concept of so-called “Pay TV”.
No copies of the 1969 MCA closed circuit broadcast are known to exist. A clip from a CBS News report on the race from the evening of May 30, 1969 includes some video footage, but it was not taken from the MCA feed.
ABC’s Wide World of Sports
The 1969 Indianapolis 500 was carried on ABC’s Wide World of Sports. The race was scheduled for Friday May 30 and the broadcast aired on Saturday June 7 at 5 p.m. eastern. Jim McKay hosted the broadcast and handled the play-by-play commentary. Rodger Ward served as driver analyst, and Chris Economacki helped cover the pit area. During much of the running of the race, McKay spent time in the pits and garage area, taping interviews with drivers and participants. Some of those segments were edited in to the final broadcast. The race booth commentary by McKay and Ward would have been recorded in post-production, not “live” while the race was going on. After the race, winner Mario Andretti was shown in victory lane, but the televised interview (by McKay) was conducted later at the start/finish line after the winner’s victory lap in the pace car.
Unlike the previous few years, the 1969 Wide World of Sports broadcast had a slightly different format. The first half focused on practice and time trials. The now-infamous plight of Jigger Sirois on pole day was featured, as was in-depth coverage of Mario Andretti’s eventful month. Andretti’s crash during practice was covered, which led into the second half of the broadcast, which was race day coverage following Andretti all the way to victory. For the first time, the annual singing of “(Back Home Again in) Indiana” was carried on ABC, although it was only most of the song.
Clips of the 1969 Wide World of Sports telecast have been staples of Indy 500 highlight compilations and other various ABC Sports clips shows. A clip of the finish was included in the 1988 VHS release “Live and Drive the Indy 500”, as part of a Mario Andretti segment. In May 2011, in celebration of the 100th anniversary of the Indianapolis 500, ESPN Classic aired numerous never-before-reran Indy 500 telecasts. On May 24, 2011, a nearly complete, original 1969 broadcast, was aired at 1 p.m. on ESPN Classic. It was also made available on ESPN on-demand outlets. The 1969 telecast was rerun numerous times on ESPN Classic (usually during the month of May) until ESPN Classic officially folded in 2021. An official copy of the broadcast was made available on YouTube in 2019.
MCA Closed Circuit television
Broadcast Details: The seventh and final year for the MCA-TV closed circuit broadcasts came in 1970. For the first time, the telecast was broadcast in color. The 54th Indianapolis 500 was held on Saturday May 30 and scheduled for a 12:00 p.m. local time start, a one time departure from the normal 11:00 a.m. local time start. Morning rain, however, delayed start by about 31 minutes. As the field was coming out of turn four on the final pace lap, Jim Malloy suffered a broken suspension and smacked the outside wall. The start was waved off and the red flag was put out. After another delay of about a half hour to clean up the accident, and top off fuel tanks, the race finally started at approximately 1 p.m. local time.
Despite the gloomy overcast sky, the race was run to completion without further interruption. An 82-person crew crew used 15 cameras and 25 microphones to cover the race.
Venues/Blackout: The broadcast was available in approximately 134–140 venues nationwide. Numerous international transmissions were made in 1970. For the first time, the BBC picked up the broadcast, airing it on a one-day tape delay. Live transmissions to Japan, Australia, Mexico, South America, and Hawaii, as well as taped airings in Central America boosted the potential audience to likely the largest in its seven year existence.
The telecast was carried in a dozen Southern California outlets, including Grauman’s Chinese Theater once again. West Palm Beach, Fox Theater in Phoenix, Waco, and Tampa were some selected cities. In San Bernadino, low turnout was reported, blamed mostly on the poor weather forecast for race day.
On-air Crew: Charlie Brockman once again anchored the telecast, a duty he had now fulfilled for all seven years (1964–1970). Rodger Ward returned for his fourth year as driver analyst. Ward split his duties between MCA and ABC for the day, and also drove the pace car at the start of the race. But the biggest addition to the crew was Formula One World Champion, and 1966 Indy 500 Rookie of the Year, Jackie Stewart, who joined as co-analyst. It was the beginning of a nearly 15-year broadcasting tenure at Indy for Stewart, who would later be a prominent member of ABC’s telecasts. As had been in previous years, a 10-person on-air crew covered the race from the booth, in the pits, and around the track.
Broadcast Disposition: No full copies of the 1970 MCA closed circuit broadcast are known to exist. ABC’s Wide World of Sports, which carried highlights of the race on tape delay, most likely included a substantial amount of the MCA feed in their June 6 broadcast. It would have been the first time ABC utilized some of MCA’s video footage, as it was the first year MCA carried the race in color. ABC had been presenting the race in color on Wide World of Sports since 1966, while MCA was black & white only from 1964 to 1969. A clip from a CBS News report on the race includes some video footage, but it was not taken from the MCA feed.
Broadcast Critique: The seventh (and last) year of the MCA closed circuit telecast was arguably its best. Finally airing in color, most venues reported good reception and a clear picture. The addition of Jackie Stewart as an analyst was praised, and despite Al Unser’s domination of the race, reviews were generally positive.
It was not enough, however, to salvage a future for closed circuit television at Indy. Attendance at the individual venues continued to be stagnant or even dropped. MCA’s contract expired after the 1970 race and ultimately was not renewed. MCA stated that the venture was “unprofitable” and never returned. Rumors had already been circulating that MTS, another closed circuit firm out of New York, was interested in bidding for the race. MTS was covering college sports, and carried the Ontario 500, their first auto race; but a deal never materialized. In March 1971, a new era was set to begin. ABC Sports signed a landmark deal to carry the Indianapolis 500 in 1971 on same-day tape delay, a substantial expansion of their previous coverage, which had consisted of highlights on Wide World of Sports.
ABC’s Wide World of Sports
The 1970 Indianapolis 500 was carried on ABC’s Wide World of Sports. It was the final time the race was shown on in a tape-delay format on Wide World of Sports. The race was held on Saturday May 30 and the broadcast aired a week later on Saturday June 6. Jim McKay hosted the broadcast and handled the play-by-play commentary. Rodger Ward served as driver analyst, and Chris Economacki helped cover the pit area. Ward drove the pace car at the start of the race, and served as a roving reporter in the pre-race. During much of the running of the race, McKay spent time in the pits and garage area, taping interviews with drivers and participants. Some of those segments were edited in to the final broadcast. The race booth commentary by McKay and Ward would have been recorded in post-production, not “live” while the race was going on. Ward in fact spent most of race day calling the race live on MCA-TV’s closed circuit broadcast. After the race, winner Al Unser Sr. was shown in victory lane, but the televised interview (by McKay) was conducted later at the start/finish line after the winner’s victory lap in the pace car.
Brief highlights of time trials were shown during the opening segments. At the start of the race, Jim McKay for first time uttered his famous phrase “…and they’re racing at Indianapolis!” as the green flag fell.
A clip of the finish of the 1970 Indianapolis 500 was included in the 1988 VHS release “Live and Drive the Indy 500”, as part of an Al Unser segment. In May 2011, in celebration of the 100th anniversary of the Indianapolis 500, ESPN Classic aired numerous never-before-reran Indy 500 telecasts. On May 27, 2011, a nearly complete, original 1970 broadcast, was aired at 8 a.m. on ESPN Classic. The 1970 telecast was rerun numerous times on ESPN Classic (usually during the month of May) until ESPN Classic officially folded in 2021. An unofficial copy of the broadcast is available on YouTube.
|Indianapolis 500 on Television — Six-Part Series|
ABC Live Era
Additional References and Works Cited
- Indianapolis 500 television broadcast, 1966-1970 (ABC’s Wide World of Sports)
- Indianapolis 500 television broadcast, 1971-2018 (ABC Sports)
- Indianapolis 500 television broadcast, 2019-2022 (NBC Sports)
- Indianapolis 500 – Daily Trackside Reports (1967-2016)
- The Indianapolis Star via Newspapers.com
- The Indianapolis News via Newspapers.com
- The Talk of Gasoline Alley via Saturday May 5, 2012
- Indiana Memory
- Indiana Broadcast Pioneers – WFBM Radio & TV, Indianapolis
- 50th Anniversary Celebration of WTTV (Part 5 of 5) – September 5, 1999
- Logopedia – Famdon: MCA logos
- Images noted above courtesy of Russ Thompson collection used by permission.
- Images noted above courtesy of Racing Collection (Mike Thomsen) used by permission.
- Photo archive from the Kenneth R. Johnson / Keith Johnson Collection unless otherwise noted.
EDIT: Corrections and clarifications regarding newsreel footage, and ABC’s use of MCA feed (03/20/2023)