“The greatest spectacle in racing”. This is a famous saying started by a well known man in the broadcasting/racing industry named Sid Collins. Sid was born in Indianapolis, Indiana in 1923. His parents were both Hoosiers. He attended (IPS) Indianapolis Public School 66 and Shortridge High School. He was too small to play sports so he chose to participate in the school newspaper. Sid is a historic figure who lead a very active, entertaining life in journalism and eventually radio broadcasting.
Sid attended IU (Indiana University) in Bloomington, IN. He was a business major with an advertising focus. He earned money for school bye coming up with “trick slogans” for matchbook covers. It was his personality that allowed him to make it big even while in college. He signed up for a broadcasting class which motivated him to became the moderator of IU‘s Sunday morning broadcast program. This was his steppingstone to a lot of great achievements.
He won several awards for his journalism and contributions while at IU and during his time in Indiana. After college he started training in the Army and traveled several different places. He ended up back in Indiana as a recruit officer until 1946 when he was discharged. He then went to work for WKMO in Kokomo, IN. After only a year in Kokomo Sid was offered a position with WIBC which was Indy’s best broadcast station.
He had an evening show with different series such as “Speedway Gossip”, “Captain Sid’s Treasure Hunt”, and “Stairway to Stardom”. Within one year of working for WIBC Sid got his foot into the door of the Indianapolis Motor speedway. He received an assignment at the track as track reporter working in the south shoot. Wilbur Shaw, the President at the time, and Tony Hulman agreed to “give the kid a chance” and within two years he became the radio announcer at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. No one would have guessed he would have turned into an industry icon.
Prior to Sid, the race had only been broadcast at the start of the race, updates were given every hour during the race in 5 minute increments, and the announcement of the finish of the race. Sid didn’t like this style and wanted commentary throughout the entire race. It was called the “full coverage concept” which was another first in the business. In 1952 his concept was put to test. The first year 26 stations participated in full coverage of the race. 110 stations the second year and now there are 1200 participating stations. Needless to say, he will always be known as the “Voice of The 500”
Sid’s coverage made him a legend in broadcasting. He would tell the world about the crashes, the deaths, the stories of the drivers, the thrilling part of the industry and sometimes the worst of it as well. Sid is remembered for his coverage in 1964 when Eddie Sachs was fatally injured on the first turn of the race. Everyone heard Sid Collins giving his eulogy and more than 30,000 requests were received for copies of it. It is said that Sid “did things with compassion, grace, and class”.
There was no television coverage at this time. It was the voice of Sid Collins that calmed the crowd and excited them all at once. Sid announced 29 races of the Indianapolis 500 but on May 2, 1977 he took his own life. He was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease for which there was no cure. He couldn’t bear the thought of not being able to function in life so he took his at the age of 54. The disease is terminal and he decided it was better to be remembered for who he was and not what the illness would do to him.
He was always in motion, an innovator ahead of his time. Sid is a beloved “Hoosier” who has a special place at 16th and Georgetown. I’m going to close by quoting an inspirational passage or saying as Sid always did to end each broadcast. He would dedicate it to the winner of the race. “If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet a success unexpected”, by Henry David Thoreau.