Start Your Engines! A Short History Of The Indianapolis 500 On Television

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This topic contains 11 replies, has 3 voices, and was last updated by  daniel anderson 3 months, 2 weeks ago.

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  • #148941

    Joseph_Gallant
    Participant

    Tomorrow (May 29th), nearly half a million people will gather at the Indianapolis Speedway (and millions more will sit down in front of their TV sets) to watch the 2016 edition of the Indianapolis “500”, the “granddaddy” of American auto racing (and which the track promotes as “The Greatest Spectacle In Racing!”). This will be the 100th running of the race (it’s been held every year since 1911 with the exceptions of 1917, 1918, 1942, 1943, 1944 and 1945, when the races were cancelled owing to the two World Wars).

    There has been American television coverage in some way, shape, or form every year since 1964 (and three times prior to that). Here’s a brief rundown:

    The first 500 to be televised was the 1949 race, which was broadcast locally on WFBM-6 Indianapolis (now WRTV). (It’s my understanding that the 1949 race was only the second television program ever broadcast in the Indianapolis area; the first being a station inaugural program right before the race). WFBM again showed the race in 1950. Back then, Indianapolis wasn’t connected to TV network lines, so the telecast wasn’t on a network.

    But after the 1950 race, Speedway management became very worried about the new medium’s effect on live attendance, and barred any future live telecasts of the race.

    Only once from 1951 through 1963 was there (apart from brief highlights on local and network TV news programs) any extensive telecast: In 1954, a half-hour of filmed highlights of the race aired that evening on ABC-TV. I don’t know if this program was seen in Indianapolis or not (I doubt it); given that ABC had fewer affiliated then than either CBS or NBC, there were a few cities where this program wasn’t seen. I would think that in any event, the film was shot, developed, and edited in Indianapolis and fed to the network from there.

    From 1964 through 1970, the race was telecast on a closed-circuit basis to movie theatres and some indoor sports arenas. Again, I doubt that any in Indianapolis showed it.

    Meantime, ABC’s “Wide World Of Sports” came onto the scene in 1961, and after showing a few minutes of highlights the week after the race from 1961 through 1964, “Wide World” began showing a more substantial edited version of the race in 1965. That year, it was an edited tape of the previous week’s closed-circuit theatre telecast; from 1966, it would be the network’s own production. Starting in 1966, the presentation was shown in color (On You Tube, you can find the 1966 “Wide World” presentation, although only in black-and-white; plus the 1967, 1969 and 1970 “Wide World” telecasts).

    In 1971, the closed-circuit theatre telecasts disappeared and instead, an edited tape (two hours including commercials; later expanded to three hours with commercials included) would be telecast in prime-time the night of the race by ABC, some eight or nine hours after the race had taken place. During this time, it was a Memorial Day weekend tradition in my home (and probably in millions of other homes) that my family (my late parents, my younger brother and I) would listen to the live radio broadcast of the race in the afternoon, then watch the edited tape that evening.

    ABC continued same-day taped coverage of the race through 1985. I do know that this taped presentation was blacked-out in the Indianapolis area during the early and mid-1970’s; I don’t know (not being from there) if the blackout for the prime-time taped showing ever got lifted in or prior to 1985.

    One thing you may not know about the 1971-85 ABC telecasts was that the commentary of the start, the first few laps, the last few laps, and the finish (called for most of that era by Jim McKay and Jackie Stewart) was recorded as they happened, but the commentary of the middle of the race was actually recorded while the edited tape was being broadcast.

    Finally in 1986, ABC got to carry the race live. Until this year (2016), the live telecast of the race had been blacked-out in the Indianapolis area, although in recent years, the entire race had been shown on tape that evening by affiliate WRTV. Even though they will air tomorrow’s race live, WRTV will maintain the tradition of showing the entire race on tape in prime-time, as a service to those who go to see the race in person, since the Indianapolis Speedway is set-up in such a way that those seated on the front stretch can’t see what’s happening on the back stretch, and vice-verse.

    Although ABC’s sports department was absorbed by sister company ESPN a few years back, ABC’s relationship as the network airing the Indianapolis “500” has been (not counting the brief filmed highlights from 1961 through 1964 on “Wide World Of Sports”) continuous since 1965. The only relationship between network and sports event longer than this is the relationship between CBS and the Masters Golf Tournament (which has been continuous since 1956).

    The Indianapolis Speedway seems to have had a “love-hate” relationship with television over the past 67 years.

    #148942

    daniel anderson
    Participant

    I’m really impressed that Jim McKay and whoever was his partner was back then always did the middle of the race while the edited tape was being broadcast. Given that the race is now live it is interesting to note how McKay called the race in comparison to let’s say Allen Bestwick(who will handle McKay’s role on Sunday) McKay wasn’t really a racing guy unlike Betswick is now: maybe Jim Lampley would be the other one that wasn’t really a racing guy back then but who did the Indy 500.

    #174608

    Joseph_Gallant
    Participant

    As of May 22nd, 2017 (six days before the 2017 running of the Indianapolis “500”), a blackout of the live telecast on Indianapolis’s WRTV-6 is still in effect (according to the station’s website), with the station running ABC’s coverage of the race on a tape-delayed basis from 7 to 11:30 P.M. EDT Sunday-night, and WRTV running ABC’s Sunday-night program schedule (in advance of the rest of the network) during the 12 Noon-4 P.M. EDT period instead of the race.

    It’s still possible that in the six days between now and the 2017 race (as I write this), the race could completely sell-out or the Indianapolis Speedway may otherwise lift the live TV blackout.

    #174612

    Charles Everett
    Participant

    Indianapolis has NEVER seen the 500 live since ABC began televising the race. RTV6 owner Scripps Media understands that. Used to be that central Indiana couldn’t see the race on TV at all.

    BTW, next Sunday’s 500 could be the last to air on ABC. Allen Bestwick and pit reporter Dr. Jerry Punch were among those laid off by ESPN last month, though they’ll stay on through the Detroit IndyCar races in early June. NBC Sports Group is heavily rumored to take over should ESPN bow out.

     

    #174618

    Joseph_Gallant
    Participant

    Charles Everett commented:

    BTW, next Sunday’s (May 28th) 500 could be the last to air on ABC……NBC Sports Group is heavily rumored to take over should ESPN (which is producing the race for ABC) bow out.

    I wonder if the NASCAR TV deals could be modified so NBC gets the World “600” (also known as the Coca-Cola “600”) in Charlotte on the Sunday evening of Memorial Day weekend, should that network get the Indianapolis “500” to go along with the Monaco Grand Prix (the Monaco race has an 8 A.M. EDT “green flag”), which NBC already has the rights to.

    What a fantastic promotional opportunity it would be if that network could carry the Monaco Grand Prix, the Indianapolis “500” and the World/Coca-Cola “600” back-to-back-to-back on the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend (“Race Day 2018! The Monaco Grand Prix, The Indy 500 and the Coca-Cola 600! Three of the year’s biggest auto races back-to-back-to-back on one day, Memorial Weekend Sunday, only on NBC!”)

    #174629

    Charles Everett
    Participant

    Fox has the Coke 600 — NBC doesn’t begin its NASCAR schedule until July.

    #174693

    Joseph_Gallant
    Participant

    I checked Zap 2 It.com and WRTV-6’s website today (May 27th) and from both, it appears that after being able to carry ABC’s telecast of the Indianapolis “500” live last year (2016) that the station will revert to having to show the race on a same-day tape-delay from 7 to 11:30 P.M. tomorrow night (May 28th).

    But with thunderstorms in the forecast for at least part of the day tomorrow for Indianapolis, it’s questionable as to whether the race will be able to be run (or be run in full) tomorrow.

    (And the weather outlook for the NASCAR race in Charlotte is also a questionmark with some thunderstorms possible during the race, but less of a chance than at Indianapolis)

    Hopefully, tomorrow will bring nice weather to both cities, great races with lots of lead changes, no deaths or serious injuries, and a pair of memorable finishes.

    #174694

    daniel anderson
    Participant

    If the Indy “500” is delayed late enough, would ABC preempt it’s network newscast, or would ESPN pick up the end of the race?

    #174732

    Joseph_Gallant
    Participant

    Daniel Anderson asked:

    If the Indy “500” is delayed late enough, would ABC preempt it’s network newscast, or would ESPN pick up the end of the race?

    This actually happened a few years back (when, due to rain delays, the race didn’t end until about 7:30 P.M. EDT, four-plus hours later than usual). ABC stayed with the broadcast, pre-empting (in the Eastern and Central time zones) local and network early-evening newscasts.

    #174748

    Charles Everett
    Participant

    Indianapolis 500 Sees Record-Low Rating

    Don’t be surprised if the race moves off ABC next year despite what Sports Business Daily is saying. ESPN is getting out of motorsports if the company’s layoffs are any indication.

    On a related note, I had my local TV info up thread slightly wrong. RTV6 in Indianapolis did televise the 100th running of the 500 live in 2016.

    #175769

    Joseph_Gallant
    Participant

    Daniel Anderson asked:

    If the Indy “500” is delayed late enough, would ABC preempt it’s network newscast, or would ESPN pick up the end of the race?

    I responded:

    This actually happened a few years back (when, due to rain delays, the race didn’t end until about 7:30 P.M. EDT, four-plus hours later than usual). ABC stayed with the broadcast, pre-empting (in the Eastern and Central time zones) local and network early-evening newscasts.

    A couple of weeks back (July 23rd, 2017), this scenario also happened with the Brickyard “400” stock car race likewise held at the Indianapolis Speedway. The race was delayed for over two hours by rain, and there were further “red-flags” stopping the race due to accidents.

    The race didn’t end until just prior to sunset at Indianapolis (shortly before 9 P.M. EDT), but NBC (which carried this year’s Brickyard “400”) carried the race through to conclusion, pre-empting (in the Eastern and Central time zones) early-evening local and network news and two hours of prime-time programming, and also pushing back Megyn Kelly’s now-presumably-cancelled newsmagazine program back until immediately after the race broadcast ended (which was 9 P.M. EDT).

    #175811

    daniel anderson
    Participant

    I think that NBC’s contract with NASCAR requires the network to stay with the race till it’s conclusion, unless it conflicts with the NFL package?

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