419. Sid Collins
In 1923, Sid Collins was born Sidney Cahn in Indianapolis. His parents owned a variety store on the corner of 30th St and Clifton, where Sid stocked shelves. He enjoyed journalism at Shortridge High School, where he edited the “Daily Echo” with an aspiring young writer, Kurt Vonnegut.
After high school, Sid majored in business and advertising at Indiana University. While in Bloomington, he worked for IU’s radio station. In his first show, one of the ROTC officers he was interviewing died of a heart attack. The show went on. This was typical of Collins’ radio style. However bizarre and unexpected the circumstances, Collins always seemed prepared with the perfect quote, poem, or explanation. He was a master of improvisation.
Graduating in three years, Sid next toured Europe in the Army. After the war, Collins changed his name, fearing anti-Semitism. His first radio job was at WKMO in Kokomo, which led to an announcer’s gig at WIBC in Indianapolis. One of his shows was “Speedway Gossip.” In 1948, Collins first reported the Indianapolis 500 from IMS’ turn 2. Wilbur Shaw and Tony Hulman appreciated his work. When Bill Slater took sick, in 1950, they decided to “give the kid a chance and see what happens.”
In the ‘30s and early ‘40s, the Indy 500 was a big race with a small audience. Race fans had to travel to town to follow the race. Eventually, the Mutual Radio network covered the first few laps, offered updates twice an hour, and returned for ceremonies in the winner’s circle. When advertising dried up, the Speedway and WIBC decided to start their own network. By 1951, Collins was a sales executive, specializing in finding advertisers. For the 1952 Indy 500, he attracted not only advertisers, but twenty-six radio stations to form the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Network. Over the next few years, that number grew to twelve hundred, in addition to the Armed Forces Radio Network. In those few short years, you could listen to the race, nearly anywhere on Earth.
Collins’ major contribution was to develop a style that gave listeners the illusion they were attending the race. Reporters were stationed around the track, and Collins was the conductor of the orchestra, not the star of the show. The stars were the cars and their drivers. As two or more teams jockeyed for position, the reporters seemed to pass the microphone, following the action around the track for as many laps as it took for one car to take the position. When on-track action slowed, or during cautions, the crew provided 10-lap rundowns of the complete field, background information on teams that were doing well or poorly, and interviews with racing and entertainment personalities. There were commercials, but Collins seamlessly orchestrated them, also. The reporting was so complete that spectators in the stands carried radios so that they could follow the action around the track. Undoubtedly, the broadcasts attracted many new fans to the Speedway. Perhaps, more importantly, the network brought the race to fans who could only dream of coming to IMS.
Collins & Dinah Shore at IMS
Away from the microphone, Collins knew all the drivers, mechanics, owners, and sponsors. What seemed like carefully rehearsed story lines and trivia was actually knowledge of each team’s challenges that May, and past history. Sid may be best remembered for his spontaneous eulogy, during the 1964 Indianapolis 500, less than a minute after Eddie Sachs’ death occurred.
“More than three hundred thousand fans here, not moving. Disbelieving… It was God’s will, I am sure, and we must accept that. We are all speeding to our death at a rate of sixty minutes every hour. The only difference is that we don’t know how to speed faster, and Eddie Sachs did.”
Collins had no eulogies, speeches, or poems prepared. He simply spoke his feelings, at the time, for one of his best friends in racing. Everyone who listened knew his heart was broken.