Sid Collins · 1979
Sid (Cahn) Collins was born in Indianapolis, Indiana, in 1923, the first child of his Hoosier parents. His childhood was spent putting pin tickets on merchandise an unloading stock at a neighborhood store which his father owned and operated.
Collins went to grade school at Indianapolis Public School 66 and attended Shortridge High School.
Because Collins was too little to participate in any major sport and because Shortridge did not offer any minor sports, he joined the newspaper staff and became the Wednesday editor of the Daily Echo — the first high school daily in America. (It is interesting to note that the Tuesday editor of the Daily Echo was Kurt Vonnegut, author of “Slaughterhouse Five.”)
At the age of 18, Sid enrolled as a freshman at Indiana University, in Bloomington, Ind. with a business major specializing in advertising. He earned his way through school thinking of “trick slogans” for matchbook covers!
After taking a broadcasting class and loving it, Sid became the moderator of IU’s “Editorial of the Air” — a Sunday morning program. During his first live broadcast — while interviewing several ROTC army officers — one of the interviewees died of a heart attack while on the air. The listeners never knew what happened as Sid kept the show going, and his enthusiasm for broadcasting kept growing!
In December 1941, Sid was at a fraternity dance when the news of the Pearl Harbor bombing was aired. He then became part of IU’s speed up program and began training at Camp Atterbury on Sundays.
During his college days Sid was an active student of the university. He was the manager of the swim team; member of the golf team; student radio director; third highest ranking cadet officer; business manager of the yearbook; master of ceremony for the Burial of Jawn Purdue, a traditional campus ritual; and was treasurer of his senior class.
In 1943 Sid graduated from Indiana University after spending exactly one month short of three calendar years on campus.
On December 6, 1943, Sid began intensive training at Officers Camp Reynolds in Victory, Pa., and then on to Fort Slocum, NY. Next he crossed the Atlantic to Liverpool, England, where he was assigned to supply work in Northern Wales. His next move was to Fort Hayes, Ohio, where he became the Legal Affairs Officer for Indiana, Ohio, Kentucky, and West Virginia. Later he was sent back to Indianapolis as a recruit officer for the state of Indiana. In March 1946, he was discharged from the army.
Collins got his start in radio broadcasting after returning from the U.S. Army in WWII when he went to work for WKMO in Kokomo (now WIOJ) in June 1946. A year later he was offered a position as announcer for WIBC, Indianapolis’ most powerful station, as master of ceremonies for the show “PM Party.” Some of his most successful and popular radio shows included “Captain Sid’s Treasure Hunt,” “Stairway to Stardom,” “Movie Menu,” and “Speedway Gossip.”
After working with WIBC for one year, Collins broke into the Indianapolis Motor Speedway life when he received an assignment as track announcer working in the south turn. Two years later, Collins took over the radio announcing when Bill Slater became ill, after Wilbur Shaw and Tony Hulman met and agreed to “give the kid a chance and see what happens.”
In 1951 Sid became account executive for WIBC in sales where he remained for the next 18 years. Not only did he become WIBC’s top salesman, but he was Indiana’s top salesman as well.
In 1952 Collins was named chief announcer and his “full coverage concept” of the race was put to test. (Up until the 1952 race, the announcer gave a five-minute rundown each hour — which Collins found frustrating and therefore set out to change.) Sid sent letters to carry full coverage of the 500 on their special network. Disappointedly enough, only 26 stations participated that first year. The next year, however, the number jumped to 110 stations and the number increased each year to its present 1,200 participating radio stations.
Sid’s coverage of the 500 made him a legend in broadcasting. He was the man who coined the phrase “the greatest spectacle in racing.” He was the man who became synonymous with the race itself. As the voice of the 500 Sid had to tell the world of the crashes, deaths, and disasters of his many racing friends. He did so with compassion, grace, and class. In 1964 Eddie Sachs was fatally injured on the first turn of the race. After Sid’s magnificent extemporaneous eulogy to Eddie, more than 30,000 letters were received asking for copies.
The 1977 race would have been Sid Collins 30th year as the “Voice of the 500.” But on May 2, 1977, Sid took his own life at the age of 54. His death came only two weeks after returning from the Mayo Clinic where it was diagnosed that he had Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis — Lou Gehrig’s disease. The disease weakens and wastes all the muscles in a victim’s body, resulting in total paralyzation. The decline is irreversible. There is no cure and once detected the prognosis is always terminal.
Sid Collins valued life. He was an active and vital man who loved to be in motion. It is easy to understand how painful and difficult it was for him to face the fact he had a disease which could not be overcome.
Unlike other sportscasters, Sid always signed off by quoting a serious though, or a bit of poetry, dedicating it to the Indianapolis 500 winner. Among many he used over the years was the following by Henry David Thoreau: If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected.
So it was with Sid Collins — spokesman, public speaker, master of ceremonies, toastmaster, TV/radio commercial announcer, creative consultant, salesman, marketing expert, humanist.
Sid Collins’ journalistic awards and contributions during his years of service in Indiana and for station WIBC include: president of the Indiana Sportswriters and Sportscasters Association; Indiana’s Number One Sportscaster as awarded by the National Sportscaster Foundation; member for two terms of the board of directors of the Indianapolis Press Club; Indianapolis Press Club’s Top Radio Sportscaster Award twelve times out of twelve years awarded; president of the Indiana Chapter of the American Federation of TV and Radio Announcers (AFTRA); and broadcaster of the Indiana State High School Basketball Tournament for 27 years.
Since 1950, Sid Collins broadcasted over 10,000 sports programs on WIBC. He was the recipient of the American Auto Racing Writers and Broadcasters annual award nine times for the best auto racing broadcast in the nation; anchorman for TVS Network in New York for auto racing broadcasting from Trenton, Milwaukee, Langhorne, Castle Rock, and Colorado for two years; co-announcer with Garry Moore, Steve Allen and Bob Barker on 500 Festival national TV coverage of annual Parade for Hughes Sports Network; featured in major stories in Hot Rod magazine, Saturday Evening post, and others; citation from Indiana University’s Radio/TV School as an outstanding graduate; and named to the Indiana Journalism Hall of Fame.
Collins was the recipient of a Presidential letter from the White House saluting his broadcast career and a proclamation from Mayor Richard Lugar naming the 1972 500 Race day as “Sid Collins Day.”
During his involvement with the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the 500 Race, Sid Collins received many outstanding awards and accomplished much in the sports world of racing and broadcasting. Some of his accomplishments and contributions in this area include: announcer for the world’s largest radio network made up of more than 1,200 stations, heard by more than 100 million listeners; longest tenure (29 years) in the broadcasting industry for any personality to announce a major event nationally on an annual basis; originator of the phrase “The Greatest Spectacle In Racing”; winner of the Edenburn Trophy in the Indianapolis Speedway Museum; recipient of an award from the 33 starting drivers in the 1962 race; master of ceremonies for the Speedway Victory Banquet; founder of the Pole Position Mechanics Banquet and its master of ceremonies for 17 years; named to the Hoosier Auto Race Hall of Fame; and winner of the 500 Festival Indianapolis Award for his contributions to racing.
Not only was Sid Collins involved with the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and station WIBC, but he was an active citizen of Indianapolis as well. Among his other contributions outside the journalism and racing fields were: member of the Screen Actors Guild, Hollywood; WIBC sales account executive for 18 years; Marion County Easter Seals Chairman; Marion County Christmas Seals Chairman; State of Indiana Cancer Drive Chairman; State of Indiana City of Hop Chairman; Honorary Chairman of the Central Indiana Heart Fund Drive; served with March of Dimes; Jewish Welfare Foundation; Fellowship of Christian Athletes; Museum Guild; Christmore Aid; St. Margaret’s Guild; Rotary; Kiwanis; Sertoma; Optimist; Toastmaster for the Indiana Society of Chicago annual banquet; Master of Ceremonies for the Indianapolis Beauty Pageant for Miss University Contest; founder of Indianapolis’ first summer theatre; and Writer-Producer-Master of Ceremonies of award-winning TV series of 13 programs for Junior League.
In addition, he was the first Honorary Member of the Indianapolis Police Department; Honorary Mayor of Helena, Montana; Kentucky Colonel; Texas Ranger; Nebraska Navy; Wyoming Broncbuster; received Sagamore of the Wabash and Distinguished Hoosier awards; received Key to the City of Indianapolis; Indiana’s Variety Club’s first Celebrity of the Year; Variety Club’s first Encore Award winner for his contribution to entertainment; and winner of the Casper Award from the Community Action Service Council of Indianapolis.
In addition, Collins was Master of Ceremonies for the following events:
• Simulcast telethon to raise $1 million for hospital development;
• United Fund 100th birthday party with Herb Shriner;
• Symphony birthday party with Jack Benny;
• Clowes Hall opening with Bob Hope;
• Opening USO Servicemen’s Center;
• Metropolitan Opera National Company, Clowes Hall;
• First ABA All Star Game banquet;
• Easter Seals businessmen’s luncheon for 10 years;
• Opening Roscoe Turner Aviation Museum;
• Chamber of Commerce Sports Banquet; and
• Indianapolis Sesquicentennial Salute
Biography written by Jani Lange Ball State University, Autumn 1980