Indianapolis 500 WFBM-TV Broadcasts (lost racing footage; 1949-1950)
It is often thought by auto racing fans that the first television broadcast of the Indianapolis 500 was in 1965 when ABC aired highlights on their Wide World of Sports program. However, the first broadcast was actually 16 years earlier by WFBM-TV (now WRTV) in the Indianapolis, Indiana area.
In 1949, WFBM-TV began to broadcast in Indianapolis. Their first broadcast was a documentary about the Indianapolis 500 titled Crucible of Speed. The documentary was followed by a live broadcast of the 1949 Indianapolis 500. There were three cameras placed along the main straightaway of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Former radio announcer Earl Townsend, Jr. served as the lead announcer, Dick Pittenger and Paul Roberts served as color commentators and Robert Robbins was the pit reporter.
The 1950 race was broadcast also with the same announcing team, with the exception of Robbins, who was replaced by Roberts as a pit reporter.
Each year, the broadcast reached about 3,000 households. Speedway officials decided to stop the broadcasts because they feared that they would reduce attendance. It should be noted that even after ABC began broadcasting the race, they did not air it live until 1986 and there was a local blackout that was maintained until 2016.
No footage of the race from either race has surfaced. Since they were living, they were not recorded by the station, like most live broadcasts of the time. Additionally, viewers would have had no way of recording the race from their television, making these broadcasts lost forever.