Audio: MRN – The Inception
In 1969 NASCAR president Bill France Sr. opened up the Talladega Superspeedway.
At the time a radio station in Daytona Beach, Fla. – WNDB – operated by Dick Huffman, covered the Daytona 500 on radio, to a station count of around 40. France offered Huffman the opportunity to come to Talladega to broadcast the first race in September 1969, the Alabama 500.
Huffman politely declined, which in turn France challenged his assistant Jim Foster with finding a way to get the Talladega race broadcasted.
Foster turned to Hank Schoolfield, whose Universal Racing Network at the time had done a number of race broadcasts for NASCAR, including North Wilkesboro and Martinsville Grand National events to a small network of about 45 stations, located mostly in the Carolinas, Georgia and Virginia.
Schoolfield agreed and in 1969 Richard Brickouse took the checkers in the first race ever at Talladega on the Universal Racing Network.
Following the event, Foster and “Big Bill” really wanted all of the races at both Daytona and Talladega broadcasted on radio, so again the two approached Schoolfield with the opportunity to do all of the races, which included ARCA, Late Model and Grand National races at both tracks. The Universal Racing Network however declined and serious discussion among Foster and France began with the intention of forming the Motor Racing Network.
Foster then started seeking out individuals who could help create the radio network and hired Roger Bear, who was the promoter at Talladega at the time.
“I went down to Daytona right after Thanksgiving and stayed at a motel across the street, which was then a Holiday Inn,” Bear said. “Everyday we set up office on a Pepsi cooler right outside Bill France’s office. It was at the end of a hallway – France was on the left and Foster was on the right. I had a chair and a I had Pepsi cooler and we put a phone there and I started calling radio stations.”
France, Foster and Bear went on to hire Ken Squier, who became the first voice of the network.
The duo of Squier and Bear were challenged by Foster to get as many radio stations cleared in time for the events in Daytona in February 1970.
After clearing stations and preparing in the offseason of 1970, the time had finally come for the Motor Racing Network to make its debut during Daytona Speedweeks.
Led by Squier, MRN’s first race broadcast was the 12th annual Daytona 500.
Squier also welcomed Daytona native and former NASCAR star and Daytona 500 winner Marvin Panch to the broadcast booth.
Before the events began, Squier gave “Big Bill” the opportunity to speak to those listening to the MRN’s first broadcast of the Daytona 500.
Joining the coverage was Tony Dean of KCCR of Pierre, S.D. Another one of the first turn announcers on MRN was WNDB’s program director Bob Smith. The pit reporters were Bob McKinley, who did government work in Dover, Del. and was part of WNDB’s broadcast team. On the other end of pit road was Barney Hall, who went on to be Motor Racing Network’s longest tenured announcer – and who many today consider “the voice of NASCAR.”
Pete Hamilton went on to win the first Daytona 500 as heard on MRN.
While Hamilton emerged victorious so too did the Motor Racing Network crew. They had accomplished exactly what they set out to do – bringing the world’s greatest stockcar race to many fans all over the country. But it wasn’t going to end there as the network was off and running.
Bear, Squier and Foster had their sites set on covering the second race ever held at the Talladega Superspeedway.