By Shawn Wood
For The Daily Item
INDIANAPOLIS -- Howdy Bell never thought of being in radio. His father and uncle owned pharmacies in Indianapolis, and that was Bell's chosen profession as well.
It wasn't until he flunked a chemistry course at Butler University that he decided to change his career path.
For 42 years, Bell's baritone voice was heard around the world, bringing the greatest spectacle in racing, the Indianapolis 500, to fans everywhere.
"They did research and found out that 110 million people were listening on average around the world during the radio years," Bell said recently.
Bell, 79, was born in his parents' house in Indianapolis and, with the exception of two-year stint in the Army and five years working in radio and television in Louisville, he's always called it home.
Bell recently recalled the first time he went to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
"I was 14 or 15 at the time and I walked five miles to get to the track to see practice one day and then walked five miles home," he said.
His voice was heard for the first time over the Indianapolis airways in 1961. The following year, he got a call from Sid Collins, one of the founding father's of the IMS radio network.
"'I heard you do news and play-by-play. How would you like to fill in for Mike Ahern for this year?" Bell said of the conversation he had with Collins, the long-time lead announcer of the 500.
"In those days Mr. Tony Hulman (owner of the speedway) suggested they have all local announcers."
That phone call took place in April and Bell made $125 for the day's work.
Bell continued on the network for another four decades, even after Ahern, who was in the Army at the time, came back.