The 500 Festival Parade has had many leaders and volunteers commit to bringing the nation’s third largest parade to the public in Indianapolis. Since its inception (1957) some form of public address communications has been a vital part of informing the masses of the many units that made up the parade. Jim Mathis, former sales manager for WRTV-6 and 500 Festival board member was responsible for arranging the announcers that would cover seven different stations that were positioned around the then two-mile route (North & Pennsylvania south to Washington, west to Meridian and north on Meridian to 16th Street). In 1978, Jim Mathis asked Bob Desautels, Senior Manager, Convention Services with Visit Indy, if he would manage obtaining the announcers, arranging the logistics, and working with the 500 Festival to handle the details of getting scripts and providing announcements to the public.
Notable announcers were Jeff Pigeon and Big John Gillis from WIBC, Mike Dalzell, noted talent that appeared on local commercials, and three other local announcers to handle the duties. That format lasted until the early years of the new century when local radio stations were brought in to fill an expanded ten locations from which radio talent would do the announcing. What it didn’t do was provide information to and from each station on current conditions of the parade, security issues that needed to be voiced to the public, weather concerns, and gaps in the parade that required the announcers to “fill in” the time gap until the parade began.
Evolution three came when Bob Desautels approached Dr. Linda Brothers, associate professor in the IUPUI Department of Tourism, Conventions, and Event Management (TCEM). The department was asked to supply students to staff the 10 public announcement stations and interact with the radio personalities to both provide and receive information that could be passed to and from the parade management control center. After a number of years in that format, the activity became part of the TCEM Special Event Management course.
Today, thanks to TCEM faculty member Susie Benko, lecturer, who took on the duties of recruiting students once Dr. Brothers retired, the methodology of engaging students to participate as part of their event management studies continues. Also essential to this activity being cemented in with the School of Physical Education and Tourism Management is the enthusiastic support of Dr. James Gladden, Dean.
So, the thought of providing the public a “play-by-play” account of the parade has been enhanced with the inclusion of students. The parade participants and attendees are well served with timely and accurate information from the public announcers, while giving the students a chance to volunteer, learn about a major event, and network with an organization like the 500 Festival and its staff to learn how events and community participation make a parade more than just a parade. It provides inspiration, fun, fuels the imagination, and brings the classroom into the real world. Pretty good evolutions, don’t you think?