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Death claims another announcer familiar to Hoosiers

By DAVID RISLEY - drisley@thecouriertimes.com

Another sports announcer familiar to folks in this state has passed away, leaving a void for fans who remember his work in the college and professional ranks.

Joe McConnell, who served as the radio voice of the Indiana Pacers from 1972-77 and of the Purdue University football team from 1994-2009, died Sunday at the age of 79 followed an extended illness.

I had lost track of Joe the past few years after he quit doing the Boilermaker football broadcasts, and the news of his death brought back memories for me.

Many of you readers, like me, grew up in our formative years without cable TV and depended on our transistor radios to follow our sports teams on a day-to-day basis.

Granted, some of the Pacer games in their old American Basketball Association days were broadcast on an Indianapolis TV station, but many were not, and we depended on announcers like McConnell to bring us the play-by-play.

McConnell had a voice that resonated with listeners, much like Harry Caray on the St. Louis Cardinal baseball broadcasts on KMOX, Lou Boudreau and Vince Lloyd on the Chicago Cubs broadcasts on WGN radio 720, and Lindsey Nelson who did Chicago Bears broadcasts.

McConnell was with the Pacers in their heyday through the transition to their first season when they were absorbed into the National Basketball Association. He was there for their final ABA title season of 1972-73, was there in their final two years playing home games in the old Fairgrounds Coliseum, was there when the Pacers moved into Market Square Arena, and was there when the Pacers began playing teams such as the Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers during the regular season.

I really liked listening to his broadcasts and often wondered why he left at the end of the Pacers’ first season in the NBA.

McConnell moved on and did the radio broadcasts for Indiana State’s magical season of 1978-79 in men’s basketball, when the Sycamores and a fellow by the name of Larry Bird went undefeated until losing in the NCAA championship game to Michigan State. He also did the radio play-by-play for the Minnesota Twins for a couple seasons and the Chicago White Sox for five.

Folks might also remember McConnell doing the radio broadcasts for the Chicago Bears for eight seasons (right after he left the Pacers) and for the Indianapolis Colts for three (mostly) non-memorable seasons for them. If you are like me, you sometimes have the same game on both the TV and radio at the same time for the best of both worlds, which is what I do for Colts games now and for IU football and basketball games.

McConnell also did college basketball broadcasts for various universities until he landed the gig at Purdue.

I’m not a Purdue athletics fan, but I still liked to listen to him call the Boilermaker games, and frequently had two radios going at once, one for IU games and the other for Purdue games.

McConnell was there for Purdue’s Rose Bowl season when Drew Brees was quarterback and for some seasons when Joe Tiller coached some of the best Purdue teams. I kind of missed him when he quit doing the Purdue broadcasts.

Death, as we know, claims everyone at some time or another. Still, it’s tough realizing that voices who once brought us so many thrilling moments no longer are around.

I can’t remember who did the radio play-by for IU football and basketball before Don Fischer took the microphone. I know he’s a person whose voice I will miss when he hangs it up.

Life goes on, and I guess all you can do is enjoy those moments while you can. As Fonzie on “Happy Days” once said, “You better dig what you got now, because you ain’t gonna have it forever.”

David Risley is sports editor at the Courier-Times.