In the quiet countryside of Bat Harbor between the old log church and the new church, I got a chance to talk with two legends of NASCAR broadcasting. If you ever listened to the Motor Racing Network (MRN) from the late 1980s into 2000, you have heard their distinct voices.
You know Jim “Chopper” Phillips, whose home I was visiting at Bat Harbor. Both he and his wife, Johnnie Sue, have been associated with WNPC Radio. Their guest and old friend was Joe Moore, of Wilmington, North Carolina. It has been several years since they sat and talked about MRN and their exciting days covering racing.
This year, Chopper is celebrating 50 years in broadcasting. He got his start at WLIK Radio, when he joined Dwight Wilkerson in 1970.
I had never met Moore and did not listen to enough racing to remember his voice. I will never forget the solid baritone distinctive voice of Jim Phillips. His face lights up when he talks about his 20 years with MRN. Joe spent over 30 years with that national network.
Over the decades I have written many stories about Jim and will repeat some highlights, but my focus will be on Moore, who began his radio interest in high school with WGNI 1340 AM Radio. He was a disc jockey, same as Chopper. The year on the starting line was the same, 1970 as the nation stood on the verge of the global oil embargo that sent the US into recession through 1975. The raging Vietnam War also caused economic stagnation.
It was the time when Joe left the countryside joining the US war effort and he started broadcasting with American Forces Radio in Thailand. During his three-year Army hitch he was stationed at a B-52 base. Moore said the broadcasters made the radio programming sound like it was coming from the US. The locals also listened and no doubt loved the Rolling Stones and the Beatles.
“I had heard MRN and decided that’s what I wanted to do.”
Perhaps Jim held the same ambitions but not until later when he became involved with racing superman L. D. Ottinger of Newport. Jim’s first radio stint paid him $75 per week playing the top 40 songs and later he added the colorful commentary to Cocke County High School football games next to Dwight.
Do you recall the most popular song in the early 1970s? Jim asked. It was “Hello Darling” by Conway Twitty. We immediately drifted mentally back in time and both of us commented on Twitty’s top local fan, Irene Gibson.
After Vietnam, Joe returned to Wilmington at WHSL the “Whistle Radio,” as a DJ. After six months he left for Norfolk, Virginia. At age 23 “I wanted to get into bigger radio markets.”
This put him within a 30-minute drive to Langley Field racetrack and the Virginia radio station did track promotions. “How would you like to be his announcer at $150 a night?” That question excited Joe and it led to the first and a big step with an audition with MRN at Daytona Beach.
“Jerry Punch (MRN broadcast pro) showed me the turns. His first track experience was 1979 at Rockingham. In 1988, Chopper did his first coverage at Rockingham.
When Joe mentioned Langley, Chopper added some background. After Ottinger stopped racing for seven years he returned about 1981 and Chopper joined his team. “Ottinger was winless in 1986 until Langley.” He won the race.
Moore observed at Rockingham and didn’t get to announce after a driver knocked out a section of the wall. Moore was extremely nervous and was relived he didn’t have to be on the microphone that race. Two weeks later Joe did announce at Darlington Speedway for the Bush race (similar to the Gatorade 200).
The drivers he personally liked and covered most were Tommy Ellis, Ottinger, Jack Ingram, and Geoff Bodine.
By 1982 for Joe it was “the real start year” of his profession. He worked with Ned Jarrett and Jerry Punch, MRN pit reporters. After these men left, Joe took the opening and was a full-time announcer in the turns.
He explained that when MRN covered Daytona there were two announcers in the booth; three worked the turns; and three covering the pit stops. It was in the pits that Chopper gained his recognition for superb reporting to often reply to the “trouble in the pits” cry from Joe to Chop.
Joe’s post at Daytona and many races was turn two. Broadcasting action was handed off from turn to turn. Jim added, “We picked up on everything that the others said. You learned each others manners” and the cues.
Such as when Joe would exclaim: “I see smoke in the pits.” Chopper immediately picked up on this to give listeners the explanation of whose engine blew or what caused the smoke and fire.
Chopper worked with Mike Joy in 1988. “He didn’t want to do pit announcing. I was the little guy so I did the pits.”
Because of his hands on pit work with Ottinger, Chopper already knew many people in racing. He had traveled with Ottinger from 1981 to 1988. “He was a threat every week.”
To be continued...