In 1979, the public address announcer for ISU men’s basketball games went on a cruise and could not call the last two games of the season — Gary Wade was asked to step in, and he has yet to relinquish the job.
“The Monday after the first game, they got a ton of phone calls saying they didn’t even know there was an announcer, and whoever that guy was — keep him,” Wade said.
After receiving these phone calls, the athletic director and associate athletic director at the time who were good friends with Wade, moved him into the spot as the public address announcer for men’s basketball.
Wade is now entering his 36th year as the Cyclones’ public address announcer, and he hasn’t missed a single game in the announcer’s seat, front and center at Hilton Coliseum.
Not always a Cyclone
After being around Wade for two minutes, one thing is evident: He loves Cyclone basketball. I’m not sure if it was the plaid cardinal and gold Cyclones shirt he was wearing, the way he greeted everyone by name in Hilton or the ease in which he could remember games he had called decades ago that clued me in, but something gave me that idea.
But with his background, no one would have guessed that Wade would have become the public address announcer for Iowa State.
Growing up in Cedar Rapids, Wade was born and raised a Hawkeye. As an 8-year-old Boy Scout, he began ushering football games at Kinnick Stadium for as long as he could remember.
Sports were always important to Wade.
In 1954, when he was 6 years old, New York Yankees pitcher Don Larsen pitched a no-hitter to win the World Series. Wade was enraptured as he listened to the game on the radio, and he fell in love with sports announcing.
“I started calling games in the backyard — ones that were on the radio or on TV — and I’d just do my own play by play,” Wade said.
Wade wasn’t just in love with sports announcing; he also got in on the action. His Cedar Rapids Jefferson football team, which was his best sport, went undefeated and won the state title three years in a row.
But his true love was basketball. Cedar Rapids Jefferson’s teams were ranked in the top three in the state his last three years of high school. His team beat Ames Little Cyclones his senior year to become state champions.
After high school, Wade earned a scholarship to play football at the University of Iowa. A knee injury cut his football career short, but it opened up an opportunity for him.
Wade was asked to do a behind-the-scenes feature on ABC for the Iowa-Penn State game. ABC liked his work, and it landed him a part-time job for the weekends while he was still a college student.
“It was amazing,” Wade said. “You were flying all over, everything was paid for, you were seeing the best college players everywhere.”
After graduating from Iowa with his bachelor’s degree in journalism in 1971, he began working for Channel 12 WMT out of Cedar Rapids as a news and sports reporter while working on his master’s degree.
The first job offer Wade received after graduating from Iowa with his masters in journalism in 1973 was from Iowa State. He took the offer to work in Information Services as a news and sports broadcaster.
“It took me five days to transition from being a lifetime Hawkeye fan to a Cyclone fan,” Wade said. “Everybody is friendly. Everybody is nice. I fell in love with the place in five days.”
Wade’s first announcing opportunities at Iowa State came from the junior varsity men’s basketball games and women’s basketball games. He announced the games as a side job from Information Services.
Then in 1979, Wade filled in as the public announcer at the last two men’s basketball games of the season, and he has never relinquished the position.
Johnny Orr arrives
After announcing two years under coach Lynn Nance, the face of the men’s basketball program and Wade’s role as an announcer quickly changed.
“Johnny Orr was a friend of mine from Iowa City when he was at Michigan,” Wade said. “I worked with the athletic directors in helping to hire him here.”
Orr’s teams represented a different offensive mindset — run the floor and a keep up a fast pace.
“Johnny told me when he took over, ‘I want people on their feet, I want noise, and I want you hollering every time we make a basket because we’re gonna run the heart right into this university’,” Wade said.
With Wade’s loud and emotional tone and Orr’s offensive strategy, a state of excitement seemed to always find its way into the arena as if it were magic — Hilton Magic that is.
Hilton Magic — Make the floor shake
Orr knew Wade played a vital role in ISU’s success. A coach can draw up plays, fire up his players and coach them to run all over the other team, but Wade could control the crowd.
“I am to capitalize on the momentum that the team builds, blend that together by getting the crowd going and having an emotional state that has people on their feet and screaming,” said Wade about his part in Hilton Magic. “Johnny used to say, ‘This is a big one tonight, coach. We need you on’,” Wade said.
The momentum on the court always made it all the way up into the highest rows of Hilton. From Wade’s view at center court, the atmosphere in the arena was evident.
“In the early days, before they reinforced the floor they have now, that floor would bounce four inches,” Wade said. “I mean it would literally bounce.”
Hazards of Hilton Magic
Hyping the crowds at Iowa State games has not always been good for Wade’s health. During Orr’s era, Missouri was the Cyclones’ archrival, which meant an intense, fast basketball game.
With one minute left in the half against Top 10 ranked Missouri, Iowa State was down by seven. The Cyclones stole two inbounds passes and one in the open court — all three times capitalizing with a three.
“In less than a minute, we went from down seven to up by two,” Wade said. “Every time it’s a momentum thing, I’m at the top of my voice — and so this has been one total minute of straight up, top of my voice, as loud as I could go.
“Charged and emotional as I was, I said, ‘At the half, Iowa State 42, Missouri 40,’ then hyperventilated and passed out right there on the floor.”
Wade awoke to people fanning him and asking if he was all right, but that was not enough to deter him from calling the second half.
But that wasn’t the only time that announcing was hazardous to his health.
Orr’s postseason debut at Iowa State was in the 1984 NIT against Marquette. The Cyclones came into the game excited to be in a tournament, but Marquette came in bitter about not making the NCAA Tournament.
Iowa State dominated the first part of the game, which infuriated Marquette’s coach Rick Majerus.
To express his anger, Majerus threw his pop can to the court in front of his bench. At the announcer’s table, Wade was the unfortunate recipient of the ricocheting can as it cut him right at his eye.
The priest that always traveled with Marquette’s team had to hold a towel to Wade’s eye to soak up the blood for the rest of the half.
“At halftime, they came out and stitched it up with a butterfly stitch and I did the second half,” Wade said.
The mayor grows up
An athlete at heart, Wade played basketball with his co-workers during the noon hour when he worked at Iowa State. During the summers and over the weekends, the men had a middle school player who always wanted to join in. His name was Fred Hoiberg.
“He was so focused and strong fundamentally that he could play with us back then,” Wade said about Hoiberg, who he has known since Hoiberg moved to Ames when he was about 6 years old. “In high school, he began to blow us away.”
Wade announced through Hoiberg’s playing years and now calls the games as he coaches the Cyclones. Like his coach, Johnny Orr, Hoiberg brings in players who can run the court.
“It’s a lot easier to announce a fast-moving game,” Wade said.
The mindset behind the headset
To be the voice that makes Hilton Magic happen, Wade has a pregame routine to help him get in the zone.
Before going to the arena, he takes a of couple of hours to key down by taking a nap or relaxing, and food before the game is out of the question.
Two hours before the tipoff, Wade prepares by memorizing the names and faces of the key players for the opponent.
After announcing the game, Wade either sticks around for the celebration or press conference if it was a big game, but otherwise he gets out of the arena five minutes after his last announcement. His parking spot gives him a straight shot to the road. His departure is sometimes quick enough for him to hear the post-game show on his drive home.
“If it’s a really excitable game, I will have a beer,” Wade said, who also stops to get something to eat on the way home. “Because of my two heart attacks and my diabetes, I can only have one beer, but they didn’t say what size, so I’ll normally have a pretty big one.”
It would be an experience being in a room with an announcer watching his team play on the road on TV, but this is not an issue with Wade, who now chooses not to watch road games. He used to be fine traveling with the team to road games, but he does not want to scream and holler at the TV.
“I’ll bet I haven’t watched a road game in 15 years,” said Wade, adding that Big 12 and NCAA tournament games are an exception.
Outside of Hilton
Wade is retired, but he held several jobs since starting in Information Services at Iowa State. He ran the Iowa State Center, and after receiving his Ph.D, Wade began teaching telecommunicative arts at Iowa State and Drake.
But announcing is his passion, and he finds ways to share his love for announcing outside of Hilton.
“I actually announced a couple’s wedding,” Wade said. “Both of them were huge basketball fans, and they had me do a basketball announcement.”
“After they got married, I said, ‘And now leaving the hall, Mr. and Mrs. so and so, 6-foot-5 ...’
And the wedding party stood up and cheered.