Gary Wade Celebrating 30 Years as ISU's PA
AMES, Iowa-You know the familiar voice. It’s a voice of a public address announcer who triggers positive recollections for Iowa State men’s basketball fans. However, you may not have placed the face with the voice. Now in his 30th year, Gary Wade is the face behind the voice as ISU’s public address announcer, sharing his excitement of ISU basketball to the thousands of rabid Cyclone fans who cram into Hilton Coliseum each winter.
Wade has not missed a game in Hilton Coliseum in 30 years and his passion for Cyclone men’s hoops is unmatched. But it didn’t start out that way.
Wade grew up in Cedar Rapids and followed the University of Iowa’s athletic teams. He went to school at Iowa with dreams of playing football, but switched gears to sports reporting and began writing for the Cedar Rapids Gazette and working for WMT radio.
After earning his bachelor’s and master’s from Iowa, Wade took a job in the mid-1970s with WOI-TV in Ames, which was affiliated with Iowa State University at the time. It wasn’t long before Wade, who earned his Ph.D from Iowa State, changed allegiances.
“It took me about five days to become a Cyclone fan,” Wade admits. “The atmosphere and the people here are so nice.”
Wade, who has been a professor at Drake since 1988 after ISU relinquished its ties with WOI, would be the first to admit how lucky he was to land the job he loves.
Former ISU head coach Lynn Nance was in the middle of his final year with the Cyclones in 1979-80 when ISU administrators asked Wade for some help. The PA at the time was going away on a sabbatical and ISU needed a fill-in. Wade agreed to take over, and the rest is history.
“Nance had resigned in the middle of the season and the ISU administrators were telling me they were trying to get Johnny Orr,” Wade recalled. “So they talked to Orr and he came in and I was one of the early people who met with him. He said, ‘if I do this, we can’t have this Hank Iba bounce, bounce, bounce-pass, pass, pass basketball. I need an announcer with enthusiasm who will get the crowd on its feet to start with and get us through there.’ So when they brought Johnny in, I was hired full time.”
Wade observed the resurgence of the Cyclone basketball program under Orr from the best seat in the house. With each season, it became evident the Cyclones were closing the gap. Hilton Magic was emerging and Wade was along for the ride.
“I have had the best seat in the house for years,” Wade says. “We had some poor teams in the late 1970s, then Johnny Orr came in and did not have the best ball players, but he knew how to motivate and he changed things. Tim (Floyd) came in and got some of those exceptional ball players that Iowa State never got. Eustachy had the same thing. You see the guys McDermott has brought in the past couple of years and their quality. You can see the athleticism again, you can see them getting up and down the floor.”
It’s tough for Wade to single out his favorite memories in his 30 years as PA. He’s seen a lot of fantastic finishes and buzzer beaters. However, a couple of moments do rise to the top.
“I remember when Tom Schafer made a turn around bank shot at the buzzer to beat Oklahoma in 1987,” Wade recollected. “We won that game and the crowd went nuts to the point where the floor was vibrating. I also remember when we beat Oklahoma State when they were No. 2 in the nation (1992). The crowd was as nuts as I had ever seen it and the floor was literally bouncing. Of course, I will never forget when Barry (Stevens) hit the shot to beat Missouri when they were ranked in the top-five. I think he had 40 points that night and the crowd went nuts when he made that last basket.”
Speaking in front of 14,000 people for two hours is not an easy task and it’s something that Wade takes very seriously. Through the years, Wade has developed rituals and superstitions to make sure he brings his A-game every night.
“To get myself prepared for a game, I try to keep myself busy as usual,” Wade said. “I finish as much grading as I can, so that I can walk into the ball game completely fresh. I might take a half hour nap, especially after teaching all day. I make sure I get that nap and relax.”
It’s not the PA announcer’s job to root against a team. Fans need to know who scored a basket or who committed the foul without a home town bias.
Wade provides this insight, but you know which team he is rooting for. Sometimes it becomes ever apparent over the loudspeaker.
“I absolutely wear my emotion in my voice,” Wade admits. “Another thing that people catch on to is if I don’t like a call, I will draw it out and say, ‘that foul’ and the crowd will usually go nuts. I try to be subtle about it.”
Over his long tenure there have been plenty of crazy, and downright unbelievable, moments Wade has witnessed. Some are extremely vivid in Wade’s memory, especially the incidents where he found out announcing basketball games could be hazardous to one’s health.
“We played Marquette in a NIT game in 1984 and we had an early lead over them,” Wade remembered. “With a minute or two left in the half, Rick Majerus, who was the coach at Marquette at the time, threw his can of pop down on the floor in frustration. It bounced up and it hit me and cut me right above my eye. There was a priest sitting at the end of the Marquette bench, so he held a towel to my eye to soak up the blood. At the end of the half, ISU trainer Frank Randall came over and cleaned it up and put a butterfly stitch in it.”
Wade also learned first hand in the Johnny Orr era that points come quickly, sometimes too quickly for a PA announcer to handle.
“There was one year we were playing Missouri and they were up seven points with a couple of minutes left in the half,” Wade said. “All of a sudden we hit a three, got a steal, hit another three, got another steal, and hit one more three. In less than a minute, we were now up by two. When I hollered that last basket, I hyperventilated and passed out. I woke up at halftime and people were looking at me asking me if I was okay.”
Wade’s partnership with Iowa State men’s basketball has been an outstanding pairing. His voice provides comfort for all Cyclone fans as they enter the arena. Wade savors his relationship with Cyclone men’s hoops and will never take it for granted.
“After my wife and my daughter, being the PA for Iowa State basketball is the most important thing in my life,” says Wade. “Iowa State fights so hard for everything, they just don’t have the money some other schools have, but everybody gives it their all, their heart and everything. You just want to do anything you can to give them an edge up on anything. So this is the second or third most important thing in my life. I know that if I have had a bad day, I look forward to it because I know that announcing will pick it back up.”