When I was a kid, growing up in the heart of the 50s, I knew the name and voice of every booth announcer on TV. There were men like Wayne Howell, Gene Hamilton, Don Pardo, Bill Wendel, Ed Herlihy, Fred Foy, Don Robertson, Bill Baldwin, Carl Caruso – you get the idea.
Back then, even when the show wasn’t live, the announcer was. There was someone sitting in a darkened announce booth at each station every hour of the broadcast day. It was all part of the agreement the New York stations, and networks, had with AFTRA (American Federation of Television and Radio Artists – I’m a member).
So, when you heard someone say, “This is NBC,” or “That’s tomorrow at 8, 7 Central time,” it was one of these guys, live. I knew them all. Secretly, I wanted to be one of them. I wanted to say, as Mel Brandt did, “The following program is brought to you in living color on NBC.”
It was not to be. In order to be a booth announcer you needed something I never had, and even at age 54 still don’t have – pipes.
When I was a disk jockey, doing mornings in Philadelphia, Julian Breen (who was in charge of programming at the station I worked for, WPEN) thought it might be a good idea to use a “Harmonizer” on my voice. That’s a device which would allow them to change my pitch – make me sound more grown-up.
When I worked at WIP in Philadelphia, at that time the premiere adult station in town, they gave me a pass on doing voice over production. With Tom Moran, Dick Clayton and Bill St. James on staff, there was no reason to use me.
It’s been a disappointment, but I understand. I just don’t have the most important natural tool for the job. My voice is unique, just not in the right way.
Today, I got an email from Rick Allison. He’s a friend who lives here in Connecticut. He is an announcer.
I’m not sure if that’s the job description he would use, but that’s what he does. From a studio in his basement, as well maintained and acoustically perfect as any, Rick reads other people’s words into a microphone and cashes checks. With high speed data lines carrying his voice, it’s usually not necessary to leave the house.
He is the voice of MSNBC and Bob’s Stores. He’s on ESPN, HBO and USA and a load of radio stations. You have heard him on a thousand commercials, a deep voice with a touch of gravel. It is friendly and assuring.
In person, he resembles everyone I knew in the 60s and 70s. That is one of his most charming features. He is at once commanding and disarming with long hair on his head and more on his face.
Rick does a show on Sirius satellite radio. My guess is, he does the show for the same reason other men raise tomatoes. It takes time and money to raise tomatoes. It’s not like you can’t buy them at the store – maybe for less than you can grow them. Still there’s an immense satisfaction in creating something of value.
Rick’s in radio for the satisfaction of growing something. I can’t believe he’s in it for the money.
Anyway, hearing from Rick today just reminded me of this childhood fantasy that would never be. It’s what got me into radio – and probably what finally got me out and into television.
I am envious of Rick, not because of the work he does, but because of the talent he has. It’s a talent I always wanted – a gift I never received.