There is, out in the wide world today, a sub-set of the population known as Grumpy Former Radio People. Their main place of gathering is broadcasting message boards where they endlessly complain about the state of the radio industry today and how the airwaves are filled with low-salaried, semi-literate kids, unlike decades ago when sounds from their larynxes were flowing through microphones. Of course, they don’t seem to realise that their predecessors groaned the exact same thing about them.
Submitted as proof is this column from May 24, 1949 by esteemed radio observer John Crosby. Announcing had indeed changed from the early 1930s, where over-enunication and über-pear-shaped tones were the norm to allow people to be heard over the static and poor signals emitted by radios back then. That style quickly became obsolete as the technical side of broadcasting improved and would have sounded downright silly in 1949. But that didn’t stop nostalgic oldsters from waxing on about the “good old days.”
The Personality Kids
By JOHN CROSBY
PAT KELLY, N.B.C.’s chief announcer, celebrates his 20th anniversary with the network next month. He's somewhat the worse for wear and not altogether happy with the current crop of announcers.
Young announcers, he says sadly, can’t appear to get the hang of spoken English, a failure he blames on schools and colleges.
“We can’t undo the damage that’s done in schools. They’re not teaching English any more. Ninety per cent of the people in this country can never be taught correct English speech. They’ve heard it spoken incorrectly too long.”
MOST OF THE FAMOUS announcers of 15 years back have died or passed into obscurity, he reports. One famed announcer is now selling records to undertakers who hide record-players behind the ferns.
Alois Havilla, one of the best known of early announcers now practices his art on WNJR in Newark. Another once-famed NBC announcer works for a small Philadelphia station. Tastes have changed and few announcers were able to alter their voices with the fashion.
The old-style announcers, according to Kelly, used a beautiful precise diction. Or they bellowed.
Today sponsors prefer the chatty, chummy type of announcer like Harlow Wilcox or Harry von Zell. An announcer has to be a personality kid. Command of the language isn’t necessary.
ONE OF THE FEW old-time announcers to survive the revolution is Ford Bond, who once bellowed at the top of his lungs and is now as chummy as a loveseat.
Some announcers became so associated with a product that no other sponsor would take them. Ed Thorgersen, now the high priest of the newsreels, became so identified with Lucky Strikes that no one else would touch him when the Lucky Strike show dropped him.
Most good announcers have been either actors or singers. Graham McNamee, Milton Cross and Jimmy Wallington were all singers before they became announcers. Don Wilson and John B. Daniels were actors, Kelly himself was both a singer and an actor. Ben Grauer was a child movie star.
KELLY HAS HAD some grim evenings with announcers who had a drop too much to drink. One of the 19 announcers used on the Dr. I. Q. show—announcers are scattered all around the balcony on that program—went off on a toot.
When Dr. I.Q. said: “And now we will hear from Frobisher in the second balcony,” the only response was a dead silence. The announcer didn’t show up for five days. When he did, Kelly asked him what had happened to the 48 silver dollars with which he’s been equipped to pay off winning contestants.
“Oh,” said Frobisher blankly, “is that where I got all that money?”
The same man once walked out on the stage of the Philip Morris show, beating a Chinese gong which wasn’t part of the script. He threw the gong on the floor and jumped on it before several people fell on him and dragged him away.
THE LONGEST ad lib job in Kelly’s memory was that of Charley O’Connor.
O’Connor was sent out in an airplane to describe the arrival in his country of the Mollison plane. But the Mollisons didn't show up. For 45 minutes O'Connor circled around Long Island Sound in the dark, chattering about not very much.
An NBC announcer is a highly paid and fairly secure individual. The networks pays him at least $350 a month, generally more, and he may earn two or three times that in addition on commercial shows.
It's not an easy job to get, though. Vacancies occur only about once every two years and there is a long list of applicants. The ones who get in have to have five years’ experiences somewhere else.
IF YOU WANT to be to announcer, Kelly recommends a college liberal arts course with an English major, a course in speech, and as much acting as you can work in.
Kelly says if an announcer is good, it should be very hard to tell what part of the country he’s from. He should have no regional mannerisms. President Roosevelt, Kelly thinks, didn’t have a Harvard accent or any kind of accent.
“He just spoke good English,” declares Kelly.
In a few years, the Announcing Crop of 1949 would be complaining about the “death” of radio and lambasting the screeches of Boss Rock Jocks who, in turn... Well, radio, like life, appears to be an endless cycle.