Wednesday, 11 September 2013

Tell Him What He Wins

You’re probably not aware of it, but if you listen to any of the NBC versions of the Jack Benny radio show from December 1944, there’s only one person you’ll hear who is still with us today.

No, it’s not a member of the Benny cast. He’s the man who comes on at the very end of the show and says “This is the National Broadcasting Company.”

Of course, he doesn’t identify himself. He’s a staff announcer. But you’ll have heard that voice on “Saturday Night Live.” Or the original version of “Jeopardy.” Or, if you were around before that, you’ll have heard it on “The Price is Right” after Bill Cullen shouted the words “Tell him what he wins, Don Pardo.”

Pardo wasn’t an anonymous voice during his entire radio career. He read the network news on NBC in the ‘50s; his first newscast apparently was a fill-in job for Ben Grauer on September 22, 1946. But before that he worked on television, in fact, not long after he arrived at the network. His first appearance may have been on WNBT on July 20, 1944 when he interviewed Daisy Basham, New Zealand’s version of Mary Margaret McBride. Billboard reported he “seemed ill at ease.” No one could say that about him years later. Two years later, Pardo was called to give colour commentary on WNBT’s baseball broadcasts. Billboard praised a August 13, 1946 effort, saying he’d “learned to keep his spiel to a minimum.” If you read between the lines, it seems Pardo had been adhering to radio credo of never allowing dead air and chatted up an unnecessary storm in previous telecasts.

As television blossomed, Pardo had assignments announcing “The Colgate Comedy Hour” and a show called “Stanley” starring Buddy Hackett, but “The Price is Right” brought him his first real fame. A couple of newspaper columns were written about Don’s talents during that period. In both, he talks about an aspect of his career you may never have heard about. First, this story from United Press International from 1961.

TV Warm Up Man Takes Chill Off Studio Audience

NEW YORK Feb. 27 (UPI)—You don't hear much these days about the "warm-up" man in broadcasting studios, as you did back in the time when live radio shows were the big thing, but there are still a few around in television.
ONE OF THE busiest is veteran announcer Don Pardo, who puts audiences in the former Colonial theater in the mood five mornings and one evening a week in behalf of NBC's "The Price Is Right."
The bad weather that has prevailed this winter has made his job tougher, Pardo said.
"Waiting in line to be admitted to the theater in the kind of miserable weather we've been having doesn't put people in a very pleasant frame of mind," he explained. "They've probably had a tough time getting there in the first place.
"So, under such circumstances, it has been more necessary than ever that we get our audiences livened up and in a receptive mood by some pre-broadcast fun."
EVERY WARM-UP MAN, of course, has his own special technique, dictated both by his own personality and abilities and by the type of show involved. Pardo perches himself atop a 10-foot painter's ladder for his banter with the crowd.
"The idea of using the ladder was born out of necessity," he explained. "The Colonial theater is an old barn of a vaudeville house transformed into a TV studio. I'm not sure how far back it goes, but I do know that Joe E. Brown told me he had played there as long ago as 1906.
"I found out that when I stood on the stage, I could be seen by only half of the audience. So we rehuddled on the problem and came up with the ladder idea. Works fine.
"IT HAS THE added asset of being a 'gimmick.' The act of me just climbing up the ladder, before I say a word, seems to break the ice.
"And I suppose there are those in the audience who are fascinated with the possibility that I might fall off the darned thing."
Some warm-up experts are professional comedians, but Pardo doesn't go In that direction. He thinks this can backfire.
"Fellows who warm up audiences by telling jokes and going through routines of the sort that shall we say, wouldn't be allowed on the air are doing their employers a disservice," Pardo said.
"They may set the audience laughing heartily, but anything that follows on the actual program is likely to seem tame by comparison. I've seen too many audiences rock with laughter during a warm-up, then sit in grim silence during the show."
PARDO'S SPECIALTY is to "get the people into the act." He tries to pick out half a dozen or so responsive persons and talk back and forth with them.
"I always try to get at least one person in the second balcony involved," he said. "Psychologically, that brings that whole section closer to the stage. My tactics may be hokey, but the idea is to make the spectators, most of whom have never been in a TV studio before, feel at home.
"I can usually tell by the way the people answer when I say 'hello' just how hard I'll have to work at getting them in the mood."

Here’s another story that appeared in the Binghamton Press of February 2, 1963. I presume it’s a syndicated column.

Warming-Up Period Is Important to Show

New York—Don Pardo has none of the physical qualities found in a ton of anthracite coal, although he utilizes his unique abilities to achieve the same results as the shiny black mineral.
"I'm a warmer-upper," Don laughed in self-appraisal of his responsibility, "only my job is a lot tougher than merely stoking a furnace or turning up a thermostat."
The likable veteran announcer is the main reason the audiences at the daily and weekly Price Is Right telecasts come on the air with a happy hum of anticipation and enjoyment.
"Of course, my main job is being the show's announcer," Don explained in his well-modulated tones. "But the secondary job, warming up the live studio audience, is often more important to the over-all acceptability of the show. If the audience is quiet and uncooperative, the television viewer feels it, and has a harder time enjoying the telecast."
Don, who has been with the show since its debut and has faced hundreds of audiences, still feels he is facing a new task every day.
"A live audience has a few things in common with other audiences, but they are also an individual group that has to be handled differently in almost every case. About the most common thing they all share is a quiet apprehension as soon as they seat themselves. It's as if the TV studio were a delicate institution where one spoken word could shatter the whole atmosphere.
This sort of feeling is perfect for a dramatic show, where a muffled cough can break a mood, but in an audience-participation show, it can be disastrous.
"The first thing I do is climb a ladder right in front of the first row. It's 15 feet high and I look pretty silly perched up there, all alone and removed from the activities on stage.
"My whole introduction is a simple, 'hello.' From the response I can quickly size up the type of audience and how much warming up it will make them a friendly responsive group. When I hear at least half of them 'hello' me right back, I know my job will be easy. But when only a smattering of replies come back, it's time to get out the book of modes and means and start operating.
"The best method is the simplest I merely ask them to turn around and introduce themselves to the person seated behind. The point isn't in getting them to talk, but rather to produce a general vocal hum throughout the studio that breaks that apprehensive spell.
"Sometimes it takes five or 10 minutes to get enough of that hum to relax them. But once they lose that coldness and understand that the sound of their voices over the air is not only permissible, but desirable, the battle is 90 per cent won. Then the audience feels it is a part of the show, and the resulting responsiveness and enthusiasm that comes through to the viewer is neither contrived nor forced. It's spontaneous and real because it comes from participants rather than spectators."

Don Pardo wasn’t among the ‘A’ list of announcers in the Golden Days of radio, but he did achieve a degree of fame that other good staff announcers, such as Mel Brandt, didn’t. And if he had to, at age 95, he could probably get in front of a microphone and tell you about the new Spiegel Catalogue, stretching those vowels as only Don Pardo can.

1 comment:

  1. Apparently, the one person who didn't like Don Pardo for some reason was "Saturday Night Live" writer Michael O'Donoghue. When he was brought back by Dick Ebersol following the show's disastrous 1980-81 season to serve as head writer, O'Donoghue actually talked about wanting to do a bit where they fired Don on-air as the show's announcer, supposedly to show viewers that the show was going to regain it's 1975-80 'edginess' (instead, O'Donoghue had to settle for replacing Pardo with Brandt for the 1981-82 season. When he left in 1982, Don returned).