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Announcer's Test

This is from the book, "I Looked and I Listened" by Ben Gross, New York Daily News. ©1954, 1970, by Ben Gross.

(Note: Back in the early days of radio announcing was very important. There was a time when it wasn't what you were saying, but how you were saying it. What follows is about announcers in the early days of radio.

(excerpted from a chapter in the book...)
For example, I can see even now a tall, slender man with a golden voice sitting beside me in the News office, more than a quarter of a century ago. He was a young announcer at WHN who had dropped in for a brief chat.

"You know, " said Ted Husing, "this Graham McNamee is a god to me. I'll be happy if I can be half as good as he is." (More than two decades later, Mel Allen, the famous announcer of the New York Yankee ball games, said to me: "If only I could be half as good as Ted Husing! He's the father of all of us sportscasters.")

In a sense this is true. The baseball and football announcers of today are descendants of Husing rather than of McNamee, as Ted was far more factual in his reports than Graham. But even so, he is regarded as too florid by some current listeners; and, although he knows sports as few men on the air, he is now primarily a top disk jockey. And in this endeaver he has a six-figure income, far more than he earned in his heyday as a sports ace of the air-waves.

After snaring a job on WJZ during the 1920's, Ted aided Major J. Andrew White in the establishment of what is now the Columbia Broadcasting System. By 1929, he was specializing in sports and along with Clem McCarthy, the beloved racing expert, and Sigmund Spaeth, "The Tune Detective," was one of the few devoting most of his air time to athletic competitions.

Edward B. Husing had McNamee's flair for drama and almost as resonant a voice; he knew the fine points of the games he described and was more accurate in conveying what was happening in the arena or on the field. But from his earliest days before the microphone, his career was a love affair with the dictionary. He was and still is enamored of words, a circumstance not entirely to his discredit, considering the colorless and limited vocabularies of some of his successors. Occasionally, his use of what to him seemed to be a fancy adjective landed him in hot water. This happened when referring to Harvard during a football game, he used the word "putrid," which caused that august institution to excommunicate him from its radio premises.

Husing once wrote a book in which he expressed contempt for most critics, including this one. Many of the tribe repaid him in kind when, after a long absence from the air as a sportscaster, he returned in this role on television. Because his wordage was as lavish on TV as it had been on radio, his detractors doused him in arsenic and vitriol. I, however, could not go to such extremes, recalling, as some of my colleagues failed to do, that Ted has contributed immeasurably to the development of broadcasting in this country. There is not one successful practitioner of the art today who is not his debtor.

This is especially true of Mel Allen, who, perhaps by no coincidence, has frequently been castigated for talking too much during his baseball telecasts. Like so many others, he often seems unwilling to permit the camera to tell the story and, at times, attempts to gild the picture on the tube with excessive verbiage. This undoubtedly annoys some viewers; but, despite this, in most of the recent popularity polls Mel has emerged as the Number One favorite among sportscasters.

Although Husing's career abounded in highlights, for unalloyed drama it could not approach that of another old-timer, Norman Brokenshire. Still very much in the broadcasting picture, "Broke" was one of that legendary company of announcers during the first decade of radio. He came to WJZ in 1924 in response to a New York Times ad which read: "Wanted---College graduate with knowledge of musical terminology."

After the station manager had asked whether he had such knowledge, Norman replied, "I don't even know what musical terminology is."

"Damned if I know, either," said the manager. "But our musical director, Keith McLeod, who'll give your test, sure does."

Brokenshire told me that he was given a copy of the Musical Courier and instructed to read therefrom a list of composers. "I couldn't even pronounce them; but I asked for ten minutes to practice and then I finally got them right and landed the job. Of course, today the tests given to would-be announcers by the networks are much more difficult. In fact, they're so stiff that I doubt even such great ones as McNamee, Husing, or Cross could pass them, if they were beginners!"

But if you would like to know what applicants for microphone jobs had to face during the 1920's, here is an excerpt from a test forwarded to me by Phillips Carlin, who was famous at the time as Graham McNamee's co-announcer:

EDITOR'S NOTE: I checked the book again to make sure I had copied this accurately. It is the exact way it is printed in the book. Good luck trying to read this outloud.

"Penelope Cholmondely raised her azure eyes from the crabbed scenario. She meandered among the congeries of her memoirs. There was the Kinetic Algernon, a choleric artificer of icons and triptychs, who wanted to write a trilogy. For years she had stifled her risibilities with dour moods. His asthma caused him to sough like the zephyrs among the tamarack."

No wonder mike men of those days boasted of their "diction" and took pride in the utterances of their verbal trademarks. Brokenshire's in those days was and still is: "How do you do, ladies and gentlemen, how DO you do?"