Sunday, September 21

Those Thrilling Days of Yesteryear

When I got to WABC in 1980, I was surprised that in this almost-brand-new, state-of-the-art building (7 Lincoln Square, on Columbus Avenue) they (we) still had live booth announcers. Surprising for those days.

When TV began, it seemed everything was always going wrong. Every station had someone sitting in a little audio booth for whatever emergency might arise: “We are experiencing technical difficulties: PLEASE STAND BY.” And, of course, commercials needed to be read, live. Programs needed to be opened and closed. At the top of each hour each station was required by the FCC to give a verbal "station identification." So every station had a staff of booth announcers rotating the chore so that the booth could be manned during station hours (back then usually 7:00 a.m. until 1:00 a.m.). If you were a radio/TV combo, it was fairly easy: each DJ usually tacked a two or three hour booth shift ointo the end of his workday (and I said "his" because in those days no one trusted a "mere woman" to be THE VOICE for a TV station!).

But after awhile there were fewer technical glitches, fewer emergencies to cover, and it turned out to be easier to pre-record the announcer copy. You dubbed all your audio, including a variety of PLEASE STAND BY recordings, onto audio cartridges. Every master control room had stacks and stacks of prerecorded messages and commercials on audio carts.

Today it’s all digitized. Every station in America still employs a booth announcer—but sometimes he or she isn’t in the building, or even in the same state! The booth announcer does minutes of work a day or week for each station, reading emailed copy into a computer and sending back digital audio files. No muss, no fuss. That’s why the same BIG VOICES can be heard on TV stations all over the country and all around the globe.

Back in 1980, it wasn’t unheard of—but it was unusual—to see, to hear a live booth announcer in the #1 TV station in the #1 market in America.

When I got “the tour” and saw the booth announcer sitting in his little cubicle. Later, as the tour was ending, I mentioned to my guide that it was surprising to see a live booth announcer. “Oh,” he replied, “that’s Fred Foy.” It took a few seconds for the information to sink in. That’s FRED FOY!!!!!!

FRED FOY!!!!!!!

"A fiery horse with the speed of light, a cloud of dust, and a hearty 'Hi-yo, Silver, away!' The Lone Ranger!”

FRED FOY!!!!! Doing booth work at WABC.

And then it all made sense. The Lone Ranger radio serial got its start in 1933 at the legendary radio station WXYZ in Detroit, and was fed all across America on the ABC radio network. In 1948 a young Fred Foy, not long back from WWII, became the announcer and a stand-by actor on the program. But it was his voice that announced the TV series when it on ABC in the 50s. So it was his voice that introduced the Masked Man and his faithful Indian companion, Tonto, to America’s baby boomers: that is, to me.

Fred Foy had also done voice work while at WXYZ for The Green Hornet and Sergeant Preston of the Yukon. Later he served as the studio announcer for Dick Cavett’s late-night talk show.

Are you old enough to remember?

Here’s a link to Fred Foy recreating the Lone Ranger intro for NPR a couple of years ago: William Tell Overture and all. Foy is in his late eighties now—but you can still hear a strong trace of the “pipes” that he’s been using to tell us about those thrilling days of yesteryear for 60 years!

Fred Foy published a short biography of his life. I mention it because of its terrific title: From XYZ to ABC.