Don Gardiner Tribute
Assembled by Scott Benjamin
Don Gardiner Newscast
March 11, 1975
Don Gardiner was one of
the historic news voices on Musicradio WABC.
He had a long history at ABC Radio News before becoming an anchor
for the American Contemporary Network.
He was most frequently heard on WABC during Harry Harrison's show
before and after the local news from John Meagher.
Don may be best
remembered in radio history
as one of the first to broadcast a special report
from Dallas Texas on November 22, 1963.
For more about that and
comments from those who worked with him at ABC Radio
we have a terrific tribute put together by Scott Benjamin:
From the time that ABC established the American Contemporary Radio Network in January 1968 until his death in March 1977, Don Gardiner was the morning news voice on world and national events for Musicradio77 WABC listeners.
By the time that American Contemporary was established, he already was familiar to Musicradio77 listeners though his work on the ABC Radio newscasts and exclusively on some early morning newscasts before doing news around the world at 7:55 a.m., during a time when there was a single ABC radio network.
Don was a beloved figure at ABC, and was noted for his versatility.
During the era of radio dramas, he was the announcer for Gangbusters and Dick Tracy.
He was one of the talented 27 staff announcers at ABC in the 1960s a group that included Milton Cross, the voice of the radio broadcasts of the Metropolitan Opera; Fred Foy, who had been the radio and television announcer for The Lone Ranger: and Joel Crager who was the voice for Ivory Soap, Tylenol and E.F. Hutton for many years.
Don is best remembered for being the first radio announcer to report on Nov. 22, 1963 that shots had been fired at President John Kennedys limousine along the motorcade route in Dallas:
Recently, some of Dons colleagues discussed their memories on his contributions to ABC Radio and the friendship that they shared.
Former ABC Radio Program Director Maury Benkoil, phone interview, Saturday, Jan. 26, 2008
When the news of the shots being fired at President Kennedys motorcade came across the wire, someone asked, What should we do, and I said, Get Don Gardiner, recalled Maury, who was the networks radio program director from 1961 to 1965.
He handled the gravity of the situation very nicely and broke the story on radio, he said.
He was a brilliant, talented broadcaster, who knew what he was doing at all times, said Maury, who began working at ABC Radio as a copy boy in 1954.
He could economize his words and write a terrific newscast, he said.
He also could offer the right words to a colleague who was frustrated, Maury said.
One day after Milton Cross fouled up a newscast by mispronouncing names and by getting lost in his script, he was almost weeping, he said. Don told him, That was yesterdays newscast, now you have to worry about todays newscast.
One of the younger staff announcers and I cant remember which one stopped me as he was leaving the building one day and said, Is Don Gardiner really as genuine as he seems to be, Maury recalled.
Don was a humble person, who did not boast about his accomplishments and knew how to get along with people, he said.
Maury said that Don sometimes didnt see eye to eye with Tom OBrien, the news director for ABC Radio.
But there never was a moment of battle between them, he added.
I could remember listening to Don on Gangbusters as I was growing up, Maury said. In fact, my father was impressed when he learned that I was working with Don Gardiner. Don was just so versatile.
He said that colleagues were overjoyed when Don married his wife, Ceci.
They had been keeping company for a long time, and she was the perfect mate for him, Maury said.
I always will have the fondest memories of Don, he said. I still remember receiving the phone call about his death. We all were devastated.
Former ABC Radio News Anchor Bob Gibson, e-mail message, Friday, Jan. 4, 2008
In his career, Don did so much for so long and he did it well from hosting an afternoon movie on television, to being the narrator on the radio series Gangbusters for a few years in the late 1930s, to reporting the news from the studio both before and after the word "anchor" became part of the lexicon.
He also covered at least two sets of political conventions during the 1960s.
He was a no-nonsense on-air talent, unless a particular story tickled his funny bone, but off the air he was a gentleman, and a down-to-earth individual who loved to hear and tell a good joke.
Perhaps my favorite personal memory of Don is that there was a period in the summer of either '62 or '63 when we would ride the same cross-town bus in the morning to get to work at the West Side ABC complex on 66th Street. A resident of fashionable Fifth Avenue, Don had been doing this routine in the morning for many years and the first time we were on the bus together I couldn't get over that he had an arrangement with the driver to stop smack-dab in the middle of the block (between Central Park West & Columbus), enabling him to go right into the ABC Radio building and, as it turned out, for me to head across the street for my sign-on monitoring shift at the offices of Channel 7. Without belaboring the point, how many broadcasters had a plan that would get them dropped every day at a location of THEIR choosing which was NOT a legitimate bus stop?!?!?
I'm not sure he would have considered it the highlight of his career, but it was Don Gardiner who was the FIRST on the air Friday afternoon, November 22, 1963, to report that shots had been fired at President Kennedy's motorcade in downtown Dallas and a short time later told the nation: "The President is dead.
The President is dead! Let us pray!"
For the last 9 years of his life, Don's work at ABC involved exclusively the Contemporary Radio Network on which he anchored four newscasts every day Monday through Friday starting with the 7:55am 'cast.
On Sunday afternoon, March 27, 1977, the radio network news desk received a call from Don's wife, Ceci, advising that he had died of a massive heart attack at their weekend home on eastern Long Island.
Don was just 61 and his passing stunned all of those with whom he worked and no doubt some of the millions whom his voice reached most every day.
Former ABC Radio News anchor Keeve Berman, e-mail message, Monday, Jan. 14, 2008
I'll tell you a tale no one else has heard regarding the late Don Gardiner.
I had just arrived at ABC Radio News in New York City where Id been hired out of Pittsburgh to replace someone who'd been fired.
The situation must have overwhelmed me entirely because I totally broke down in the conference room adjacent to the newsroom and I thought I couldn't be seen.
I was sobbing so uncontrollably I didn't notice the tall slender man who silently entered the room. It was Don, and I remember telling him how scared I was of the task that lay ahead and how I was so afraid I wasn't going to fit in with my new and more experienced colleagues.
His arm went around my shoulders and he told me, Keeve... you wouldn't have been hired by Tom O'Brien if he wasn't sure you could handle it.
Of course he was right, and his words of comfort and support ushered in a 10-year stay for me at ABC network news' Contemporary Network.
Don was as kind as he was a great newsman.
Former ABC Staff Announcer Allan Jefferys, e-mail message, Monday, Jan. 21, 2008
My route to ABC in New York was WFPG in Atlantic City (ABC affiliate) to WTOP, Wash. (CBS) to CBS New York to ABC New York.
While still a beginner in Atlantic City I listened carefully to two giants: Milton Cross and Don Gardiner. When I did news or auditioned I tried shamelessly to copy Don's delivery. Thus meeting and working with him in New York was a complete thrill.
He left us too soon; he was a fine announcer and a super human being.
Former ABC Staff Announcer, Bill Owen, phone interview, Thursday, Jan. 17, 2008
I can remember that when I wrote my book, The Big Broadcast [co-authored in 1972 with Frank Buxton], I picked Dons brain, because he had been an announcer for Gangbusters and Dick Tracy, Bill said regarding the volume he published on the radio shows of 1920 to 1950.
He could do everything from be the announcer for dramatic shows to doing news.
Bill said that he first listened to Don in the 1950s when he was working in Cincinnati and would tune in to Monday Morning Headlines, which was a Sunday night news show at ABC Radio.
They celebrated his 20th year in broadcasting not long after I got to New York in 1960, and I wondered how anyone could last that long, Bill recalled. Of course, I was at ABC for 30 years.
He praised Dons skills.
He had the perfect delivery and was a good writer, Bill said. He was a newsmans newsman.
We regarded him as the dean, he recalled. He was a fatherly figure, who was the calm one and always correct.
Barry Downes said if something goes wrong in the control room I want Don Gardiner or Bill Owen to be the announcer on the air at that time, Bill recalled, making reference to the former ABC director.
Former WABC morning news anchor John Meagher, e-mail message, Friday, Jan. 18, 2008
I was strictly working local WABC radio from the time of arrival from WKNR in Detroit.
However, I later had a chance to work Saturdays on the Contemporary Net from roughly 1969 to 1974, and so I often did shows that alternated with Don.
Thanks to Bob Gibson, who sends out an email on the anniversary of Don's passing, Don remains in my consciousness.
He was a very decent guy and very helpful to a wide-eyed local newsman who found himself suddenly talking to the whole damned country every two hours!
Don made it much easier, for sure.
Former ABC American Contemporary Network News Anchor Bill Larson, phone interview, Monday, Jan. 21, 2008
Everybody loved Don, Bill said. He was quiet, unassuming, and a lot of fun to be with.
Everybody was just so devastated, he said regarding his death.
Bill recalled learning about it when a network manager called to ask him to do the morning newscasts the next day.
His delivery was so real, he said. Anybody who listened just thought it was simply Don Gardiner doing the news. People could relate to Don.
He always brought the main course for a major holiday, like Christmas, or Thanksgiving when we had to all work, Bill said.
Everybody in the news operation had a great fondness for him, he recalled.
A few Don Gardiner Bloopers!
(courtesy Bill Larson)
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