Bob Gibson On The ABC Staff Announcers
by Scott Benjamin
The ABC Staff Announcers' Reunion
Former longtime radio newscaster Bob Gibson got his first break by working as a page and then a program monitor at ABC in New York from 1961 to 1964 – which provided an opportunity to become acquainted with the network’s 27 staff announcers – some of whom had notable accomplishments from their work on old radio dramas, voiceovers for commercials and even weekly opera broadcasts.
Some years ago, Bob, who later was a news correspondent for ABC Radio from 1975 to 1981 and an anchor at all-news WCBS (880-AM) in New York City, assembled a montage of excerpts from many of those voices and called it the “ABC Staff Announcers Reunion.”
Some of the newscasts, promos and commercials were aired on Musicradio77 WABC, which utilized the staff announcers for a variety of duties through the years, although their impact declined some after the first reader-writers were hired for the WABC news department in early 1968.
That tribute tape, which was initially sent to some of the ABC Staff Announcers as a Christmas gift, is posted in the Sound Files section of www.musicradio77.com.
Bob, who moved from New Jersey to Florida in the fall 2007, has stayed in frequent contact with many former colleagues from his long career, and even has organized lunches through the years that brought announcers from various outlets together.
The cast on the ABC Staff Announcers Reunion includes Milton Cross, who was the announcer for decades on the Saturday radio broadcasts of the Metropolitan Opera; Fred Foy, who was one of the announcers for “The Lone Ranger” on both radio and television and who later worked with Dick Cavett; and Bill Rice, who was the staff announcer for Nightline and, in more recent years, ABC World News Tonight and ABC World News with Charles Gibson.
“He’s the last of the Mohicans,” Bob said of Bill, who is the only staff announcer from the early 1960’s still working at ABC.
However, in August 2008, after 45 years with the network, Bill semi-retired to free-lance status at ABC, where his primary duty is working on World News.
Bill was doing a newscast at Musicradio77 WABC on Nov. 9, 1965 when much of the Northeast lost electrical power during the famous blackout.
As a result of technological advances in audio production, Bill, who arrived at ABC from WLW in Cincinnati, and the other ABC staff announcer, Ken Lamb, now, in effect, do the work that the 27 ABC staff announcers did 45 years ago when Bob was reviewing program logs, handling some ticket requests and handling other clerical functions for ABC.
The roster of staff announcers gradually started to decline in he late 1960’s.
ABC Radio split into four networks in January 1968, each of which was designed to fit certain formats of its various affiliates.
At about that same time Bob Hardt was hired as the first reader-writer at Musicradio77 WABC and two months later John Meagher joined him.
A short time later, reporter Paul Ehrlich was promoted to news director and established one of the top radio operations in New York City.
Although there were reader-writers during the morning and afternoon rush hours, the staff announcers still handled many of the other newscasts, but clearly times were changing at Musicradio77 WABC from the days when the staff announcers took copy from the news writers and delivered all of the newscasts.
“The thing that always impressed me about Bill [Rice] was his great tone of voice,” Bob said.
Although Bill was a staff announcer, Bob said, for example, that he did fill in occasionally on some of the ABC Radio newscasts for John Cameron Swayze, who had been the anchor on the NBC television nightly newscasts from 1949 to 1956, immediately preceding the famed anchor team of Chet Huntley and David Brinkley.
Fred, who still makes public appearances in connection with his work on “The Lone Ranger,” has been described by former Musicradio77 WABC news anchor John Meagher and others as one of the more friendly and colorful members of the ABC Staff Announcers.
“He had excellent enunciation,” Bob said of Fred, who is a member of the Radio Hall of Fame. “It just seemed that he spoke in a more velvet, enunciated way.”
Milton was the voice of the Texaco-Metropolitan Opera, which The New York Daily News reported in 1975 had an audience of 12 million over the 120 commercial and 90 college radio stations that carried the Saturday broadcasts.
Bob, who has often said that he held Milton in high esteem, noted that at ABC he handled a variety of duties, including doing promos for television cartoons and situation comedies “that might seem a little out of place” for someone who was the voice of the opera.
Some colleagues had such reverence for Milton that they would only address him as “Mr. Cross.”
At one time, Joel Crager was perhaps the most coveted voiceover artist – handling Ivory Soap for 17 years, Tylenol for 15 years and also doing the work for the ABC Movie of the Week, E.F. Hutton and U.S. Health Care.
“He was like a natural with the commercials,” Bob said of Joel, who became an ABC staff announcer in 1952 and even hosted a talk show for a time on WABC-FM.
“He has a very authoritative voice,” he said of Joel, who lives in Ft. Lee, N.J., not far where Bob resided before moving to Florida.
Staff announcer Don Gardiner attained a status as an ABC Radio News anchor that reached a status similar to that of Dallas Townsend, who anchored The World News Round-up in the morning for a long time on CBS Radio.
Don was the one who then-ABC Radio Program Director Maury Benkoil summoned on the afternoon of Nov. 22, 1963 to announce that shots had been fired at President John Kennedy’s motorcade in downtown Dallas.
The audio of that announcement is posted at YouTube and at Musicradio77.com.
Bob said that Bill Owen, who lives in Valley Cottage, N.Y. “is very versatile,” having worked as one of the original Swingin’ Seven air personalities at WABC in December 1960 when it went to a top 40 format; handling news and sports as a staff announcer; serving as co-host from 1966 to 1972 on Discovery, an ABC television show that ran on Sunday mornings; serving as a staff announcer on television shows, including ABC’s World News This Morning; and doing commercial voiceovers.
Today, Bill does talks on trivia and old-time radio for senior citizens groups, voiceover work for Bloomberg radio and cable television outlets in Rockland and Westchester County, New York and hosts an Internet radio music show.
Bob said that Les Griffith was “always on the run” since he had radio duties in the morning and then would handle announcing for the ABC Evening News, which was anchored through that period by Ron Cochran and Peter Jennings.
He recalled that Gilbert Hodges had covered the White House during the administrations of Harry Truman and Dwight Eisenhower before becoming a staff announcer before becoming a staff announcer. He handled the work for WABC-TV Channel 7’s Eyewitness News during part of the 1970s and 1980s.
“The ABC Staff Announcers Reunion” tape also includes Allan Jefferys, Bob Leonard, George Ansbro, Charles Woods, Bob Emmerich, Bill Brophy, Wally Parker, John Causier, Carl Caruso, Don Dowd, Scott Vincent, Dick Mason, Dirk Fredericks, George Hayes and Ed Jordan, as well as then-ABC Radio News Vice President Tom O’Brien.
“They were all quite a group,” Bob said.
WABC Musicradio 77 Home Page