Friday, March 13, 2009


(image: George Fenneman, Groucho Marx's announcer, with Groucho)

I suspect I was thinking first of the late Don LaFontaine when I wrote this poem. He was a professional announcer or voice-over specialist, famous for describing movies by starting, "In a world where . . .". He also did a very funny send-up of himself on a Geiko commercial, second only to the appearance of Little Richard (who transforms every form in which he works, even a commercial). But more broadly the poem is about all those radio and TV announcers with those resonating, cultivated voices. "Announcing" is one of those niche-careers that materialized because of the rise of electronic mass-media. Arguably, the announcer with the toughest job was George Fenneman, who had to work with the acerbic, unpredictable Groucho Marx on a game-show called You Bet Your Life. I saw it only a few times, but even when I was a kid, I sensed that Fenneman was managing Groucho, smoothing over the rough spots.

For decades he told contestants
what they'd won, he introduced
the host, and he said other words
to help create The Show. He could
make his voice resonate the way
microphones like it and make it
dive down, rise up, purr in
between, but most
importantly sound optimistic
and happy for people came home
from work and watched TV or
watched TV while they cleaned
house. The Show was to make
people happy so they would
watch The Show and maybe buy
the products advertised.

Small man. Big voice. Calm
spirit. Talking through a
microphone was his work
and made as much sense
and money as anything else,
more or less. His voice won
the bread. A family, sure. He
got sick and died. People do.
Anyway the great age of
radio and TV announcers
had come and gone. Gone!
Copyright 2009 Hans Ostrom
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