Fake It Till You Make It
When I was an announcer/writer at radio station KTAR in Phoenix, Arizona, my goal was to become a network announcer in Chicago or New York, the national headquarters of radio at that time. I listened to the network announcers and practiced reading commercials as they did so that the copy sounded spontaneous and ad-libbed. I studied the delivery of every first-class network announcer in the country, and soon I could sound very much like them. Every commercial I read on the air at KTAR, whether for the local mortuary or sporting goods store, I read as though it were a national commercial for the most world-renowned company.
I gave so much pizazz to the local commercials my announcer friends soon dubbed me “Network” and kidded me – found my efforts ludicrous. They were helping me on my way. “Why do you knock yourself out on those ridiculous commercials?” they’d ask. And I would smile and go about my business.
I would listen every day to those men and women who were at the very top of my field, and no matter how mundane the copy or humble a place of business, when I stepped up to the microphone, I had a picture of the entire country listening to every word I spoke. I gave it my very best – always.
And after 2 1/2 years of KTAR in Phoenix, I felt I was ready for the big time. I told my friends I’d soon quit and head for Chicago. My announcement was met with unbelieving stares and the most vociferous arguments. “There are 450 union card – carrying announcers walking the streets of Chicago trying to get work in the big stations there,” I was told. But my mind was made up, and I bought a one-way ticket to Chicago.
In Chicago I took a room at the old Chicagoan Hotel in the Loop, bought a copy of the Chicago Tribune, and turned on my portable radio. There were two target radio stations. They were the two biggest and the best at the time, WBBM CBS in the Wrigley Building on Michigan Avenue, and WMAQ NBC in the Merchandise Mart. I tackled WBBM first. I’ll never forget that first day in those beautiful, posh surroundings. The marble floors, the uniformed elevator starters, those fabulous brass and glistening hardwood elevators.
Al Morey was program director at the time. He was most cordial and immediately led me to a large nearby studio for an audition. He gave me a fist full of copy that included some tricky commercials and part of a newscast.
The studio was as impressive as the rest of the place, very large for one thing, with a concert grand piano and sound effects paraphernalia. I walked to the standing microphone and looked into the darkened engineer’s room beyond the slanting glass. There was an old-time engineer, and Al Morey nodded his head and threw me a hand cue, and I began.
After my interview he told me he’d let me know, and the next day I repeated the process at WMAQ. Then I waited. Finally, Al Morey called. I not only had the job, I was under contract for more money than I had dreamed of earning. My 2 1/2 years of doing network commercials for a local radio station had paid off, and I was now a CBS network announcer on a station whose coverage blanketed most of the Midwestern United States, to say nothing of the country’s second largest metropolitan market.
Indeed, I had arrived. I was giddy with a sudden inflation of my self-esteem. I was a passable writer, and I could hold my own with any announcer in the country. I was off and running. My preparation had paid off. Where were all those 450 unemployed union card – carrying announcers?