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Shell Shocked: Radio days

By ART STEVENS - | Oct 27, 2020

PHOTO PROVIDED Art Stevens

When I was a kid I wanted to be a radio announcer. I got hooked when I listened to “The Shadow” and heard the announcer introduce each segment with the immortal lines, “Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men. The Shadow knows.”

I listened to radio a lot and thought announcers were so cool. “Lux presents Hollywood.” “Lucky Strikes means fine tobacco.”

They had these beautiful resonant voices and were so persuasive and reassuring. Plus they gave structure to the radio programs they were on.

So I bought a book called “The Radio Announcer’s Handbook,” stood in front of the mirror and began to deliver radio commercials to myself.

Here was a typical one:

“Say, friends, didn’t it feel great when you were a youngster to find that school was out and you had the rest of the afternoon to romp and play? But maybe you’re thinking to yourself: ‘Oh, stop. The way I feel, I’d like to dig a nice big hole and crawl into it. In fact, I haven’t felt so logy and miserable in months.’ Well, folks, if that’s the case, why not do something about it? If it’s simply the need of a laxative that has you feeling low, try Blackdraft. Blackdraft is an old family friend when it comes to bringing refreshing relief.”

I would read this radio commercial endlessly to my puzzled mother. And then I would ask her if I sounded like a radio announcer. She hedged her bets. She told me to pick a more interesting product, like a car, cigarette or beverage.

So I thumbed through my radio announcer’s handbook and found another commercial.

“Now here’s a quotation from our Romance Department. When you’re dining tet-a-tet with your mister does he give your hand a squeeze? Or remark, ‘Hand me the potatoes, please.’ Well, if you don’t mind your spouse preferring spuds to you, OK. But if you do mind, win more attention with a pair of more winning hands. Your hands can have that Ivory look in just twelve days. And what is that Ivory look? Smoother fingertips, whiter knuckles. Younger looking hands.”

I loved the sound of radio commercials. They sounded so authentic and convincing. I felt so commanding and powerful reading these commercials aloud that my friends would begin to avoid me when they saw me coming. They knew I’d stop conversations by asking them to listen to me reciting commercials. They excluded me from street games for long periods of time.

I even brought my announcer’s handbook to school and entertained my classmates by reading commercials aloud. Every radio show had an announcer. This was the career I wanted.

My third-grade teacher knew how much I wanted to be a radio announcer and one day asked me to read the opening lines of a popular radio soap opera. I did:

“And now, The Romance of Helen Trent, the real-life drama of Helen Trent, who, when life mocks her, breaks her hopes, dashes her against the rocks of despair, fights back bravely, successfully, to prove what so many women long to prove, that because a woman is 35 or more, romance in life need not be over, that someone can begin at 35.”

The boys in the class began to snicker. One of them whispered under his breath, “Is Helen Trent your new girlfriend?”

I turned the other cheek. After all, what did he know about the best job in the world — that of a radio announcer.

Well, world, as it turned out, I didn’t become a radio announcer. But to this day I still envision me introducing radio and TV shows in a booming resonant voice. The dream never left me.