Monday, February 1, 2016

Radio Days

Back in the days when radio announcers were stars, and I wasn’t yet even in my salad days, I used to sit in front of an old Philco for hours at a time listening to—and trying to emulate—such idols as Harlow Wilcox, Don Wilson, Bill Goodwin, Harry Von Zell, Ken Carpenter, Franklyn McCormack, Fred Foy, Wendell Niles, Ken Nordine, Dwight Weist, Glenn Riggs, Jimmy Wallington, André Baruch, and many others.

Any fluff in delivery, especially an error in pronunciation, struck terror into the heart of the poor soul who committed it. The networks had pronunciation tests that were administered to aspiring young announcers. The one at NBC began: “Penelope Cholmondely raised her azure eyes from the crabbed scenario and meandered in the congeries of her memoirs. There was Algernon, a choleric artificer of icons and triptychs, who wanted to write a trilogy…”

At New York’s radio station WQXR, the test opened with: “The old man with the flaccid face and dour expression grimaced when asked if he were conversant with zoology, mineralogy, and the culinary arts.”

Not to be outdone, I have devised my own test for aspiring announcers—not that there is much demand for professionals of that sort these days.But if you can wrap your tongue around this narrative, you qualify as the next mellifluous voice to announce: “NBC presents The Hour of Charm, with Phil Spitalny and his All-Girl Orchestra, featuring Evelyn and Her Magic Violin!” 

 In the halcyon days of internecine tergiversation, a      
  concupiscent chargé d’affaires at the Tanzanian consulate 
  had the onerous assignment of arranging assignations 
  amongst Zbigniew Brzezinski, Valery Giscard d’Estaing, 
  Deng Xiao Peng, Angela Merkel, and Dmitri Medvedev.

  “What a concatenation of blackguards,” expatiated this 
  amanuensis, who was a bona fide dilettante.  “It’s a 
  veritable farrago of inextricable idiosyncrasies.  They will 
  discuss laissez-faire, hypotenuses, synapses, kamikazes, 
  Clio, Melpomene, Mnemosyne, and other such viragoes, 
  before arriving, apocalyptically, at the dénouement. 
  priori, it is de rigueur that I not err, though embarrassed 
  and harassed vituperatively by such vagaries.”

  Grasping his shillelagh ribaldly, as though he were a 
  mischievous member of Sinn Fein, he peregrinated, 
  redolent with desuetude, to the environs of the soigné 
  maitre d’.

   “I speak not in synecdoche, hyperbole, hendiadys, litotes, 
  or even metonymy,” he descanted, “when I say the menu is 
  to be table d’hôteprix fixe.  We’ll start with a mélange of 
  exquisite hors-d’oeuvres such as paté de foie gras, abalone, 
  escargots, prosciutto, salmon mousse, macadamia and 
  pistachio nuts, followed by tournedos in béchamel sauce 
  with kohlrabi, broccoli rabe, and rapini; followed a mere  
  soupçon of Calvados, Cointreau or Chartreuse.”

  “Are you desirous of proffering homage to Escoffier,” asked 
  the supercilious garçon, “or merely of producing a satiety?”

  In this hiatus, the diplomatist, a quite pliant affiant, became 
  exquisitely quiescent and riant, in order to assuage the 
  boniface’s irascibility.

  “The artistes who will furnish vaudevillian divertissement,” 
  he specified, “will include a miscellany of eidolons of lauded 
  divas, primi ballerini assoluti, danseurs nobles, ingenues, 
  tragedians, and other virtuosi, of the magnitude of Amelita 
  Galli-Curci, Eleanora Duse, Ignacy Jan Paderewski, Eugène 
  Ysaÿe, Josef Szigeti, Jussi Björling, Eugène Goossens (fils), 
  Beniamino Gigli, Feodor Ivanovitch Chaliapin, Frances 
  Yeend, Olga Preobrajenska, Maya Pliesetskaya,  and Olga 

  “For the locale,” he continued in his inimitable fashion, 
  clandestinely flicking a gnat from a piece of gnocchi on his 
  grosgrain habiliment, “I am contemplating a granary in 
  Aberystwyth or Abergavenny or maybe Clywd (should we 
  wish to be in Cymru), or perhaps Cannes or Caen, or Ixtapa 
  or Oaxaca, or possibly even Mexia or Refugio.”

  “How about Gruene?”

  “No, too fin-de-siècle,” grimaced the porcine legate with 
  authoritative panache, concluding the desultory tête-à-tête.

The Bard of Buffalo Bayou can’t pronounce diddly-squat. Oh, well, who needs to say “diddly squat”?

            That announcer will drive me to mayhem,
            When he talks I feel I must slay him,
                       He says “lay,” but means “lie,”
                      And that’s good reason to die,
            And depart from both FM and AM.


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