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by George Lester
George Lester
The town of El Dorado, Arkansas is pronounced El-Do-ray-duh by the people living there. Texarkana is pronounced Tex-uh-kan-uh by the locals. One time the two cities were playing each other in a football game. The radio play-by-play announcer, who was not familiar with either city, was saying El Dorado with the broad A in the middle ( El do-rah-do), and he was pronouncing Texarkana stressing the second syllable, (Tex-ARE-kan-ah). Those fans sitting directly in front of the open air booth could hear him clearly. After a while one of the fans got enough of it and walked up and informed the announcer that the names should be pronounced El-der-ray-der and Tex-er-kaner.

I bought a book of instructions for "the modern radio announcer". It was really out of date by at least 15 years when I bought it. However, there was one bit of information in that publication that proved invaluable to me in years to come. The author gave detailed instructions on how to learn to speak extemporaneously. This is very important in the broadcast business because you never know when you will be in a situation where you don't have time to sit and think about what you are going to say next. He suggested that the aspiring young radio announcer practice constantly describing the things he saw around him. It was a bit awkward doing this in front of others so I did my homework while driving down the highway.

You don't realize how many times you say "ugh" or use other speech crutches in daily conversation while trying to organize your thoughts. To overcome this I would motor along using a tour guide type spiel such as, "I am traveling east on highway 82 heading into the twin-cities of Texarkana, Texas and Arkansas. The sun is just now peeping over the trees and sending a blinding beam on my windshield. Off to my right there are dozens of Holstein cattle grazing on the dewy Alfalfa. They cast an eerie scene as their lower bodies disappear into the ground fog surrounding these bovine beast". I'm sure the people in passing cars wondered why I was talking to myself. To heck with them. I was learning my trade.

By the time I came to work for the television station in El Dorado I had become quite proficient in ad-lib speaking. It really came in handy quite often during technical goofs on live broadcasts. In those days only the major networks had video tape recorders. All local television stations had to do studio presentations live, including the commercials. Many times one of the props wouldn't function properly or some other distraction would occur and the announcer was expected to smile and keep on talking as if nothing had happened. More than once I had to do a spot with no lighting because the person responsible didn't make it in time. We went on the air with nothing but the faint glow of the studio work light illuminating the set. It must have resembled a scene from a Hitchcock movie.

The year was 1955 and only the television stations in the largest cities had the luxury of color casting. In fact, only a small fraction of the viewers had color televisions sets. There must have been at least one owner in our viewing area. During the Rose Bowl Parade we received a phone call from an irate viewer complaining about the poor quality of his color picture. The engineer was delighted that he got any color at all. We were sending out only black and white.

We would conclude our televised day with me doing a sportscast. During that segment the crew would start stowing away equipment for the night. One eager young fellow was rolling up microphone cables. He inadvertently grabbed the cable that was attached to my microphone. Right there on live television the microphone started sliding across my desk. I smiled, pulled it back and continued with my sportscast. Then it started moving again. I jerked it back again. This went on and on until I lost the battle. People told me later that it looked like two dogs fighting over a bone. I finally lost it. I lay my head on the desk and started laughing uncontrollably. That is the way we signed off the sportscast that night.

All the announcers had to operate a camera on occasions. That was my assignment one night as a local church choir was singing in our studio. This was before the innovation of zoom lenses. Our cameras had wide, medium and close up lenses and we would have to rotate to them to get to the one we wanted for the shot. As one camera held a full shot of the group the director instructed me to switch to the close up lens and slowly pan each member of the choir. He would then switch back and forth from full shot to close up.

As the faces flowed across my camera monitor I saw a young girl who literally took my breath away. There, before my eyes, I saw an inner spiritual beauty that seemed to radiate an aura all around her. When I took my eyes from the monitor and searched for her face in the choir she was nowhere to be found. No one stood out from the others the way the girl on the monitor had. I went back to the monitor and found her again. Then I counted off the row and her position. When I saw her with my naked eye it was unbelievable. She looked very plain and average. The camera had evidently caught something the human eye missed. I suppose that kind of beauty is there in a lot of people if you just know how to look for it.
George Lester
Spunky Flat and Beyond - A Memoir >

April 15, 2007 column
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