Announcing Through Time
2700+ BCE Egypt
That's Pushing 5000 Years Ago!!!
Although no evidence of public speeches exists prior to the Greeks, actual ancient Egyptian documentation managed to endure the ages revealing viziers, such as Ptah-Hotep, taught wisdom to young men being groomed for officials and scribes. This wisdom encompassed ethics, etiquette and interpersonal relations. To successfully know this wisdom, students needed to learn the principals of good behavior and good speech. Approximately, ten wisdom books remain, somewhat intact, today.
The vizier, Ptah-Hotep, seated at the Offering Table (right). Many scientists believe his writings of maxims or teachings constitute the oldest known book and, certainly, the oldest in existence as seen below.
He, his father as well as his grandfather, arguably, represent the oldest known philosophers in virtue, ethics and etiquette. A big part of this included teaching the knowledge and use of rhetoric. With the inclusion of his grandfather, these teachings date back as far as the 28th century BCE.
Other viziers teaching Egyptian ethics and etiquette existed as well: Kagemini, Merikare, Any and Amenmope. Much of the rhetoric training appears to have revolved around timing, restraint, truth and articulation. Values that many announcers hold close to the heart today.
Check out ol' Ptah-Hotep on the right. It almost seems like he's working a ballgame!
Ancient Egyptian Canons of Fine Speech
From these Egyptian books of wisdom, scientists extracted the five canons of rhetoric: silence, timing, restraint, articulation and truthfulness. These canons may ring true to many current announcers and broadcasters. In thinking about them, consider how each plays a significant role in performing those essential game day duties.
In perusing at each canon, 5000 year old pithiness astonishes. The wisdom of Ancient Egypt teaches well for any job, does it not? Within the description of each canon, an additional paragraph of thought explores how the canon could apply to the announcers and broadcasters of now.
As a final consideration, an Egyptian phrase synonymous with the word rhetoric, translates to “principals of fine speech“. Fascinating!
For those interested in our primary source and wishing to read more, we posted here the entire paper Rhetorica written by bibliologist Michael V. Fox back in 1983. From this terrific resource, we dug through his resources to collect additional data supplied to this section of announcing history.
Silentium Est Aurum
The canons emphasize silence as a tactic in debate and argument. An official’s efficacy relied heavily on silence as a method to act as a catalyst in the defeat of your fellow opponents in debate. Keeping your mouth shut, especially when you have a strong case, would build your reputation well with those in charge.
Good announcers and broadcasters, quite often, go silent; thus, let the play on the field or court speak for itself. Does this self-control of silence not make for better reps for announcers?
The canon indicates a speaker should first construct his solution and focus on his excellence prior to speaking out. Say no more, right?! Knowing when to talk served the greatest announcers and broadcasters well.
Think about it. The PA announcing during a pitch or a pass or a free-throw represents the most awful of announcing. The play by play person running like a never ending sentence when silence made for a better choice demonstrates lack of professionalism, edification and experience.
Demonstrably in the writings, Egyptians respected the power of words, even over physical conflict. This canon dials in on emotional control. They appeared to favor cooler heads when speaking, especially to superiors.
The field tilts in the favor of any worker in any job who can separate personal emotion from the issues at hand. Announcers’ and broadcasters’ professionalism stands in direct opposition to their personal emotions. The best ones strive to limit their personal feelings on that microphone.
In Michael V. Fox’s Rhetorica, he states “the speaker must give an impression of security and stability” as part of this canon. He, also, brings up how one should not vacillate in speech. Fluency in one’s rhetoric indicates competency as well.
Announcers and broadcasters talking directly and clearly so, typically, get better received by their audience. No doubt that those who stumble around on the mic receive fewer plaudits.
Quoting once more from Fox, “truthful speech is effective speech…Ptah-Hotep says, “The wise man is known by his wisdom. Is the magistrate in his good quality? (Then) his heart matches his tongue and his lips are straight when he speaks…” Yes, the ancient Egyptians considered truth paramount.
For announcers and broadcasters, speaking truth on the microphone rules the roost. Broadcasters, particularly, depend upon truth on radio, television and internet for their success. Not being truthful will catch up to everyone engaged in fallacious discourse.
800+ BCE Greece
Let’s not forget the Greek Theater. Early playwrights like Sophocles were the vanguard of modern theater. Greek comedies and dramas used actors which were the first public speakers for entertainment, not official, purposes. Interestingly enough, actors frequently used masks on stage. The shape of some of the known masks caused some to postulate their designs served as mini-megaphones. Scientists disputed and debunked this idea. Looking at the mask on the right, one could see how the thought of megaphone bubbled up as idea.
According to Aristotle, Thespis was an early playwright, first stage actor and the first to use a mask. From his name, we get the term thespian.
In spite of all the Greek Theater provided to the world of performing art, not one mask survived. Copies in stone stand as our evidence to acting in the past. Certainly with the size of the Ancient Greek amphitheaters, no doubt some might voices projected on that stage!!! For example, the Theater of Epidaurus (below) contained room for up to 30,000 spectators.
Aristotle defined rhetoric as "the ability to see what is possibly persuasive in every given case"
Public Speaking played a major role in ancient Greek society. Changes in governing type dating back to Homer (850-650BCE) from monarchies, oligarchies and tyrannies to the eventual democracies facilitated formalization of law. The Greeks commissioned Draco (circa 621BCE) to spearhead this. Of course, many of us are familiar with the term Draconian punishment. Yap, same guy. Under Draco, laws got codified and courts were established for hearing cases based on laws.
Under Pericles (5th Century BCE), the Greeks established democracy which included the poor and had a proper legislative body for reviewing laws. In his government, the need for public speaking training arose. Believe it or not, public speaking became an Olympic event, for which the champion received olive branches and paraded all over Athens. How cool is that!!!
The Greeks even had schools to instruct teenage boys in public speaking, some of which were even taught by Aristotle himself. The teachers of rhetoric were known as the sophists. Aristotle defined rhetoric and said it did not limit itself to one particular subject matter. Aristotle’s theories on public speaking are the basis of much of what we know about speaking today, especially in politics, law and debate. Under the Greeks, rhetoric and public speaking became a formal study.
For fun, we’ve included the January 1, 1881 article from the Boston Globe citing the discovery of the Theatre of Epidaurus by the Greek Archaeological Society.
No discussion on the history of Announcing could be complete without a bit on Demosthenes (384 BCE-322 BCE). A Greek statesman, lawyer and logographer, Demosthenes legacy survives as one of the great orators of his day. Quintilian call him the “Standard of Oratory”. Cicero referred to him as the perfect orator. Others referred to him as sublime. To this day, many public speakers study the works and style of Demosthenes.
Demosthenes was eloquent. He did not use complex prose. Rather, he leveraged simple prose coupled with a focus on delivery. He curtailed his speeches to be audience specific and utilized repetition to ingrain his points into people’s heads. He wanted his speeches to be easy to hear and understand.
Of interest, Demosthenes very first public speaking effort turned about to be a complete disaster. He received advice from an actor and began practicing a style and exercising his voice with a great discipline. Ultimately, he became one of the greatest speakers ever.
Demosthenes speaking against Phillip II of Macedon
Over the years, people, often sarcastically or humorously, referred to announcers by the name, Demosthenes.
100+ BCE Rome
As the Greeks faded and Rome arose to power, rhetoric traveled and interesting path. Early on, Greek teachers trained the Romans in rhetoric. Ultimately, the Romans, as they did everything, took over their own training.
Between Aristotle’s day and the 1st century BCE, the Greeks developed the 5 canons of rhetoric which are the basis for rhetoric and public speaking today. Cicero, famous for his involvement in the assassination of Julius Caeser, his struggle for leadership against Marc Antony and Rome and his own elimination at the hands of Antony’s agents, is considered to this day as one of the greatest orator’s in human history. Cicero delineated the 5 canons into writing in his De Inventione (84BCE) followed by five additional volumes of rhetoric throughout his life including De Oratore (55BCE, shown on right).
Yes, we talk canons again. These principals underpin all modern rhetoric and public speaking. We will expand on the canons further down.
Another Roman orator, Quintilianus, arrived over 100 years after Cicero. In between Cicero and Quintilianus, rhetoric evolved into very flowery, ornate speech. Quintilianus frowned upon this and in his book, Institutio Oratoria, he sought to return Roman rhetoric to Cicero’s clear more concise form of speaking. Aristotle’s Rhetoric, Cicero’s volumes and Quintilianus’ Institutio Oratoria serve as the basis of all post-Egypt ancient rhetoric.
Five Canons of Rhetoric
Invention is about creating material. Certainly, persuasion will rest at the center of this. But, creating material is creating material.
Announcers and Broadcaster outline, make notes and write regularly in support of any upcoming assignments. Those that do tend to come off prepared and professional. Unprepared folks, whether creating persuasive speech or not, tend to struggle.
Arrangement represents organizing. One arranges everything invented to in an order which best serves. This is the process of staging all assembled information such that a document or speech can be written.
Do announcers and broadcasters go through all their notes and ideas prior to a game? Typically, the best ones have reviewed their notes and organized them well in advance. All of the effort ensures the best possible effort on the mic.
Style is writing. Pieces and parts have been invented. Next, we organized them into an order which best serves the subject or argument. Then, we write. Be it a book, poem, song, speech or, simply, copy, style is when things get drafted.
Announcers and Broadcasters may not write out everything they say; however, certainly they will assemble, rewrite scripts, correct copy to best suit their style of writing, reading and speaking. Again, they wish to do the best possible job and this is just part of the process.
Committing all that’s written is best suited to the professional delivery of a speech, writers often memorize their papers so they can articulate, orally, on the subject matter among peers and superiors.
Announcers and Broadcasters constantly memorize little pieces of information. This occurs quite often in cases where the same text is read every event. A call for the National Anthem makes for a great example. Continuing, they will take the copy written for them or by them, organize it, edit it for style and subsequently memorize it so they can focus on other aspects of the job.
Delivery means essentially two things: speaking and writing. Ok, no doubt the orator must be able to delivery the rhetoric to the given audience but, what about the writer? A writer’s text could end up in a newspaper, on a podium, up on a billboard or any number of places oral or otherwise.
Delivery is the bread and butter of Announcers and Broadcasters. Everything put together stages for that very moment they climb on the microphone and begin speaking. They practice. They warm up. They deliver. Announcers and broadcasters revel in this canon more than the others but, the truly great ones hold all five tenets in high regard.
Marcus Tullius Cicero
Marcus Fabius Quintilianus
400-1400 Middle Ages
Earliest know portrat of St. Augustine of Hippo
Christianity grew in power during the middle ages. Rhetoric, considered a practice of the pagans, found itself frowned upon and, thus, condemned. Rather, the path to effective communication routed through Christian truth.
Rhetoric in the Middle Ages had one hero: St. Augustine. Augustine, a Christian convert, penned his own four-book work, De Doctrina Christiana (426AD), which the fourth book generated great debate among scholars to this day do the demonstrable connection to Cicero’s work on rhetoric.
Since Augustine’s work served to educate the clergy and provide a guide to preaching Christianity, one can only imagine spirited debate of using pagan rhetorical practices to instruct Christian Clergy. Augustine prevailed, however, and the church adopted Augustine’s work as the standard for preaching.
St. Augustine, a well-documented orator in his own right, is famous for his prayer, “Grant me chastity and continence, but not yet.” Due to pretty much this one man, rhetoric and public speaking moved hand in hand into the Renaissance, although, it seems mostly in the form of preaching.
As we all know, the Renaissance brought much change in the world. Humanism gained favor among scholars over religion and spiritualism. Rationalism emphasized science and logic. This made rhetoric a means to an end. Language became solely a way to communicate knowledge and truth as opposed to being a powerful force for life. Rene Descartes (left) had a major influence with places greater weight on science and logic over rhetoric. As a result, rhetoric evolved to playing a significant role in a variety of disciplines rather than being one on it’s own.
Public speaking waltzed its way on to the stage. Poets and writers of the likes of Shakespeare and others leveraged rhetoric and oratory pursuits to advance their art. This, also, signaled a major shift in rhetoric and public speaking not simply used for official or clerical purposes but for entertainment and leisure.
During this time period, announcing truly came to bear. Men making general announcements in markets can be traced back to the Roman Empire. The presence of the town crier became commonplace during the Renaissance period. Town criers, men and women alike, spread official announcements throughout cities and villages. Town criers began carrying bells as a way to get everyone’s attention. For this reason, they later became recognized as bellmen in addition to town criers. Observe the drawing below from Belgium, 1557. Notice the town crier, in this case, wielding a trumpet to alert people.
1600-1800 Modern World
At this stage of history, rhetoric, public speaking and performing arts had long established themselves as part of our western culture and society. The desire to be heard farther, wider and by more people at one time increased. Enter the world of the speaking trumpet.
A German Jesuit scholar, polymath, scientist and inventor, Asthanasius Kircher, wrote his two-volume collection on music theory and acoustics in 1650, Musurgia Universalis. Many consider this the first work on music theory ever penned. Volume two interests announcers and broadcasters the most because Kircher introduces us to the very first design of a speaking trumpet, better know as a megaphone.
The you have it, folks! The first known drawing of a speaking tube, predecessor to the megaphone.
A few pages later he followed it up with a more refined design:
Kircher took his designs even further by designing speaking statues designed for installation into buildings for, primarily, the purpose of listening. No shortage of paranoia exists in leadership to this day so, governments would have savored at the chance to eavesdrop on potential naysayers or opponents. These designs provided the first concept of bugging. In contrast, they could use these same speaking statue designs to broadcast announcements to an atrium filled with people.
From our perspective, the following drawing of speaking statues installed in an edifice give us all the very first glimpse of a public address system in spite of the eavesdropping dual functionality.
No doubt, Kircher ran way ahead of his time. The drawing at the very top of this section came from Kircher’s Phonurgia Nova, the first work completely dedicated to acoustics. Written in 1673.
For those interested, we uploaded both volumes of Musurgia Universalis and Phonurgia Nova for you to enjoy. We suggest everyone take a peek. The Latin might be daunting but, the illustrations will take your breath away.
In 1671, Sir Samuel Morland published at sixteen page treatise on his new invention, the speaking trumpet, entitled Tuba Stentoro-Phonica. Samuel, a notable academic, polymath and inventor in his own right, operated as, arguably, the first double agent in Englands Restoration effort to return Charles II to the throne. He gets credited with extremely early work on the internal combustion engine and computational devices.
Counter to his contemporary, Kicher, Morland’s speaking trumpet went into practice. On the pamphlet, it states Simon Beal manufactured and sold the devices. Morland intended his speaking trumpet for installation on ships and on land. Kircher, very upset with Morland’s claim to have invented the speaking trumpet, attempted to set the record straight in his discourse on his tuba stentorophonica. Kircher claimed to have used it for years to call his congregation to St. Eustace’s shrine at Mentorella.
At sea, he points out two ships could warn each other in a store or orders could be announced on a noisy ship during a storm. Proclaiming his trumpet to be heard from miles off, an admiral could give orders to an entire fleet in calm weather. He even wrote about messages being spoken in cypher if secrecy was required.
On land, a town could warn all of its citizens if there village came under siege or to let them know relief headed their way. Again with military value, a general could get orders to an entire army 50,000 or more. People in charge of works, orders could be spoken to the entire workforce at once. Also, he said authorities could warn citizens about criminals, numbers and direction. He states no drum, bell or trumpet could do as well. It appears Samuel was quite the salesman.
From Morland, speaking trumpets did make there way into general use on ships and in towns. Finally, the megaphone went from theory and design and into a manifested reality. Believe it or not, eight the original Morland speaking trumpets survived and repose on display. Below, the tuba stentorophonica or speaking trumpet hands on the wall of the Church of St. Andrew, Willoughton, Lincolnshire, England. Back in the day, they used it to call their parishioners.
For your interested, we upload a copy of Morland’s sixteen page pamphlet. The entire document, in original form, is entirely in old English and references Charles II as well as Simon Beal. To get it, click Tuba Stentoro-Phonica.
The 1800s experienced an increase in public athletics worldwide. Whereas boxing, cricket and football along with numerous forms of track and field competitions occurred dating back hundreds of years prior, clubs and societies emerged to formally organize athletics. The gatherings arranged for competition in various forms collected hundreds of competitors and thousands of spectators. The fascination brought on by spectator sports was on the rise.
Contrary to popular belief, the London Athletic Club might be the oldest surviving athletic club having been founded in 1863 as the Mincing Lane Athletic Club but, it was not the first. Numerous clubs popped up in all kinds of places, specifically, in the United Kingdom but, in Europe and the United States as well. The Highland W. F. Society held a gathering in Cromar, Scotland in 1851 (See Aberdeen Journal on left from September 10, 1851) and, there are many others. The Turnverein in Germany, which included over 300 groups and 30,000 members, went as far back 1818 focusing gymnastics and exercises. Turnverein, by the way, means “athletic club”. Horse-racing, concurrently, had become a worldwide craze.
The turning point in the United States happened between the 1850s and 1860s with the creation of base-ball, foot-ball and the New York Athletic Club. By 1860 alone, baseball exploded all the rage. Papers and journals already referred to it as the National Pastime…a league had not even been formed yet!
Athletic competitions of any kind were a hot ticket. Ice Skating, as an example, led to the construction of massive structures for skating leisure but, driven by competition. The Empire City Skating Rink in Manhattan got erected in 1868. Some of the amazing features included a rink with a capacity for 1,500 skaters and another 8,000 spectators as well as lighting by gas jets.
Empire City Skating Rink, circa 1868
The New York Athletic Club assembled for the first time a few months prior to the completion of the Empire City rink. They scheduled their first games, to be held in the evening under lighting, as part of the grand opening of the rink, one of the earliest known night athletic events. Of the highlights of the evening was a race on a funny looking contraption called a velocipede from France.
In all athletics events, officials posted results on boards and, to know the official results, spectators made their way to these crowded locations to see who won and lost. One can only imagine the melee to get to the boards of any event that might be close. If the result did not meet the expectation of the crowd, the chaos which could ensue will also be left to the readers imagination. However, the stage had been set with throngs of spectators constantly crowding bulletin boards at every athletic affair.
The age of electricity and industrialization had arrived. Railroads made the world smaller and, electricity manifested dreams. Thomas Edison (picture right in 1878) led the charge with his light bulb. For announcers and broadcasters, he titled an invention, megaphone, before anyone else back in 1878.
Edison designed the megaphone as a device to aid the deaf. Quoting from an article in the Pittsburgh Post in 1874, Edison said “I wanted some simple, convenient thing that deaf people could use in a theater, church or anywhere.” However, Edison did invent a machine constituting an early megaphone with an intent to amplify called the Aerophone depicted below. He originally intended to mount it on the Statue of Liberty and recite the Declaration of Independence to demonstrate that all of Manhattan could hear it clearly. Although this invention never came to bear, he and others continued to work on sound and acoustics, employing various combinations of materials, fluids and electricity. To read Edison’s entire patent, click HERE!
1884 Birth of Announcing
It all began as a bit of joke according to a April 9, 1911 New York Sun article. Quite a few people (thousands) attended the Spring Games of the Staten Island Athletic Club on May 17, 1884 at Bement Avenue in West New Brighton, New York. Most papers observed that ladies completely filled the grandstands and hundreds of spectators peered in from outside the fences. This period in American athletics history experienced acute growth in spectator events and this occasion measured par for the period.
Originally, officials posted all the results of competitions at athletic meetings on bulletin boards. People crowded around, pushing and shoving, to get to the results on the board. Tight races or jumps spurred larger crowds, collecting with urgency, resulting in melees around the boards. Unfortunate folks late to the boards fumed at the periphery of the crowd hoping to hear folks yelling the winners.
A 24-year-old track, lacrosse, baseball and football athlete attended on these games but, no evidence exists proving he competed at these particular games. Frederick William Burns (pictured above from a December 30, 1891 article in Vermont’s The Earth) belonged to the Williamsburgh Athletic Club and, a number of his club mates appeared earning places at the events. Therefore, Fred Burns likely competed at these particular games throughout the day.
At some point during the day, Fred stood reading the board hearing others, too far away to see for themselves, yelling for results. Fred, simply, used his stentorian voice and stared reading off the results to the crowd. According a news report, he received a wonderful ovation for having done this and, sports announcing came to life.
Birth of Announcing: May 17, 1884, anointing Frederick William Burns as the Father of Announcing.
An aside on lacrosse: Burns took up lacrosse in his early twenties having admired the American Father of Lacrosse, John R Flannery, play in New York as a boy. At 22, Burns, training for sprints, saw Flannery and confronted him about lacrosse. Flannery indicated he could use fast men and took Fred under his wing. Burns would become a lacrosse star along with Flannery, collecting many championships and getting named to America’s national team to play in England.
The article about announcing’s start indicated a joke. Allegedly already known for his voice among his fellow-athletes and friends implies his buddies likely egged or teased him on to begin reading off results. It would be of no surprise to anyone if the impetus behind pushing Fred to read unfolded from vexation stirred up by others’ yelling and complaining from further out in the crowd. In other words one can imaging a buddy of Fred’s saying, “Freddie, just read ’em off so everyone shuts up!” No documentation stipulates this making this conjecture complete speculation; however, it would certainly explain how it started as somewhat as a joke.
The first documented evidence of Fred Burns announcing in a more official capacity showed up in a piece in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle on June 11, 1886 in an article about the Brooklyn Athletic Association’s Midsummer Games. Quoting directly from the article, “F. W. Burns announced the results so distinctly that he received the grateful plaudits of the whole assemblage.” When the Brooklyn Athletic Club decided to create the first Official Announcer position in the club, his very close friend, Malcolm W. Ford, put Fred’s name forward for the assignment. Fred suffered from rheumatism and his athletics activities waned by the 1890s thus, focusing all his efforts on announcing. Below depicts the first documented copy (at least, no other has been uncovered through investigation) by Announcer Burns from the Brooklyn Citizen on January 24, 1889 prior to the Boxing Tourney at the Varuna Boat Club:
Notice some of the attendees at this particular boxing exhibition, including Jack Dempsey.
Along with Track and Field, Fred became a highly respected and first boxing, baseball, bicycle and auto race announcer. He announced boxing at Madison Square Garden, the first to do so. He and, another fellow ring announcer, Jack Adler ran around the Polo Grounds in New York announcing changes to the base-ball games marking, for lack of any other known evidence, May 28, 1894 as the beginning of baseball announcing (shown left from the Brooklyn Daily Eagle). Imagine Fred, in 1894, running around the Polo Grounds (below right) with his megaphone at the first Temple Cup where the New York Giants defeated the Baltimore Orioles, 4 games to 0.
Fred, an avid cyclist himself, introduced the sports world to the papier-mache megaphone at a cycling race in 1894. Regarded by numerous periodicals of the time as the first megaphone man, Fred loaned out his numerous megaphones to other announcers needing one for a meet. Why? Fred Burns’ announcing exploded at the same pace of sporting events in the 1890s. The biggest announcing names of the day included: Burns, Charley Harvey, Jack Adler, Pete Prunty, Champion Announcer of the World (as he advertised himself) Johnnie Dunne and a young ring announcer who would go on to announce in the ring for over 50 years and become a legend in his own right, Joseph Humphreys.
Fred dipped into some of the earliest known play-by-play. We will discuss this further down in Play by Play.
Fred’s career lasted more than 30 years and transitioned through a variety of athletics and announced the biggest names in sports. His events announced easily aggregated past 1,000 and likely closer to 2,000. In 1902, his daughter, Florence, was arrested for the Valentine’s Day murder of her boyfriend. A portrait of Fred’s very attractive 19-year-old daughter is shown on the right from the February 16, 1902 edition of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle. Although the courts ultimately acquitted her for murder, the very sensational trial forced Fred to severely cut back his public announcing as well as sell his beautiful home in an upscale neighborhood of Brooklyn to pay legal fees. This, by no means, stopped ol’ Fred.
Fred became a very well-known amateur golfer involved in rules as well as course design. He, also, was up for Boxing Commissioner in 1915 and spent years on the executive committee of the Good Roads Association for the improvement of roads in Brooklyn for cyclists. His committee’s efforts resulted in the first paved roads in Brooklyn. As the chairman of the track committee, he spearheaded the construction of Manhattan Beach Race Course where he would announce cycling races and famed wheelmen such as Jimmy Michel and Albert Mott. Fred served as an executive committee member for numerous athletics clubs during his life. One club, Nassau Athletic Club, he sat on the same committee with colleague Charles Ebbets, who would go on to be the owner of the Brooklyn Dodgers.
Of note: Anna, Fred’s only wife of 41 years, was a record-setting champion bowler in Brooklyn.
Like many announcers today, Fred held down a full-time job as a Customs House Broker on Wall Street. For his professional announcing efforts: Fred received $10 an event (approximately $300 in today’s money) back in the 1890s. He rode his bicycle to many of his gigs and became know as The Hermit Wheelmen since announced everyone’s races but belonged to know cycling club. Actually, Fred, also, became notorious with some police for escaping illegal boxing matches, which he was being paid to announce, by escaping out the back and quickly riding away on his bicycle.
Fred, born July 7, 1860 in Brooklyn, died June 21, 1923. His mother, Agnes Wemyss-Burns, died the year before him at the ripe old age of 92 as a sharp to the end, highly respected woman of Brooklyn. His father, Archimedes, was a plumber who died when he was nine. He had two daughters, Florence and Gladyss. Fred, now, spends his days and nights announcing in the Tulip Grove section of the Cemetery of the Evergreens in Brooklyn along with Bad Bill Dahlen (1905 World Series Champion) and over a half-million other permanent residents. One might wonder if Anna buried him with his megaphone. We kind of hope she did.
Frederick William Burns, largely forgotten, returns to life here so, he can receive the well-deserved recognition for his pivotal importance to the world of announcing and broadcasting. Without Fred, where might we all be today?
Signature from his 1906 Will and Testament
Actual Fred Burns Announcing Photos
Fred Burns announcing on June 30, 1899 as Charles “Mile-a-Minute” Murphy rode his bicycle behind a train for 1 mile in 57.8 seconds. Fred, a close friend and big supporter of Murphy’s, wrote to many railroads on his behalf until the Long Island Railroad agreed to allow his attempt. To learn more about Charles Murphy, click HERE! He even mentions Fred Burns in his story and lists him as, none other than, the announcer!!!
You can see Fred announcing at the Manhattan Beach Bicycle Racetrack. As Chairman of the Track and Race Committee of the Nassau Athletic Club way back in 1895, this is the track he and his colleagues built in the late 19th Century. His team, also, determined the events for race days.
1895 Birth of Play by Play
Unlike today, people not only had no television and internet but, trains represented the only reasonable means of transportation to get between cities. Due the time and expense, most folks waited for their results in the evening editions or the next mornings’ papers.
Credit the Boston Globe’s unnamed competitor, likely the Boston Journal which sat on Washington Street as well. They procured themselves a megaphone to announce the big college football game between Harvard and Penn on Saturday, November 23, 1895. Check out the newspaper game chart on the right. Observations of this caused a chase for a megaphone on the part the globe.
The Globe, being very clever, received updates on the game by telegraph. They provided to both the folks managing their bulletin board out front and their new man with a megaphone who proceeded to announce the action as it happened. Now, posting current updates via telegraph to bulletin boards had be come recent practice across the country. The new part was plopping a man with a megaphone out front who spewed the utter details to the crowd. They loved it! Megaphone men standing in front of newspaper bulletin boards or on stages in theaters calling the up to the moment action for football, baseball and boxing spread like wildfire.
Picture yourself a Bostonian in front of the football board on the left following along with the megaphone man in front of the old Globe building on Washington Street. Thousands upon thousands flooded the streets for a big game, just like the one in 1895. Until radio came along in the 1920s, onlookers and fans flocked to locations such as these to spend 2 and 3 hours “watching” the game getting played so far away!
Even Fred Burns got in on the action in 1897 at the Lenox Lyceum Theatre in New York. Promoters arranged for Fred to stand on stage and read out all the action between rounds for the Corbett-Fitzsimmons fight in New Orleans. The fight took place on March 17, 1897 with Jim Corbett losing his heavyweight title to Ruby Robert Fitzsimmons by knockout in 14 rounds. Promoters of the fight filmed the fight. They showed the film at theaters all over the country. For 1897, it had been the longest feature film ever made. Below, we provided a clip of the film from the Library of Congress. As you watch, think about Fred Burns back in New York providing the blow-by-blow to the crowd as the operator provided him the data off the telegraph.
1913 Public Address Systems
Baseball parks took center stage with announcing reform. In the early days of announcing baseball, 99 games out of 100 required the umpire to announce changes. The procedure went something like this:
- Managers delivered changes to the umpire at home plate.
- The umpire documented the change.
- The umpire turned to the crowd and announced the change…no megaphone.
- Game play continued afterward.
With thousands of folks on hand, how many heard the announcements? Yes, consternation among spectators ensued. Players did not wear numbers back then. Plus, most spectators did not know players by face. Even the press pool at the telegraph machines struggled. The megaphone men (when used) certainly helped but, crowd size, especially in contentious games, drowned out even the megaphone man.
Charles Ebbets raised $500,000 to build Ebbets field for his Brooklyn Club on Bedford Avenue in 1912. He proclaimed his facility to have advancement placing his ball park far in advance of any place in the world. One innovation was the patent telephone-wire-based battery announcer. Remember, battery means pitcher-catcher. When a spectator arrived to the ballpark and entered, clerks hand each person a lineup card and pencil so they could follow the game. At the beginning of an affair, the announcer/umpire would announce the battery and any lineup changes. From this, the only announcements came because of a change to the order during the game. Otherwise, a fan followed along with his card.
Ebbets ball park did open in 1913. No mention in any of the papers of using the battery announcer for announcing. The papers did note the pleasure of the fans at the opera music playing through the speakers.
Concurrently way off in Chicago, the Automatic Enunciator Company had patented their new system for amplifying sound. They sold a system to Charles Comiskey, owner of the White Sox, where by over 60 speakers would be installed throughout the ball park. Additionally, he purchased a device know as Musalophone for broadcasting sound outside of the park and into the streets. Like Ebbets, Comiskey opened the season playing music through the system to the delight of his patrons. In the 1914 Chicago White Sox team photo to the right, you can distinctly see 2 pairs of speakers attached to the 2 supports in the background. This is the earliest known photo of an early public address system in a ballpark.
The banner day for public address systems occurred on July 9, 1913. The corroborating article on the left came from the July 10, 1913 edition of the Chicago Inter-Ocean newspaper. The White Sox took on the New York Yankees that day. The first thing announced was the batteries and umpires. For New York, Russ Ford pitched with Joe Smith behind the plate. On the White Sox side, Jim Scott stood on the hill with Ray Schalk catching. The umpires working the game were Billy “The Boy Umpire” Evans and John F. Sheridan. These were the first names ever announced out a stadium system ever. By the way, Jim Scott shut out the Yanks, 2-0. Announcers using public address systems officially arrived.
Of a peculiar note, most places continued to leverage megaphone men until the 1930s despite the innovation likely due to expense. Baseball clubs of the past were certainly not the multi-billion dollar enterprises of today. In fact, many operated on only part of a shoestring.
Seven years later, Bell Telephone developed a system known as a Public Address System. They installed it, unrelated to Comiskey, in Chicago for the Republic National Convention in 1920. Below, we’ve provided an actual drawing of the system implemented as taken from June 6, 1920 edition of the Cincinnati Enquirer . It was a huge success and would serve as the foundation for things to come. Simply, the world never looked back.
Harry with son, Edwin, circa 1920
Courtesy of the Safir family
Harry A. Safir was a Romanian immigrant, caterer and a milkman. He served as a caterer at the Polo Grounds, specifically, for the press corp and others. Harry’ announcing for the New York Giants goes all the way back to 1903. When the Highlanders (Yankees) shared the Polo Grounds a few years later, he did the announcing for them as well.
Lastly, Harry was the very first announcer at the brand new Ebbets field, opened 1913, which had the innovative patent telephone-wire battery announcer system; however, documentation suggests Harry continued using his megaphone and they only played music through the system early on. No evidence has been uncovered indicating the us of an electric system at Ebbets until they installed a public address system in the thirties which Babe Hamburger used.
E. Lawrence Phillips
1911 World Series, October 14 at the Polo Grounds between the Philadelphia Athletics and NY Giants (Oct 21, 1911 NY Times)
For you true baseball buffs, these are very famous men. Bill Dineen, Bill Klem, Bill Brennan and Tom Connolly.
Please, meet E. Lawrence Phillips: actor, impresario and announcer for the Washington Senators. He began announcing, in general, back in 1903 with boxing but, evidence exists of him announcing baseball in 1905. The story is, upon hearing the voice of Phillips at one 1910 Senators game, Ban Johnson (American League president) was so impressed he decreed announcers would be required for all teams starting in the 1911 season and created eleven jobs in support. The National League, immediately, followed in suit with eight of their own; hence, the baseball public address announcer was officially adopted. Phillips, Johnson’s man, is your first ever World Series announcer 1911 which Connie Mack’s Athletics won over the New York Giants in six.
A fun fact about E. Lawrence Phillips: he had only one arm, his right.
Prior to Phillips and others, announcing at baseball, for the most part, got handled by the umpires. Bill Klem, umpire, was known for good speaking voice. Announcing at baseball was done sporadically by megaphone men such as Fred Burns, Jack Adler, Harry Safir and others; however, not on a consistent basis.
Ok. Check this out! Managers would deliver batteries and changes to the umpire. Once the umpire accepted the changes, he would turn to the crowd and yell out the updates with no megaphone. To give some perspective, thousands attended ballgames. How many, can you possibly imagine, actually heard the changes? Yes. ‘Twas a well-recognized problem both leagues addressed, ultimately, with megaphone men.
An additional tidbit, play did not stop in the early days when an umpire turned his back to accept and announce changes. Reader, you certainly can visualize bases stolen and runs scored along with the subsequent fights that ensued with play occurring without an umpire watching. To complicate things, many carried guns right on in to the ballpark. Oh, yes.
One particular game between the New York Giants and Philadelphia Phillies on April 25, 1913, the umpire called the run back which caused that contest to ultimately end in a tie. Well-known umpire, Bill Klem, turned his back on the game to announce to 10,000 people that Harold McCormick would be pinch hitting for the Giants. Grover Alexander, impatient, tossed his pitch which McCormick struck to the outfield, scoring the winning run. Klem said, “Positively, no.” The play got called back and the game finished in a tie.
Although a rule existed in 1913 stipulating play suspend until the umpire announces the change, Klem, for whatever reason, allowed McCormick in the box then turned around to the fans. Many spirited discussions ensued at the Polo Grounds as the Giants would have won. After this, calls for official field announcers sprouted up everywhere because umpires had enough to do without announcing.
Very Rare Footage
To the left, enjoy 1919 World Series footage of E. Lawrence Phillips with his megaphone. Included in the clip is a photo at the 1911 World Series and a 1924 Autograph from a Washington Senators album. Remember, he had no left arm!
Joe Humphreys, without argument, was the most famous ring announcer of his day. Succeeding Fred Burns in notability, Joe’s career as a boxing announcer and master of ceremonies lasted over 50 years. He said in an interview in 1936 that he won out over other announcers early in his career because, simply, he was the loudest. Joe was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1997.
Young Joe Humphreys pictured in the late 19th century.
Joe Humphries w the McGovern brothers and Sam Harris, April 8, 1903, NY World
Wilfred “Wolfie” Jacobs. As a young man at the turn of the 20th century, he was a popular newsboy oarsman delivering papers to the ships on the water in Boston. He rowed a 36 mile route each day. In 1915, he became the first announcer for the Boston Red Sox. Wolfie goes down in history as the first to announce a rookie pitcher by the name of Babe Ruth. Holy smoke!
Wolfie, very patriotic, famously dropped his announcing gig for a time to join up with the Navy to help with World War I in 1918. Apparently, he set up a recruiting office at Fenway Park and used his megaphone to announce for men to come sign-up. Overall, Wolfie worked for the Red Sox for more than 50 years. A year after he retired in 1962, he died.
Trust us when we say no love existed between the Chicago ball clubs. Comiskey owned the White Sox and Lasker owned the Cubs back in 1917. As was typical in the early days, city teams that did not make the world series played a city series. In Chicago, these city series got played with utter ferocity. You were either a Chicago American fan or a Chicago National fan. ’tis all true! When the Sox downed the Giants in the ’17 World Series, did Pat Pieper, the Cubs announcer, bet on the Giants? Nope. Alas, the wheelbarrow ride above.
Have a listen to Pat!
1938 World Series Games 2 – New York Yankees at Chicago Cubs
…with just a touch of Bugs Bunny at the end…
Pat for the Admiral
The Chicago Examiner – August 11, 1917
To the right, a photo of Weegham Park in Chicago from 1914 depicts Admiral Kingston walking near his megaphone.
Pat went on the announce for the Cubs for 58 years, dying still in the job at 88 years old. The clip to the left from the Wheeling Illinois Herald on August 2, 1974 shows Pat looking good with his microphone holding the program.
We do know per the above piece from 1917 that Pat usurped the ol’ Admiral in 1917 and not 1916. In spite of this, Pat worked for the Cubs starting in 1904 as a food vendor. No doubt, Pat trounced up and down the stands with peanuts and hot dogs during that first Cubs 1907 World Series Championship! …of course, he was also climbing the stands the year before when they lost to the dreaded White Sox!
Much like Vin Scully, Pat saw just about everything!
John “Tex” Rickards became the announcer for Ebbets field in 1924. Known for his local accent and colloquial style, he appealed to Brooklyn fans for 34 years and announced the Dodgers games until Walter O’Malley moved the club to Los Angeles in 1957 and replaced him with the great John Ramsey.
To some extent, his notoriety arose more out of his faux pas’ on the microphone. One time, the umpire wanted Jack to tell the folks in the out field they could not hang their jackets over the railing. Tex hopped on the mic and said, “Will the people sitting behind the rail left field please remove your clothes.“
Tex on Bob Sheppard
The article on the left is from the June 19, 1957 edition of the St. Louis Sporting News. One can easily see ol’ Tex had plenty of money and was a serious fisherman. Apparently, he stopped attending school in the 8th grade.
A bit further down speaks a bit on the order of sibling rivalry. He took much umbrage when a smarty-pants fan approached him about his grammatical errors and funny way of talking. You can see for yourself how well he took it when Bob Sheppard was thrown in his face.
Tex's sweaters recently sold at auction for over $1,000 a piece!
What’s a public address announcers history page without the mention of Bob Sheppard? What most do not know was that Bob was one heck of an athlete. He played quarterback at St. John’s College from 1929 through 1931 succeeding his brother Jack. Unlike his brother Jack, Bob led the Red Men to two consecutive Metropolitan Championships, the second of which led to a spectacular, shocking defeat of DePaul in Chicago, 4-0. That’s right! You saw it 4-0. They won on two safeties!!!
Although they succumbed to their archenemies, Manhattan, in the “Little Three” championship in December of 1931, Bob solidified himself in the history books as one of the great quarterbacks in St. John’s history. To top it off, he played first base for them as well. If he is not in their Hall of Fame, he should be. On the left, he’s taken off with the ball against Vermont at Dexter Park in Brooklyn in a relentless 38-7 thrashing. The 38 points was the most scored by St. John’s football in 4 years!!! Bob scored a touchdown and threw another for 30 yards to Neary! What a game! What a player! He even went on to play pro football for a time as well as be a teacher, the job he considered the most paramount, for about 30 years. What was one of the things he taught? Public Speaking.
October 4, 1931 Brooklyn Times Union
1933 Bob (left) with Jack and Mom, Eileen
An all-around announcer, every announcing job he held went for seemingly half-centuries only. St. Johns, 50+! New York Giants, 50+! New York Yankees, nearly 60!!! He only retired in his late nineties because of health issues. In his own words, he didn’t have “my best stuff” anymore. Not for that, ol’ Bob would be in the box now!
He announced, veritably, every imaginable sport. Bob had both a World Series and Super Bowl rings…one of two people in the world…the other? Bill King of Oakland.
Its easy to imagine young Bob headed to Ebbets field or the Polo Grounds to hear the likes of Tex Rickards, Harry Safir or E. Lawrence Phillips on the megaphones. Who knows who might have inspired him? For certain, he became one heck of a hard-working public address announcer.
The one thing every announcer does well to take note about Bob, he worked diligently hard to getting all the name pronunciations as perfect as they could be. He was passionate about it. Due to his effort, character and consistency, Bob Sheppard reigns as one of the move venerated announcers of all time.
June 25, 1982, Salinas Journal, Kansas
Hear for Yourself
1952 World Series – Yankees at Dodgers, Ebbets Field, Brooklyn
Of course, you must listen close in between broadcasters Mel Allen and Red Barber but, hear Tex make samples of the following:
- National Anthem w Marine Corps and Gladys Gooding
- Batting order for both ball clubs
- The Umpires
- Gil MacDougald, Mickey Mantle, Pee Wee Reese, Duke Snider, Jackie Robinson, Larry Berra, Billy Martin
- Bringing in Preacher Roe to pitch
- Pinch Hitter, Hank Bauer
- Pinch Hitter, Ralph Houk
- Joe Collins to First Base
- Bob Kuzava to pitch
1955 World Series – Dodgers at Yankees, Yankees Stadium, Bronx
This is from the radio broadcast so, harder to hear between Al Helfer and Bob Neal
- National Anthem w Marine Corps and Lucy Monroe
- Issuing a warning to fans then saying, “Thank you.”
- Carl Furillo to the plate
- Don Zimmer to the plate
- Bob Grim to pitch
- Sandy Amrose to Left Field
- Bob Turley to pitch
A Bit 'o Bob Bio for an Early Gig!
c.1931 First Woman
Belle W. Martell
Born November 16, 1894, Belle W. Martell began her career as a vaudeville performer with her husband, former Australian lightweight champion, Art Martell between 1905 and 1928. She, a contortionist, and her husband, a juggler, performed steadily until the collapse of vaudeville. With the film industry, essentially, destroying the vaudeville business, they opened a boxing gym in Van Nuys in 1928.
During these early days, she demonstrated a great astuteness of boxing such that her husband made Belle the primary instructor of the beginning boxers. In 1930, the Martells started managing Jim Jeffries’ (former World Heavyweight Champion) well-known Red Dairy Barn in Burbank, California . Here, a 1954 Los Angeles Times interview, Belle fell into the announcing role, “because no one else seemed to have the necessary stage sense and timing to introduce fighters and ringside celebrities…” Leveraging all that vaudeville performing experience, by 1939, her name was listed regularly as a ring announcer along with all of her other boxing activities.
She went on to be a promoter with her husband as well as the first licensed boxing referee in April of 1940; however, the boxing commission, sadly, took a sour view of women in the ring and quickly made a rule that women could not be referees and rescinded her license. Irrespective, she did ref a number of bouts. At 5’10”, very attractive and a trim figure, she stood formidable in the gym as well as the ring.
She and her husband remained involved in boxing well into the 1950s. They, also, created the the Benevolent Thespian Society to keep those performing flames alive. In her later years, Belle found herself confined to a wheelchair. Belle died in California on January 1, 1972 at the age of 77. She was inducted into the California Boxing Hall of Fame in 2006 and, subsequently, the International Women’s Boxing Hall of Fame in 2018.
Fun Fact: James Jeffries’ Red Dairy Barn was moved to Knott’s Berry Farm in 1954 where it remains as the Wilderness Dance Hall.
Joy Hawkins (1st Baseball)
When Charles Brotman, announcer for the Senators and 11 presidential inaugurations, took time off for the Rosh Hashanah/Yom Kippur holidays, an opportunity opened up for Burt Hawkin’s daughter. It was Yom Kippur on Friday, September 23, 1966. The White Sox came to town for a 4 game series with the Sentaors at D.C. Stadium.
Mrs. Joy Hawkins McCabe was a speech and drama graduate of Northwestern University. Apparently when she began reciting the starting lineups, the umpires did a double-take hearing a woman reading them off. According to the story on the St. Louis Sporting News, she managed her responsibilities like a veteran. Charlie Brotman must have been proud as well as here father Burt. The Senators won the ballgame, 5-4. Of note, the starting pitcher for the White Sox on this occasion was none other than Tommy John. Sadly, this would be her only announced game.
From this Joy went on to act on the New York show, Llya Darling, as well as model for Camay Soap.
A bit on Charles Brotman, Charlie announced every inauguration from Eisenhower to Obama. You can learn about the sad ending to his 60+ year presidential string on the right in an interview by the Washington Post. He, also, announced for the Washington Senators for many years.