Inaugural Notebook: 85-Year-Old Charlie Brotman, Official Parade Announcer Since Eisenhower

A week from now Barack Obama will place his hand on a Bible once owned by Martin Luther King, Jr. and take the oath of office to begin his second term.

It’s a reminder of just how much has changed since we were here four years ago on the edge of a new era, one in which President-elect Obama promised to bridge partisan divides. Now, the mantra of Hope and Change has been replaced with more sober expectations.

Longtime Inaugural Parade Announcer Charlie Brotman (Scott Shafer/KQED)
Washington is still a town of tradition, and early Sunday morning, thousands of police, soldiers, Marines and others turned out to rehearse one: the Inaugural Parade. ¬†There were contingents of soldiers with bayoneted rifles; marching bands with tubas, bugles and drums; and mounted police — all following a faux entourage simulating the First Family, making their way down Pennsylvania Avenue to the White House.

Also in the media reviewing stand: 85-year-old Charlie Brotman. He’s been the official announcer for every presidential inaugural parade since 1957, when Dwight Eisenhower and Richard Nixon started their second term. Charlie said getting the gig was kind of a fluke — the White House called out of the blue shortly after he’d introduced the president at a Washington Senators baseball game. He was just a young broadcaster at the time, and he says Eisenhower must have liked how he sounded. He’s been doing it ever since and clearly relishes it.

“I’m the president’s eyes and ears at the parade,” he said. “He’s just looking straight ahead from the ground level reviewing stand but I can see what’s coming because I’m a couple of stories up.”

“The fun of it all,” Brotman says, “is that when I say ‘the U.S. Army Band’ he knows when to stand, when to salute, or put his hand over his heart.”

“I’m just an ordinary guy doing an extraordinary announcing chore,” Brotman says, “and my adrenalin is sky high.”

Author

Scott Shafer

Scott migrated to KQED in 1998 after extended stints in politics and government. Now he covers those things and more as host of the California Report and Senior Correspondent for KQED Newsroom. When he's not asking questions you'll often find him in a pool playing water polo. Find him on Twitter @scottshafer

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