You can forgive Charlie Brotman for not remembering much about the first inaugural parade he worked as an announcer. It was 64 years ago.
Brotman was studying at the National Academy of Broadcasting in Washington, D.C., when President Truman’s aides came looking for free labor to help with the 1949 parade.
Brotman, now 85, has been the official announcer for every inaugural parade but one since then. He didn’t man the microphone for President Dwight Eisenhower’s first parade in 1953, but ironically, it was Eisenhower who probably made him the go-to voice from then on.
Here’s how it happened. In 1956, Brotman, who as a child lived with his parents and sister behind the family’s corner grocery store in the nation’s capital, landed a dream job as the stadium announcer for Washington’s baseball team, the Senators. When President Eisenhower came to throw the first pitch on opening day, it was Brotman who squired him around and introduced him to the team. Eisenhower liked him so much that the White House asked Brotman to announce the president’s second inaugural parade, in 1957.
He’s been doing it ever since, describing the parade entries from a perch above Lafayette Park and challenging the crowd with his own presidential trivia contests. “I never think of it as ‘been there, done that,’ ” he says. “I feel like I’ve invited these people over to my house, and I’m hoping they have a good time.”
Here are five of Brotman’s top memories as the “President’s Announcer”:
- For John F. Kennedy’s inaugural parade in 1961, Brotman spent nine hours on a rooftop announcer’s perch in temperatures that hovered at 10 degrees below freezing.
- Thousands of antiwar protesters staged a “Counter-Inaugural March on Washington” in 1969 to protest Richard Nixon’s inauguration and the Vietnam War. It was the first inauguration with a huge law enforcement presence, Brotman recalls.
- The weather was so dangerously cold for Ronald Reagan’s second inauguration in 1985 that the inaugural parade everyone had planned for was canceled. But at Reagan’s request, an indoor event (with Brotman announcing) was hurriedly organized at the Washington Capital Centre, an indoor sports and convention arena, so that school groups and other would-be parade participants could still gather with the president.
- President George W. Bush’s team had so little time to plan his 2001 inaugural after the drawn-out recount in the presidential election that Brotman never saw a script until he readied himself at the microphone.
- In 2005, at Bush’s second inaugural parade, Brotman used his microphone to prod the president into agreeing to throw out the first pitch when baseball returned to Washington that summer. A few minutes later, Secret Service agents suddenly appeared in his booth to warn him never, ever to publicly ask the president a direct question again.
Oh, and one another thing: He’s still not being paid.
Photo: Courtesy of Charlie Brotman