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All the presidents' man

iconCharlie Brotman has seen them all -- at least for the past 44 years. The good moments and the other kind in the inaugural parades for 10 presidents. In case you've forgotten some high points, we have a gallery for you. Just click here ... before the parade passes by.  

Charlie Brotman:
Inaugural announcer

In this story:

Boxers, ballplayers, presidents

Good credentials

Parade of presidents


(CNN) -- When George W. Bush watches the big parade on Saturday following his inauguration as the United States' 43rd president, Charlie Brotman is set to have the best seat in the house. As usual.

Brotman has become as much a fixture in Washington on inauguration day as chauffeured limousines and bitterly cold weather. For the past 44 years, he has been the inaugural parade announcer, introducing the new president to tens of thousands of spectators, and describing the parade itself. The job carries the unofficial but regal title of "The President's Announcer."

graphic Charlie Brotman has announced inaugural parades all the way back to Dwight Eisenhower. Whose is the first inauguration you can recall?

Franklin Roosevelt
Harry Truman
Dwight Eisenhower
John Kennedy
Lyndon Johnson
Richard Nixon
Gerald Ford (had no inauguration)
Jimmy Carter
Ronald Reagan
George Bush
Bill Clinton
View Results


That job has made him a witness to history, to the dawning of each new presidential era. And it's made him a spectator at such little-known events as the Mormon Tabernacle Choir's performance in the dark, marching band members' lips freezing to their instruments and a moment when Richard Nixon inadvertently came close to triggering a mob scene.

For this District of Columbia native -- he lived as a child with his parents and his sister behind the family's corner grocery store -- his inauguration career is still a thrill.

"For me, to have this opportunity to introduce presidents of the United States -- I'm overwhelmed," says Brotman, who recently turned 73.

Come Saturday, Brotman is scheduled to be atop his usual frigid perch on the roof of a five-story temporary structure for news media. The only people allowed on the roof besides Brotman are Secret Service agents. It may be lonely at the top, but what a view.

Up and down Pennsylvania Avenue, Brotman should be able to see huge throngs of spectators. In the distance, he'll look at one of America's most enduring symbols -- the White House. And within shouting range across the street he'll gaze upon the presidential reviewing stand, containing various dignitaries including, of course, George W. Bush.

"I'm looking right down at the president, and if he lifts his head up he's looking straight at me," Brotman says.

That's the way it's been on January 20 every four years dating back to Dwight Eisenhower's second inauguration in 1957. Bush is to be the ninth president for whom Brotman has served as inauguration emcee. A 10th president, Gerald Ford, succeeded Richard Nixon after he resigned and was defeated by Jimmy Carter when he ran for the office, so Ford had no inauguration festivities.

Brotman essentially serves as eyes for the presidents, not to mention the thousands of spectators hearing his words on speakers along the parade route. The parade has several announcers along its route, but only one stationed at the presidential reviewing stand.

"The president's vantage point is ground level," Brotman explains. "Mine is very high. I can see what's coming. He can't. When I announce that the Marine Corps is coming, or this college that he went to is coming, he knows when to stand, when to sit, when to take off his hat, when to salute, when to applaud."


Boxers, ballplayers, presidents

It was serendipity that landed Brotman his first presidential parade gig. He was doing promotions and public relations for the Washington Senators baseball team (now the Minnesota Twins) at the time. Brotman was also the stadium public address announcer when the team played home games.

It was a tradition for the president of the United States to throw out the first pitch on opening day of the baseball season in Washington. So before Eisenhower did so in April 1956, Brotman introduced him to the crowd.

With Muhammad Ali  

In the fall of that year, Eisenhower was re-elected. In December, a woman from the inaugural committee phoned Brotman and asked if he was the same guy who had introduced the president on opening day. He said yes, and the woman said he must have made a good impression, because she was offering him the job of announcing the inaugural parade the following month.

Brotman accepted and has called every parade since. A notable aspect of this is that every four years there's a new inaugural committee whose members don't know Brotman. But the job of being "The President's Announcer" has evaded party politics and patronage.

"It has nothing to do with Republican or Democrat, who I am or what I am," Brotman says. "It's just that I'm the guy that's been doing it these many years and they've never done it before."

So every four years, Brotman gets a call from somebody new asking if he'd like to announce another inaugural parade.

It's not as if this is a lucrative deal. "I've never gotten a penny," Brotman says.

Not that he minds. As chairman of the board and chief executive officer of Brotman-Winter-Fried Communications Inc., Brotman has had a successful public-relations career with accounts that have included Foot Locker, Starbucks Coffee, Philip Morris and Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus.

"The starting time of the parade is actually determined by the length of time of the traditional brunch. Some presidents take a little longer than others. As you can imagine, it's a little difficult to push or hurry the president. 'Hey, hustle it up there, Prez, we've got people waiting.'"

And Brotman isn't likely to be awed by the chance to rub shoulders with celebrities. His PR firm has represented all of the major professional sports franchises in the Washington area, and the career of former boxing champion Sugar Ray Leonard.

What's more, Brotman starts work before the parade begins and doesn't leave until well after it's over. There's no time to hobnob. In fact, he says, the presidents he has met have been in touch through his PR job, not his inaugural responsibilities.


Good credentials

Brotman says he loves announcing the inaugural parades, but it's not the sort of job in which you just show up and wing it. For one thing, he never knows exactly when it's going to start. That's because the inaugural parade is actually the second parade of the day.

What happens is that after the president takes the oath of office and addresses the nation -- Bush is scheduled to do so at noon -- he, his cabinet and others in his inner circle attend a brunch. How long that lasts varies with each president.

Charlie Brotman with the guy who reviewed the last inaugural parade  

"The starting time of the parade is actually determined by the length of time of the traditional brunch," Brotman says. "Some presidents take a little longer than others. As you can imagine, it's a little difficult to push or hurry the president. 'Hey, hustle it up there, Prez, we've got people waiting,'" he says, chuckling.

When the brunch is finished, the president and his guests are taken by motorcade to the presidential reviewing stand. It's then that Brotman introduces the new American leader to the crowd, and the parade begins.

Before that happens, however, Brotman has spent a good deal of time reviewing the names of parade participants and researching bits of information to share with spectators. "I want to be sure I pronounce everybody's name correctly," he says. "I do my research. I ask a lot of questions.

"We all have moments when we forget. When you're on the microphone, you can't forget. And you don't want to inadvertently say something that you didn't want to say because you can't reach out and bring it back."

One of Brotman's most embarrassing moments came during one of his earlier inaugurations when he agreed to let a broadcasting intern help him with parade coverage. Brotman decided to take a quick bathroom break and let the young man announce the next three units in the parade while he did so.

"Now I've got my back to him. I'm starting to walk out. Then I hear, 'Now ladies and gentlemen, introducing the United States Marine Corpse band.' I decided I wouldn't even go to the restroom," Brotman says, chortling at the memory. "I came right back."

Four years ago, Charlie Brotman got spectators on each side of Pennsylvania Avenue competing against each other in doing the wave. "It was so much fun that even the guests in the presidential reviewing stand participated."

Part of Brotman's parade preparation is researching what he hopes is entertaining material to use during lulls or in the event the parade starts late.

"If they're late and the people are waiting, I feel an obligation to keep them entertained somehow," Brotman says. "I'm not trying to be Bob Hope. But I do feel that if I can keep their minds occupied and keep them somewhat entertained, they'll enjoy themselves more. I'm real serious about spectators having fun. I just feel badly if they come there and leave disappointed."

During George Bush's inaugural parade, Brotman encouraged spectators to compete with each other as he rattled off presidential trivia questions. "Now I can see people talking to each other, shouting -- now they're into it," he says, relishing the memory.

Four years ago, he got spectators on each side of Pennsylvania Avenue competing against each other in doing the wave. "It was so much fun that even the guests in the presidential reviewing stand participated," he says.


Parade of presidents

"The inaugural parade is like an extension of the president's personality," Brotman says. "Dwight Eisenhower, for example. A conservative guy. A military man. Short and simple was what his inauguration parade was all about."

Maybe not short enough. "Eisenhower actually caught a cold watching the parade," Brotman says. Still, he fared better than William Henry Harrison who in 1841 delivered a 105-minute inaugural speech while wearing no hat on a cold day after being sworn in as president, contracted pneumonia and died a month later.

Here are some of Brotman's memories of other inaugural parades:

•   John F. Kennedy. "Just the opposite of Eisenhower. Here was a man with personality. The parade showed it. In contrast to the conservative approach Eisenhower had, with Kennedy it was top hats and high fashion. This was an interesting time because this was a year when power was passing to younger hands."



In 44 years, Charlie Brotman has heard a lot of "Hail to the Chief" and seen a lot of color guards. Click here for a few sights from past inaugurations in which he has served as "The President's Announcer."


All inaugurations have had cold weather, but Kennedy's might have been the worst, Brotman says. A snowstorm blanketed the capital the night before the inauguration, so the government had to mobilize hundreds of trucks and snow plows to clear the streets of snow. The weather during the parade was so cold that Jacqueline Kennedy left after about an hour, but the president and his brother and attorney general, Robert, stayed for the duration of the four-hour event, Brotman says.

•   Lyndon Johnson. Because Kennedy was assassinated, "security was incredible" at Johnson's inauguration, Brotman recalls. "The Secret Service gave me special telephone numbers to call if I saw anything suspicious." During the parade, Johnson walked over to greet the marching band from his college alma mater. "I could feel the tension," Brotman says.

•   Richard Nixon. At the close of one of Nixon's two inaugural parades, the president left the reviewing stand, walked into the middle of Pennsylvania Avenue and began shaking hands with people, Brotman says.

"From my perspective atop the roof, I could see everybody leaving for public transportation or their cars. But when Nixon came down, word got around -- 'hey, the president is signing autographs. Let's go back and get his autograph.' Now, I can see this happening. I can see them stopping -- and coming back. I could envision the president being crushed."

So without being asked, Brotman announced the parade was indeed over and spectators shouldn't return due to security concerns. "I saw them stop. I saw them kind of talking -- 'Aw, let's go.' They turned around again and left."

•   Jimmy Carter. As usual, it was brutally cold, but the new president, his wife Rosalyn and daughter Amy took an unannounced walk from Capitol Hill to the White House. "One of the things I remember," Brotman says, "is many of the marching band members' lips froze to their instrument mouthpieces. First aid was busy."

On John Kennedy: "Here was a man with personality. The parade showed it. In contrast to the conservative approach Eisenhower had, with Kennedy it was top hats and high fashion. This was an interesting time because this was a year when power was passing to younger hands."

•   Ronald Reagan. "He was more in tune with the Kennedy personality," Brotman says. "It was a movie star haven in Washington. All of his pals came." At Reagan's first inaugural, one of the featured performing groups in the parade was the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.

One problem: The parade ran so long that the choir finished up at the reviewing stand in the dark, Brotman says. "They don't have a lot of floodlights because this is a daytime parade. I'm trying to announce who's coming and I couldn't see anything. It was embarrassing."

•   Bill Clinton. When the University of Arkansas marching band approached at the president's first inauguration, Brotman quipped that the group had an extra saxophone in case the president wanted to join them. "He looked up with a big smile, a wave and shook his head as if to say, 'Not this time, I'll pass.' But he did respond. It was kind of fun."

Because it took five weeks beyond November's election to learn who would be the next president, George W. Bush's inaugural committee has had less time than its predecessors to plan this week's parade.

"I think it's going to be good, but I don't know if the committee has had enough time to make it spectacular," Brotman says.

"We're talking about thousands of people who are participating in this thing. Everyone's working overtime to make this baby happen -- and not only happen, but be the best we ever had."




AllPolitics' in-depth coverage: The Inauguration of the 43rd President
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January 12, 2001
Ceremony to unveil FDR statue -- wheelchair and all
January 10, 2001
Inaugural committee raises $20 million
January 10, 2001
Career moves: Congressional staff attorney
January 9, 2001
When employers play politics
January 9, 2001
Drawn-out election triggers fashion dilemma
January 8, 2001
Laura Bush to don red gown for inaugural balls
January 5, 2001
Presidential Inaugural Committee announces event's theme, schedule
January 2, 2001

Brotman-Winter-Fried Communications's inaugural coverage for students
National Archives and Records Administration
Presidential Inaugural Committee 2001

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