Among the many factors of the Inaugural Parade that never repeat themselves more than once or twice — the crowd, the atmosphere, the president — there is a voice that has remained much the same for 15 consecutive inaugurations.
While it now belongs to a slightly older man than it did when it first appeared in 1957, its source was once again found high above the crowds on Pennsylvania Avenue on Monday.
Yet Charlie Brotman is of course more than a voice. He has served as the main announcer of the Inaugural Parade since Dwight D. Eisenhower’s second term began.
And he delivered once again for Obama’s second inauguration, with the same enthusiasm and self-described “folksy” announcing style he started with decades ago.
“It’s never, with me, ho hum, done that, been there, like, what’s the big deal?” said Brotman, 85, of Takoma Park. “To me, it’s like the first time.”
Brotman — who has held a lifelong passion for sports announcing and was once the stadium announcer for the Washington Senators baseball team — landed on Eisenhower’s radar after Brotman met and introduced the president when he threw the first pitch out in a 1956 game.
The phone would ring for Brotman that November with a request from the White House to introduce Eisenhower again — this time in a slightly different setting.
Four years later, it would be a request for John F. Kennedy’s inauguration.
“None of the new group knew anything about a parade or an inauguration,” he said. “I mean, they were all brand new.”
Brotman, a senior advisor of public relations at Sage Communications, has been invited back to each inauguration to lend his expertise and upbeat personality.
“Charlie Brotman has been the main announcer at every inaugural parade since 1957, giving him experience and expertise that is unmatched,” said Presidential Inaugural Committee spokesperson Cameron French in an email. “We were honored that he was available to come back and announce the parade this year, and we look forward to hearing him back in the announcer’s stand on Monday.”
Though there were other announcers spaced out along the parade route, Brotman made his announcements directly across the street from the president, including those from the thick official script as he described which band or float was making its way down Pennsylvania Avenue.
Yet he was also poised for when the parade hits those “bumps in the road” or gaps for which there was no official script.
About two weeks before the parade, Brotman shared the content of a folder full of trivia ad-libs, only one of many folders he had filled with research and other materials.
“The best ad libs are written down,” he said.
(Here’s a sample of Brotman’s trivia: Which hand is the Statue of Liberty’s torch in?)
Though he is literally hoisted above the crowd, it is evident from his attitude and own insistence that he is “just one of the guys.”
“I try to be human about the whole thing,” he said.
During a stopping point of Jimmy Carter’s parade, Brotman said, he made a suggestion to the crowd that resulted in a historic act — the first “wave” in inaugural history.
Brotman also recalled addressing the president directly on a couple occasions.
One time, he said, he announced to Bill Clinton, “Mr. President, I’m told that your college band has an extra saxophone in case you’d like to join in!”
Another occasion in 2005, Brotman said, would land him in “a little bit of trouble.”
“I said, ‘Mr. President, I know how you enjoy baseball in Washington, [it] just has a new baseball team this year, and it’s traditional for the president to throw out the first ball. Will you be able to throw out the first ball?” Brotman remembered saying to George W. Bush.
Two minutes later, he said, he would be confronted by an intimidating-looking secret service agent who made it clear: no direct questions or statements to the president.
After gleefully recounting the story like a kid once caught taking some chocolate cake from the kitchen counter, he said his question was intended to be “harmless” and just fun for the spectators.
“I haven’t done that to [President Barack] Obama yet. I might try. But I hope that guy is retired,” he said, laughing and referring to the secret service agent who scolded him those years before.
While he has seen inaugural parades with themes ranging from military to Hollywood, Brotman said the style of Obama’s 2009 parade, which included high school and college groups new to the inaugural scene, was unique.
“He doesn’t go for the personalities or the celebrities or the famous people,” he said. “I think he selects these people, or the people around him, with his heart as opposed to his mind, if you will.”
Brotman’s daughter, Debbie Doxzon, of Union Bridge, said she has attended the parades with her father since George H.W. Bush’s second term.
“I take the pictures and my husband does the spotting,” Doxzon said, adding that they also go as “moral support and cheerleaders.”
Though there are always jitters, Doxzon said, Brotman is “always confident” and “always prepared” on the day of the parade.
“He just feeds off the crowd,” she said.
Doxzon said they can see people getting involved in what Brotman says, and that his personality is evident in his announcements.
“His signature is still on it, even when he’s reading the script,” she said.
Sam Doxzon, a senior at the University of Maryland, has joined his grandfather in the announcing booth since Bill Clinton’s second term, and said he has helped Brotman with tasks such as pronounces words and giving a heads up as to what is approaching in the parade.
“I think he’s very down to earth and very jovial,” he said.