Charlie Brotman mounts the white wooden steps of the viewing stand facing the White House to check out the perch from which he will announce Monday’s inaugural parade.
“I used to announce the parade from the roof,” he tells me. “Back then I would freeze my tuchas off.”
“Back then” for Brotman means Harry Truman’s second inauguration in 1949. That was the first presidential parade Brotman announced, and he has served as the official announcer for every inauguration since.
This year Brotman, 85, waited and wondered whether he would get the call to take the microphone once again, for his 15th parade. By the end of November, the call had not come. He contacted a friend in the military who had worked with him in past parades, who put Brotman in touch with the Presidential Inaugural Committee.
“They said they had been looking for me,” Brotman says. “And when I showed up at their headquarters, they treated me like a celebrity. They didn’t have anyone who had had much experience. They asked me to handle the announcing chores.”
Once again, a native Washingtonian who’s a character in a town short on characters will be taking the microphone in the stands at Lafayette Park to tell the folks attending the parade who’s coming down Pennsylvania Avenue.
“My responsibility is to inform and entertain,” says Brotman. “I feel like I’m inviting a million people to my house for a party; I want them to leave and say they had the best time. Who knew a kid who grew up in the back of his parents’ grocery store would be the man announcing so many inaugural parades?”
The store was Mother’s Market, at 1918 Fourth Street, Northeast, near McKinley Tech in DC’s Eckington neighborhood. Brotman attended DC public schools and served in the Navy from 1946 to ’48. He enrolled in the University of Maryland on the GI Bill but switched to the National Academy of Sportscasting on 16th Street.
“A woman working with the Truman inauguration came to the school and asked for six students to volunteer as announcers,” Brotman says. “It was the first inauguration to be televised, and they needed bodies.”
So Brotman volunteered and found himself in the stands at Lafayette Square on a cold January day, looking across Pennsylvania Avenue at Harry Truman.
“I thought it was a lark,” he says. “A school assignment, nothing more.”
But the kid was good at it, and inaugural committees kept asking him to volunteer, again and again. He was good enough to get paid as the announcer for the Washington Senators. He built a successful public relations firm and is now a senior adviser with Sage Communications.
His favorite presidential parades?
JFK. Ronald Reagan. Bill Clinton.
“The parade is an extension of the President’s personality,” he says. “These three men had gregarious personalities. They loved movie stars, celebrities, and athletes.”
And Barack Obama?
“He has a different approach,” says Brotman. “He’s not into the stars. He’s into ordinary people. He wants to get young people involved in the parade.”
Young and local, in the case of the Ballou High School marching band, which will play “Happy Birthday” in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Brotman chose a few locals to announce the parade as it makes its way along Pennsylvania Avenue: radio personalities Bob Madigan and Jim Bohannon, sportswriter Christine Brennan, and Bobby Goldwater, a sports management and consulting executive.
“I know everyone,” says Brotman.
He even gets to meet the President—after the parade.