News & Politics

Charlie Brotman to Announce His 15th Inaugural Parade Monday

The 85-year-old Washington native reflects on decades of presidential processions.

Charlie Brotman at the 1997 inauguration. Photographs by Debbie Doxzon.

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
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?”

Brotman and Bill Clinton. Photograph courtesy of Sage Communications.

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?

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.”

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.