The Voice Of Expo

Tom Read

(This was my view while hosting the Radio-Television broadcast of the Opening Day production.   I purchased a new, high end 35 mm camera and shot color slide film literally every day at Expo.)

I don't remember how much dead air there was in John's office before I said, YES.  It may have been several minutes.  As it turned out, that decision was a major change in my life but one I do not regret, and looking back, I think the Lord was guiding my decision.  HE wanted me to stay in Spokane for reasons that are now very apparent but at the time were not.

The Expo site was under construction and not all of the sales for pavilion space had been completed.  King Cole was brought in as President of Expo and his major project was to urge foreign countries and top US corporations, such as Kodak and General Motors, to purchase exhibit space at Expo.  King, and others, who were in effect good salesmen, needed some tools to make a top notch presentation in order to "sell" Expo.  Not sure if it was King Cole's idea or Jim Key's, but Jim found and hired a local film production company owned by Dick McConnell.  Jim planned on a series of three films that would show the various stages of Expo construction and would  be a major part of the presentation designed to convince foreign nations and US corporations to become involved in Expo.

One day Jim announced that he would like me to narrate the first of three films that he was producing and Dick McConnell would be filming.  I was surprised.  Jim was a former CBS Network announcer, why didn't he do the film narration?   Why did he want me to do it?  Jim explained that he was the producer and director and that was enough.   He wanted me to record the narration.  I took the position that whatever was needed to be done for Expo, I would do.  No unions involved, no additional fees involved, we just needed to get the job done.

Jim and I went to a film production facility in Seattle where I recorded the narration for the film and Jim did an excellent job of directing me.   In fact, this was the first time I had ever done a radio or TV or film project where I had a director.   The director knows the entire story and how it needs to come together.  I had no idea of the story line for each film much less what would be shown on the screen that would match my narration.   That is why you have a director.  Jim knew and guided me which resulted in three top notch films.  The process was much like making a Hollywood movie.  Multiple copies of the film were made, again like a Hollywood movie, and King Cole and the salesmen were equipped with a movie projector and screen and sent out on the road.

Years later when Melinda and I visited King Cole at his home to record a radio interview with him, he told me how important those "sales films" had been in the success of Expo.  So Jim Key and Dick McConnell can be proud of their accomplishment and the part they played in the success of Expo.

A private club was built on the Expo site.  I don't remember what the membership dues were but I joined the minute I heard about the plans for the club.  It was where I took most of the entertainers and VIPs to get away from the crowd and have a quiet place to record my interviews for the daily five minute Expo program and it was the perfect location to hold meetings.  As I recall the food and service was excellent.  It was a great idea to build a private club at Expo.

Note the Expo Club Membership Card above.  My card was actually a metal, gold card with my name engraved in it.   They automatically gave me a second, paper card, with the name MRS. Thomas W. Read on it.  I was not married at the time.  There was no Mrs. Thomas Read.  I guess they just gave each member two cards so that a member could always bring a guest.

Knowing how important the Opening Ceremonies would be to the success of Expo, we all started concentrating on that project.   Tommy Walker was given the responsibility of planning the content of the Expo Opening and the rest of us participated in the details of turning his outline in a produced show.  There were almost daily planning meetings with Tommy, John Musgrave, Jim Key, and myself regarding the media aspect of the Opening.  Sometimes Petr Spurney would join us.  Often we would hold these meetings at a near-by restaurant and later used the private club on the Expo site.

One such meeting I will never forget.   I think we left the site for lunch as no one wanted notes or memos involved or other official paperwork.   This was an off the record meeting, so to speak.  The discussion that day was the media and how we could get the maximum coverage for the opening.  John reminded me that one of my original proposals was that we get all three local Spokane TV stations to carry the opening live and at least one TV station in Portland, Seattle-Tacoma, and Vancouver, BC.   In addition I had suggested that we also get the live opening day event on all the Spokane radio stations and some outside of Spokane.

The conversation turned to how we would provide space for each of the three local TV stations.  At this point President Nixon had been invited but his participation was not confirmed and would not be, as it turned out, until the very last minute.  Also remember that TV and radio remote equipment was much larger and heavier than what we use today.  Nixon was already receiving negative publicity regarding the events of Watergate and at our meeting concern was expressed that the media, being primarily interested in the negative and sensationalism, (nothing has changed there) might emphasize any anti Nixon demonstrators rather than concentrating on what was to be a true Hollywood super production.

That fear was very valid.  I spoke up and remembering how Clay Huntington and I wanted to "control" the play by play broadcast of the big Thanksgiving Day football game in Tacoma by purchasing the time on all three Tacoma radio stations, said that Expo needed to produce the radio and TV show of the opening ourselves and feed it to the stations.  Jim and others injected that it might be a hard sell not to allow at least the local TV stations to do their own coverage of the opening.  I replied that we could use as a truthful excuse that we simply did not have space for all three stations and if we allowed each Spokane station room to broadcast the opening, how could we prevent a Seattle or Yakima station from also having space or a Seattle station?  Also, we could not allow individual live coverage because of security concerns if Nixon accepted our invitation as the Secret Service would then be involved and that would bring major complications.   All of the above was of course true, but in fact we used it as rationalization because everyone agreed with me that we should produce and control the content of the radio and TV show of the opening.

Jim Key was given the responsibility to break the news to the news editors of the local stations.  I suggested that maybe before Jim made his contacts we hold a luncheon and invite the top level owners and managers of all the Spokane stations and get them on board.  They will like the idea that we would be handing them the opening show on a silver platter.  After all it was to be on a Saturday morning and the individual stations would not get involved with overtime pay or bringing in extra staff.  The media is cheap and once we get top management on board, Jim would have an easier time talking with the news editors and anchors.  

Jim did encounter some resistance when he met with the individual news editors and news anchors of the three Spokane TV stations.  Each of the stations wanted to have some individuality and use the Expo opening production as a vehicle to promote their news anchors.   Jim finally came up with an idea which everyone excepted.  We would feed each station a cover shot of the Expo site about three or four minutes before we actually began the program. Each TV station would then put their favorite news personality in front of a green screen and superimpose his picture over the cover shot of the Expo site which we were sending them with only crowd noise for audio.  Each local station announcer would welcome their audience to the Opening Day at Expo and it looked as if he was actually on site but in fact was in their station studio.  We did not do this for the TV stations outside of Spokane, only for the three local Spokane stations.   Then at the appointed time, we officially started the radio-television show with my introduction and we were off and running for the next two hours, live.

At one of our lunch meetings, Tommy Walker announced that he had the outline of what was to happen and the order of events pretty well finished and he handed out a rough draft of what would be comparable to a movie script.  Tommy went over it with us and ask for questions.   I popped up and indicated that we needed to consider a radio and TV "clock" and determine what we would do for video and audio during commercial breaks.   I think Petr was at this meeting and excitedly asked what I meant by "commercial breaks".  I explained that I did not think that Jim could talk TV stations into giving us two hours of air time on a Saturday morning for which they could not make a dime.  I added that I would have the same problem with the radio stations.  Petr was shocked and said that Expo was a government entity under the US Department of Commerce and he was sure there could be no commercialism involved.  My response was that we had better get in touch with Congressmen Foley or our Senators and get a waiver.  Spurney said he would try and he was successful.   A few days later he called me to say that we were cleared to have local stations insert commercials within our opening day show, as I called it.  I have no idea what strings he pulled. My guess is he went to Foley and Tom in turn went to our Senators who had the leverage to work with the head of the Department of Commerce.  Maybe they even got some help from the White House.

Next, Tommy Walker called me and asked if I had time for a cup of coffee.   I always had time for Tommy.  He asked me if I knew Marvin Miller.  I told him I had never worked with Marvin when I was in LA but certainly knew him by reputation.  Marvin had been a radio announcer on countless network radio shows, was the heavy in a few movies, and was best known as Michael Anthony in The Millionaire TV show.  It was about a millionaire who gave a check for a million dollars  to strangers.  You never saw the actor who played the millionaire, you only heard his voice.  Marvin played his assistant and the one who delivered the check.   Marvin had made good money in his career but had lost a large part of his savings through bad investments with people in whom he had placed too much trust.  So Tommy told me that Marvin was looking for whatever work he could find and having used him for some shows at Disney, was thinking of helping him out by finding something for him to do at Expo for a little money.   Tommy then said his script called for an on-stage MC and I would need an on-air host.  He thought that Marvin could do either and knowing of Marvin's work, I totally agreed.   Tommy then asked me which I would prefer to do, the on stage MC work or the on air host.   I quickly thought that since I was producing the radio/TV simulcast feed, I should be available and not "stuck" on stage and not knowing what problems, if any, needed to be handled.  So I suggested that Tommy hire Marvin as the on stage MC and I would be the radio and TV host.   Tommy said that was fine with him and that is what we did and how I became a close friend with Marvin Miller for the rest of his life.

I was walking out of the Expo office one day when a secretary handed me an envelope and said it was from the Entertainment Department which meant it was from Tommy Walker.   I was with someone, probably heading out to lunch, and stuck the envelope in my pocket as I continued to walk out the door.  I did not open the envelope, and in fact had forgotten about it, until I was getting ready for bed that evening and was taking things out of my suit pockets.  I opened the envelope and there was a short note asking if I would record the following script on reel to reel tape and leave it with the secretary the next day.   

The script was short so I went downstairs where I had a professional recording studio and turned on a recorder.  I said I was not sure what this was to be used for and therefore I would do several versions and if none of them fit, simply let me know and I would do it over again.  I don't remember the exact script but it was close to "Expo 74 Presents Artistry In The Sky".   Thinking it might be for a slide presentation, of which there were many at Expo, I did a soft version, a slightly up tempo version, and finally a big production version.  It turned out that Tommy Walker was planning on closing the fair grounds each evening with fireworks which, by the way, could be seen from the South Hill of Spokane.  At exactly 10pm each night, a few seconds of the Expo music theme could be heard followed by Tom Read proclaiming "Expo 74 Presents Artistry In The Sky".  You guessed it, they used my big production version and you could hear it all over town through a huge sound system originating from the Expo grounds.

For years, and even today,  I am referred to as the "Voice Of Expo" and people would introduce me by saying I introduced the fireworks each evening.  Not that I was the Communications Consultant to Expo, but I was the one that announced the fireworks.  Oh well, we have to be famous for something.  A day or so later the secretary handed me another envelope as I headed out of the Expo office and again I did not open it until I got home.  This was a much larger script with a notation that the Russian Pavilion would like to have me record this for them.  They wanted none other than the "Voice Of Expo".  It seemed to be a tour of Russia and again I assume it was for a slide show.   Wrong again.  Part of the note said they needed it the next day so. Even through I was tired and it was late, I again went downstairs to my home recording studio and started to record the script in my narration style.  The script began with the words, "Welcome to our country".  But as the script went on, there were some complicated names of smaller Russian cities.   I had no idea how to pronounce them.  Most of them I could handle but then there was one short paragraph that was nothing but Russian names and I had no idea how to pronounce them so I decided to totally leave out that paragraph with the idea that the script would have to be recorded again.   I dropped off the tape the next morning and told the secretary that maybe this would get them started for Opening Day but that I thought it should be redone at some point.  We were within a few days of the opening of the Fair as I recall.

Jump ahead to May 4th, Opening Day.   We got the White House press members on their way to the airport, enjoyed meeting with Nixon after he spoke briefly in what is now the Convention Center and had finally left the Fair site, the broadcast of the opening went without a hitch, it was a beautiful day and a number of us felt elated, took a deep breath, and decided to walk around the Expo site and enjoy it after all the VIP events were concluded.  Of course we kept running into people we knew and several greeted me by saying "Hello Comrade" rather than Hi Tom or good to see you Tom.   After about the tenth person greeting me as Comrade, I all of a sudden heard my voice coming from obviously an outside loudspeaker.  We turned a corner and the Russian Pavilion was straight ahead.  Now my voice was very loud and completely understandable.  The entire front of the Russian Pavilion was a huge map of Russia with a long walk way in front of the map, up to the main entrance.  My voice was welcoming the visitors to "our" country and telling them all about Russia.  Evidently those in charge of the Russian Pavilion never realized I had left out one paragraph and my other pronunciations were OK as they used that recording for the entire run of Expo.

The kicker to the story is that many weeks after the opening, I received a call from the Entertainment office to say that I had a box that had been delivered there for me and would I come by and pick it up.   It was a CASE of Russian vodka as a thank you for recording their narration.   I did not smoke or drink and too young to be in a bar and told the entertainment secretary to send a thank you and then give the bottles to VIP Expo guests.  It was a most kind offer by Russia and can you imagine the value of a case of prime Russian Vodka?

Most of the foreign countries who had a pavilion at Expo celebrated their national day, like our 4th of July, at the outdoor Boeing Amphitheatre on the Expo site.  They were very formal stage events with top national figures from the foreign country. Tommy asked me to MC them but when it came time for the Russian national day, I suggested that they find someone who know the language and actually I found a person who had been in the military and knew the Russian language well enough to get through the script.   I talked him into being the MC for their event.

I enjoyed doing the national day events for many of the other foreign countries.  Tommy liked my formal, parade type style of presentation, which he felt added to the dignity of these events and evidently the various heads of the pavilions agreed as I MCed all the national day events that I could work into my schedule.  It was a thrill for a young kid to meet informally with the heads of many foreign countries.

I met and recorded interviews with every major celebrity that came to Expo.  Many I kept in touch with and became good friends.  I especially  liked Lawrence Welk, Marvin Miller, Bob Hope, Connie Haines, Jack Benny and Jack Benny's brother in law, Hilliard Marks, Oral Roberts, Tom T. Hall, and Roger Williams.    I met Harry James and his manager who invited me to join them after Expo in Las Vegas for a show.  Lawrence Welk invited me to Lake Tahoe and I went out with him and his show cast on Bill Harrah's yacht.  I also MCed some of the entertainment shows at Expo including a concert by Harry James and another by Les Brown.  In the VIP room before the concert I recorded with Harry but he was already under the influence and rambled a lot, leaving me with very little recorded material I could ever use.  I open the show on stage and introduced Harry and his manager stood just off stage with a huge bottle of, I think, vodka.  If I had know that was Harry's favorite drink, I should have given him my gift from the Russians. Vodka is colorless.   Once the girl vocalist would begin singing, Harry would slip unnoticed to the edge of the curtain and Peewee Monte, his road manager, would hand him another paper cup of vodka.   This went on all during the show.  After the show we all went down to the Davenport Hotel and Harry was already sitting up at the bar and was totally out of it.  I asked Peewee how Harry could drink that much and still play the trumpet without a single missed note.  He could make it though the show OK, but then he was gone.  Peewee had to get him up to his room and he would be out of this world until about 2pm the next afternoon,   Unfortunately, Harry passed away not too long afterward.

Expo was indeed the entertainment capital of the world, even outdoing Vegas, for those six months of the exposition.  Tommy Walker knew everyone and had favors coming so he could get to perform at Expo anyone he wanted and did.  Les Brown came with his band and I MCed a dance which involved a contest.  Not my favorite type of MC work but a professional in the business does what needs to be done, like it or not.

I am often asked, even today, who were the most interesting people I met during Expo and who were the least.  I met a lot of celebrities and on the most enjoyable list would be Jack Benny, Bob Hope, Marvin Miller, Tommy Walker, Lawrence Welk, Hilliard Marks (Jack Benny's brother in law), Evangelist Oral Roberts who taped one of his programs on site and asked me to be his announcer, Roger Williams, and Connie Haines.  The least interesting person was Danny Kaye whom I found to be somewhat of a loaner, distant, and a little arrogant.  My long time friend, CBS announcer Dick Joy, was Kaye's announcer at one time and confirmed my impression of Kaye years later when I had him as our keynote speaker at a convention of the Northwest Pioneer Broadcasters.

I was very pleased that every one of my original suggestions to Jim Key and John Musgrave were part of Expo and were successful.  I was able to get every Spokane radio station to air the production of the opening day ceremonies and all three of the Spokane TV stations plus KVOS in Bellingham that covered Vancouver, BC, a Seattle station, KIRO, and a Portland, Oregon station.   I think also TV stations in Yakima and the Tri-Cities aired our grand show.  We were able to get broadcast lines extended to radio stations outside of Spokane including one that reached into Canada, KARI, in Blaine, Washington thanks to owner Don Bevilaqua.

The only hold out among the Spokane radio stations was a rock and roll AM station.  The manager would not say yes or no.  We had a broadcast line into their station for news purposes and I was planning to feed them the opening day production but I never did get an answer from the manager.  I am sure he was playing with the idea that since all the other stations had committed to airing the show, he would be the only station with alternative programming.  When I went on the air that Saturday morning at 10am I did not know if KJRB was airing us or not.  I asked an assistant to check a radio and let me know.  She returned to our broadcast facility and handed me a note that confirmed that KJRB was indeed airing our grand show.  I think the manager wisely determined that they would be the subject of negative publicity if they were the only Spokane station not to air the program.

So I mentioned on our radio-TV simulcast that every radio station in Spokane was airing the program as well as other stations across the state.

Expo was, as far as I know, the first and last time that a major event was simulcast on every radio and television station in Spokane.  We are in the history books for that one.

I am continually asked how I was selected as THE VOICE OF EXPO.  Did I audition for the part?  Who else auditioned and so on.   The truth is that being the Voice of Expo, actually the audio trademark and image of Expo, was not part of my original arrangement between my company and Expo.   In fact, other than producing and hosting the 5 minute daily Expo radio program, there was originally no mention of Tom Read's voice becoming the sound image of Expo.   There were many picture images of Expo but I became the only Voice of Expo.

Looking back, probably because I was the Voice of Expo on the three sales films, was the host of the radio and television program of the Opening Day ceremonies, everyone in the community, and on staff at Expo, just assumed that my voice was the official audio image of Expo.   I would say that I shared that honor with the Expo theme song which we used on almost everything we could.   There was no audition for the part.   It was simply assumed that my voice was the audio or sound image of Expo and therefore anything that was to be recorded or MC work for an official event, would be sent over to Tom Read's office.  There was no special talent fee requested or offered.   Everyone just did what needed to be done to make Expo the success that it turned out to be.

My long time friend and former Mayor of Spokane, Jack Geraghty, who resigned as a Spokane County Commissioner to join the staff of Expo, was the first person I recall that actually starting calling me and referring to me as THE VOICE OF EXPO 74.   I was indeed, Jack said, the vocal trademark of Expo 74.

Some years ago a friend told me he saw a little quiz about Spokane in a magazine or newspaper.   One of the questions was Who Was The Voice Of Expo 74.  To this day people can still answer that question.   I find that really amazing.

While Jack Geraghty was Mayor of Spokane, he decided that the City should honor and remember Expo.   He called me and asked if I could come down to City Hall and discuss putting on an Expo tribute which we did from the exact floating sage where we held the Opening Day ceremonies. As I recall, it was the 10th anniversary of Expo.   I had a radio station in Spokane by then and we broadcast the event live and many dignitaries, even from foreign countries who were at the original Expo, came and participated.  Jack, of course, wanted me to MC the event which I was proud to do.   That evening we aired a live band concert to conclude our tribute to Expo from the site.

The Junior Diabetes Foundation held a tribute to Expo on the 20th anniversary of the Fair at a luncheon at the Spokane Club.   King Cole was the honoree and of course The Voice of Expo was asked to MC the event, which I was proud to do.  We called the event, Expo 74 Plus 20.

Expo changed Spokane from a large cow town to a city into which many large corporations opened plants and offices.  The professionalism that Expo showed the world convinced many that Spokane would be a good city in which to bring up children and to move their business and I am proud that I was able to contribute to that image.

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