At 81, inauguration announcer prepares to welcome his 10th president

In 42 years, Charlie Brotman has introduced nine different presidents. In a few days, he’s set to claim a 10th.

Since 1957, every four years Brotman has braved freezing temperatures to serve as the “president’s announcer” at the inaugural parade. Now, at 81 years old, Brotman is set to helm what could be the largest parade yet, as he welcomes in President-elect Barack Obama.

“There are going to be more people from more places … worldwide, people are coming” for Obama’s parade, said Brotman, who is Jewish. “This is not just another inauguration — this is the beginning of a new America.”

Brotman would know: The former stadium announcer for the Washington Senators baseball team, he’s ushered in every administration since Dwight Eisenhower’s second, perched high above the presidential reviewing booth at Lafayette Park on Pennsylvania Avenue. From that spot, Brotman directs the president’s attention as the parade unfolds.

“They were serious when they said ‘the president’s announcer,’ ” the Washington, D.C., native explained. “The president is seated at street level and it’s the worst spot to see a parade — you can’t see anything to your left or to your right, only what’s right in front of you.”

Hence, Brotman is responsible for telling the president and his attendees “when to stand, when to sit, when to salute [and] when to take his hat off.”

Yet in spite of his enduring career, Brotman says it is still quite difficult for him to land the announcing gig. “Even though I’ve done this [for years] … every four years, there’s a different group of people coming in who have never experienced putting on an inaugural parade,” he explained. Since many of the planners come from out of town, they don’t know Brotman.

However, Brotman always finds a way to make himself known to the Presidential Inaugural Committee.

Once on the inside, Brotman prepares scripts for every announcer covering the event on television, radio and in person.

“To me, it’s like doing it for the first time [every time]. My adrenaline is high, I’m all excited. It’s really a big deal. It’s not mundane, ho-hum, I’ve been there, done that — nothing like that,” said Brotman, a member of Har Tzeon-Agudath Achim synagogue in Silver Spring, Md.

But his gig doesn’t always go off without a hitch. Sometimes Brotman’s numerous ad-libs land him in hot water — like at President George W. Bush’s second inaugural parade in 2005, when Brotman came face to face with an irate Secret Service agent.

Washington had just welcomed its new baseball team, the Nationals, to town, and the fearless announcer took the inaugural occasion to put Bush on the spot, saying, “Mr. President … baseball fans throughout Washington are hopeful that you will be available to throw out the first pitch for their new baseball team. Will you be available?”

This simple question, Brotman recalled, left Bush flummoxed. “He’s looking now at me and shrugging his shoulders like, ‘I’m not sure just where I’m supposed to be or what I’m supposed to do.’ ”

And the president’s handlers, it appears, weren’t too pleased themselves. “Less than three minutes after I made that announcement, a man came up … and said, ‘I’m with the Secret Service and I do not want you to make any more direct [contact with] the president.’ “

Brotman’s reply: “Yes, sir!”

On other occasions, a Brot-man ad-lib has prevented a potential catastrophe. Take the 1969 inaugural of Richard Nixon: When the parade ended, Nixon took to the streets to shake some hands and sign autographs. Catching wind of the former president’s impromptu autograph session, paradegoers began to swarm back to Pennsylvania Avenue. From atop his broadcast stand, Brotman could see the eager crowd approaching.

“It’s like a rock star with 10,000 people about to crush him. I had to explain to everyone, ‘Ladies and gentlemen, the parade is over, do not come back’ … that got rid of a lot of people,” Brotman said.

Though the ride has been long for the aging announcer, Brotman shows no signs of letting up. “I’m going to try to hold out to 100,” he said, with a laugh. “As long as I can talk and be enthused, I would love to continue. It’s quite an adventure.”