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Raymond Forrest (January 7, 1916 – March 11, 1999), born Raymond Feuerstein, was a radio staff announcer for NBC. He was a pioneering TV announcer, host and news broadcaster from the very earliest TV era (pre-World War II) through to the 1960s.
Early life and career
Forrest, then a 23-year-old junior radio announcer at NBC, was not present at the opening of the New York World's Fair on April 30, 1939, when President Franklin D. Roosevelt and David Sarnoff, the president of the Radio Corporation of America, NBC's parent, inaugurated regular television programming with a broadcast over NBC's experimental station, W2XBS.
Indeed, for months the station employed no announcers, recruiting them from NBC Radio staff as the need arose, a process that so irritated the radio network's chief announcer that, by the fall, he persuaded the station to stop pestering him and make one of his six junior announcers the full-time TV announcer. Forrest won the job, and for the next two and a half years almost every time he opened his mouth he made American television history.
Forrest was the on-board announcer for the first airborne telecast, from a U.S. plane flying low over New York City on March 6, 1940, and later that year he was the NBC announcer at the first televised political convention, in Philadelphia, where the Republicans nominated Wendell Willkie. (CBS Television, which was racking up some firsts of its own, broadcast the convention in color.)
The next year, Forrest read the formal announcement on camera when W2XBS, newly licensed by the Federal Communications Commission and renamed WNBT (it later became WNBC), ushered in the era of commercial television on July 1, 1941.
The first commercial, a film showing a ticking Bulova watch, used no announcer, but three days later, on July 4, Forrest did the first live television commercial, for Adam Hats, a chore that earned him no sponsor's fee unless you count the hat Forrest was allowed to keep.
On December 7, 1941, Forrest apparently became the first television announcer to break into a program with a news bulletin, interrupting a Sunday afternoon movie, The Playboy (1938) with Harry Richman, to announce that the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor.
World War II interrupted both the development of television and his own career, and by the time he returned from service in 1946, television was in the midst of its post-war boom and he was no longer the only kid on the block.
He was almost as busy as ever, among other things as the announcer for In the Kelvinator Kitchen, an early cooking show, in 1947, and as the announcer and eventually the host of Television Screen Magazine, one of the first television magazine shows, in 1948 and 1949.
Then he was asked to produce and to be the host of Children's Theater, and Forrest made what he regarded as his most important contribution to television.
Forrest hosted New York City's earliest and one of the most distinctive children's TV variety series called Children's Theater, which was seen on Saturday mornings on New York's WNBT/WRCA TV Channel 4 (even before it became WNBC) from 1949 to June 1961. Children's Theater first went on the air in 1949. Ray Forrest, a veteran radio broadcaster, created a TV series that encouraged children to explore many places of interest, to read books, showed them how to care for animals and become involved in local activities.
"Children's Theater" shared the 1957 NYC Emmy award for "Best Children's And Teenage Program" with WCBS TV's "On The Carousel!". (Info about "Children's Theater" sharing the 1957 NYC Emmy with "On The Carousel" can be found in "The NYC Kids Shows Round Up" section of "The TV Party" website at www.tvparty.com).
During its long run, Children's Theater also showed the 1958 color versions of Crusader Rabbit TV cartoons. Children's Theater remained on WNBC-TV Channel 4's Saturday morning line-up until Saturday, June 17, 1961.
If Forrest is better remembered among older New York television viewers for the acclaimed educational program Children's Theater, which he produced and hosted for WNBC-TV from 1949 to 1960, there is a reason his earlier work has been virtually forgotten.
Wearing a tuxedo to intone the formal sign-on when NBC went on the air each evening, Forrest announced every station break and every program. He covered wrestling, boxing, hockey, horse racing and movie premieres. He interviewe men and women on the street, introduced dramatic productions, was a quiz show announcer and variety show host and even became the network's first full-time news presenter after Lowell Thomas, whose radio news had been simulcast on television, decided to do his broadcasts from his upstate home.
At the time that he became the most visible presence on television, there were fewer than 1,000 television sets in America.
Forrest wrote, produced and narrated his own nature films as well. Often he shot his shows on location (using primitive videotape technology), as early as September 24, 1960.
Other notable location broadcasts with Forrest included a series of pre-taped shows from the now defunct "Freedomland Amusement Park" in the Bronx. It gave his young viewers a chance to not only see the park but to experience vividly events that were a part of America's history.
Ray Forrest died on March 11, 1999.
- IMDB entry
- "Ray Forrest Is Dead at 83; Nation's First TV Personality". New York Times. March 21, 1999.
Ray Forrest, who worked for many years at his family's jewelry store in Paterson, N.J., died on March 11 at a hospital near his home in Kinnelon, New Jersey. He was 83 and all but forgotten as the man who became a hero to hundreds in 1939 as the nation's first television personality.