Bill worked at WGBH 1952 to 1953 and from 1955 to 1986. He was the ‘voice’ of WGBH radio and television. He announced more than 3,000 BSO broadcasts over a span of 38 years.

From WGBH QuickNooz

David Ives: “Bill’s voice and delivery were adored by many and made fun of by a few. His tone was calm, deliberate, and gentle. Some thought of him as affecting an upper class accent, but his admirers felt that his diction and tone were admirably suited to his task. He loved being thought of as the voice of the symphony, and his measured tones were surely among the best known in the Boston market.”

Bill Pierce announces the closing credits for Discovery with Mary Lela Grimes (now Sherburne). This clip was lifted from the track of the 1957 film Discovering Discovery, detailing the making of that NET program series. The mysterious reverb on the first part is as it was on the original film — although unexplainable, it does lend to the sense of historical atmosphere.

Bill Pierce – Closing credits for Discovery with Mary Lela Grimes

21 Comments

  1. Bill Lenz on August 14, 2020 at 5:51 pm

    So many WGBH alums whom I admire have given testament to the one I admired most (perhaps Bill Pierce shares that spot with Greg Harney). Today, Don Hallock, leading with the 84 Mass announce booth, finally prompted me to chime in.

    I showed up not long after 84 Mass burned down. A boy soprano whose voice changed early, I worked in midwestern small town radio doing wire service rip-and-read before I could drive and won every statewide high school speech competition in newscasting. I was called “the voice.”

    Being chosen for grad school in the big city as a member of the 1963-65 BU Crew was a dream come true and the start of an eventful two years. An earliest memory is stepping off the MTA near the MFA to work on a show directed by Russ Morash when word of JFK’s assassination swept the street.

    Station facilities were still scattered around the city after the fire in 1961. Greg hired me to sub for Bill as weekend booth announcer, walking to master control in the basement of a Granby Street brownstone from my student lodgings on Bay State Road.

    In the second year, I had the once-in-a-lifetime experience of helping move into the new state-of-the-art facilities on Western Avenue. The announce booth was strategically-located to overlook the action, and it was here that I literally sat at the foot of the legend.

    His penny loafers were more stylish than mine, anchoring his signature look of luscious silk rep ties, high thread-count soft-roll button-downs, and Brooks Brothers jackets in worsteds, flannels and tweeds.

    He wore Canoe. So did I for years afterwards, but it didn’t smell the same.

    He brown-bagged his own lobster bisque and seafood chowder in a widemouthed thermos. After once sharing a cup, I tried finding an acceptable substitute. Even in Boston, on a student budget I struck out.

    He pronounced S.S. Pierce as “purse,” Bowdoin as “bow-dough-en,” and refused to use the word “intrigue” in place of “fascinate.”

    Walking along Comm. Ave. to class, I’d try spreading the phrase “WGBH-TV, Channel Two, Boston” into a smooth ID like he did — as Don says, literally personifying the identity and character of the station. Couldn’t pull it off. His patrician delivery came naturally. Mine was a bad impersonation.

    We stayed in touch. As a public affairs officer during Vietnam, I needed a high-level top-secret security clearance reference. He provided it. I had a young family and always wanted to visit his place in Hingham, but that possibility was OBE (a military acronym for overcome by events). He encouraged me to finish my work at BU while on active duty, so I wrote a thesis and received a degree in broadcasting in 1970.

    My fellow Crew members and I were part of groundbreaking television. We passed cleavers and cookware to Julia Child from below her counter (one of my fellow Crewmembers and I are in the production still aired on Julia’s eightieth birthday telecast hosted by Russ). We helped Bud Collins usher in professional tennis coverage at the Longwood Cricket Club.

    I went on to a career in writing and voiceovers, overlapping the end of radio’s golden age by rubbing shoulders with the likes of Orson Welles, Marvin Miller, Hal Peary, Mike Rye, Vic Perrin, Joan Gerber, Tom Bosley, June Foray, Jim Backus, and Mel Blanc.

    But in my book, none of us was “the voice.” That was Bill Pierce.

  2. Don Hallock on August 14, 2020 at 3:09 pm

    The announce booth at 84 Mass: What an awful, cramped place for an elegant human being to be cooped up in for so many years! But Bill was never one to complain….ever. With a voice like no other, he literally personified the identity and character of WGBH-TV, and most particularly that of the Boston Symphony broadcasts. I never heard him flub a sentence, mispronounce a word or need to correct himself.

    And then there was the man himself, who personified the best of what the station strove to be. That quality-of-self communicated itself directly to the satiation’s audience.

    Bill was kind to fault, sensible to a fault, patient to a fault, refined to a fault, loyal to a fault, fluent to a fault, handsome to a fault, one of the nicest people I have ever met…..and one of the very best ‘voices’ – of many – I have ever had the pleasure of working with.

  3. Susan Presson on August 7, 2020 at 2:57 pm

    Like everyone in the Boston area, I knew Bill by his voice. Didn’t he also do the intro/outro for the BSO on radio? As well as his WGBH work. I first got to know him when I worked with Peggy MacCleod onThe Elliot Norton Reviews Show. One of my tasks as PA was to type the copy for Bill to read to intro that week’s guest. Since I was…and remain …the world’s worst typist…you have NO idea how long just typing this is taking…, this was a simple chore fraught with mistakes. Which wouldn’t have been quite so terrible except that Bill was extremely dyslexic and really needed pristine copy to be comfortable. He rarely got that from me. And yet, he was endlessly patient and kind.

    He…along with Robert J and Bill Cavaness …was equally patient and kind when he was on the receiving end of huge bunches of pussy willows sent in, via me, every February or March, by my fan girl Aunt.

    • Ron Della Chiesa on August 7, 2020 at 6:25 pm

      I’ve often said following Bill Pearce in the broadcast booth at Symphony Hall was like following Enrico Caruso at the Metropolitan Opera! He was quite simply the best and what he did. During my early days at WGBH I never failed to consult him on the pronunciation of composers names. Always friendly and helpful he was indeed my mentor. Blessed with a great sense of humor and love of jazz, my conversations with him we’re always the highlight of the day. When you heard that wonderful voice you knew everything was right in the world. It’s it’s fitting that the broadcast booth at Tanglewood is
      dedicated to his memory.

  4. Benny Krol on August 1, 2020 at 2:13 pm

    I first met Bill when I joined the ranks of the TV engineering maintenance department in 1968 under John Labounty. Bill was a super guy, low keyed with a great voice and wonderful personality. His booth was right around the corner from our maintenance shop. At times when I did master control and we had technical difficulties, I know I could always rely on him with his smooth voice.

  5. Fred Barzyk on August 1, 2020 at 8:44 am

    Dear Bill: I loved him. When I arrived at WGBH in the summer of 1958 I and Tom McGrath went over to the studio to see the end of the day’s broadcast. There was Bill, being teased by the BU scholars as he tried to deliver the late news. He performed perfectly and everyone was having a good time. The spirit was delightful and I knew then this was going to be my home.’

    Then there was a time when Bill, the end of the broadcast day, ended with a twist on the closing lines. I can hear him now.
    “Transmitting from the”tippy top” of Great Blue Hill.” He was a joy.

    One last note: I was directing a music show and the musicians never provided me with a score. Since the piece involved 8 wind instruments there was no way I was going to be able to cover the piece adequately. Sooooo, I convinced the engineers to put long cables on the 2 cameras in Studio B and move them into Studio A with the other 3 cameras. Now I had 5 cameras to cover the half hour concert. But with no score all I did was keep supering one camera on top of 3 others, over and over. It was like electronic wallpaper. Bill emerged from the Annc. Booth and said “You have gone too far this time Freddie.” I loved Bill.

  6. Jack Gill on August 1, 2020 at 12:17 am

    I was a 60’s scholar and I never heard, before or since any voice like Bill’s. Pure velvet
    gold.

    Jack Gill

    • fred Barzyk on August 14, 2020 at 12:44 pm

      Hey Jack… WGBH ARchives Leah Weisse has some scans. We are trying to put together a punch of old timers to reflect on the fire via Zoom. WGBH is interested. So, Jay who is running the website, will see if can put togther a zoom piece. Best, Fred

  7. Stevan Vigneaux on July 31, 2020 at 6:35 pm

    I met Bill just as Steve Colby and I were finishing up the late 1977 rebuild of the Symphony Hall WGBH-FM control room. He was a kind gentleman in the very best old school sense of that term – absolutely charming and a fantastic storyteller.

    One of his best stories was when he got a bit tongue tied and unintentionally introduced the “Tanglewood Festival Chorus” as the “Fanglewood Testicle Chorus.” Jordan Whitelaw, the producer for symphony, was in the room when Bill told the story, Jordan fully, and very enthusiastically, corroborated it.

    Bill explained that he had long suffered from dyslexia. Imagine making a living for an entire distinguished career reading material on air with that challenge. An amazing man.

  8. John Kerr on July 31, 2020 at 4:04 pm

    I met Bill Pierce first as a WGBH Scholar in 1960-61 and then worked with him again when I was back at the Foundation a few years later as its Development Manager.

    Fresh from college as a young crew member, I often asked him over the headsets from Master Control to “Announce, Bill” which he would invariably do with impeccable timing and without missing a beat. When things went wrong and John LaBounty or another WGBH engineer would rack a “technical difficulty” slide onto the air, Bill would cover us without flap and would reassure our viewers that good viewing was still coming.

    Bill’s “office” was his tiny announce booth, where he could often be found reading between breaks for the courses he taught. Or you could see him through glass watching the wonderful programs on his monitor that we carried and produced.

    Oh that we could all seem so calm, so reassuring and so erudite as Bill, and so perfect for “educational television”. That was why, I suppose, that Bill’s voice became such an important part of our identity and “brand” — and the Boston Symphony’s — during those years.

    Viewers could count on WGBH, just we could count on Bill.

    No wonder viewers contributed their money to us.

  9. Greg Fitzgerald on July 31, 2020 at 2:45 pm

    My first exposure to Bill was when I was in high school and listened to the BSO broadcasts on Friday afternoons. I was amazed to hear those honey-coated tones announce “… and now it’s intermission time here at Symphony Hall”. followed by 15 minutes of crowd sounds. Many years later as a producer and music host at “GBH radio, I was thrilled when I was invited to be the booth announcer at Symphony Hall as we celebrated the 35th birthday of GBH with a live audience. From the booth, I announced to our radio audience.. “and now Mr. Pierce is bowing to the audience here at Symphony Hall’. I now live one block away from Symphony Hall, and when I pass there most days, I don’t think about Andris Nelsons, Seiji Ozawa, Feidler, or John Williams… I think about William Pierce.

  10. Richard Hiner on July 25, 2020 at 9:22 pm

    I was a WGBH/BU scholar in 1961-1962 and then became TV Master Control Operator full time. Bill Pierce was the booth announcer for WGBH-TV along with his many Symphony duties. I would see how many announcements I could cram into a station break, and Bill would play along sometimes giving him only two seconds to say, “Channel Two, Boston.” He was a delightful person to work with and a great friend to me and my wife.

  11. Ed Wade on July 25, 2016 at 3:33 pm

    For a student growing up in rural Alabama the introduction, by William Pierce, of a Boston Pops concert, Arthur Fiedler conducting, was always a great treat.

    • Michael Ambrosino on July 31, 2020 at 2:41 pm

      As well as top professional, Bill was simply an all around fine fellow. He was a delight to work with and gave excellent readings to anything you wrote.

  12. Jay Collier on May 8, 2008 at 9:16 am

    I changed the first line of this profile to reflect Keith’s corrected information.

    Thank you, Keith. (Keith is Archives Manager at WGBH.)

  13. Keith Luf on May 7, 2008 at 9:15 am

    According to our records, Willam Pierce was an announcer at WGBH in 1952, starting in May/June. In 1953, he left WGBH to work for WBET in Brockton, working there from 1953-1954. In January of 1955 he came back to WGBH on a full-time basis.

  14. Larry Creshkoff on May 5, 2008 at 9:15 am

    At the head of Bill Pierce’s alumni page, his dates are given as 1954-1986. I’m pretty sure that he actually went back even earlier, possibly as far back as 1951, though he didn’t start doing the BSO concerts until a few years later (after Parker Wheatley was convinced that he needed to be a manager, rather than a performer). Isn’t there some way of confirming Bill’s start-up date?

  15. Jay Collier on September 18, 2007 at 9:14 am

    I changed the first line of this profile from “1954 to 1984” to “1954 to 1986.” Thanks, Richard.

  16. Richard Jessen on September 17, 2007 at 9:13 am

    I spotted a mistake in the timeline of William Pierce’s fine job of announcing the Boston Symphony and Pops programs. As far as I know, he was still announcing for the Symphony as late as 1985-1986 season (I know this as I have a tape of a Christoph Eschenbach concert). Hope this helps everyone!

  17. Larry Creshkoff on September 1, 2007 at 9:12 am

    A consummate artist in his métier, Bill Pierce left an indelible imprint on the world of music broadcasting. He created the canon and stuck with it long enough to make it the style of choice. Whether consciously or unconsciously, contemporary announcers of symphonic music broadcasts follow in his footsteps.

  18. Vic Waskevich on September 1, 2007 at 9:11 am

    One of the really special people at WGBH never produced or directed a television show, but his voice could make the amateurs in class of ’58 look professional. It takes a special talent for an announcer to carry a show, but Bill could do it. Bill Pierce was the voice of WGBH for so many years that I think a lot people tuned in just to hear him. Certainly not us wondering how to roll a camera tripod over a cable. He laughed at our screw-ups, saw God knows how many new “scholars” come and go, but was always the consummate pro. And one of the nicest people I have ever met and had to privilege to work with.

    I think WGBH owes him a tribute.

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