William (Bill) Pierce
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.
I appreciate this. He was beloved, witty, and talented. Thanks for this story
One afternoon Steve Colby, Jordan Whitelaw, and I were in the WGBH control room at Symphony Hall with Bill. I don’t recall what prompted him but Bill told exactly that story. He told it with great color including hearing Jordan’s booming voice penetrating the supposedly soundproof announce booth moaning “We are all going to die!”
Jordan confirmed every detail including that nobody ever mentioned it to them – so they survived.
Bill was loved, wasn’t he? And as a premier classical music announcer he didn’t have to choose between a put-on elegant, ornamental style – and being himself, since he was vocal elegance incarnate.
He also was practical. When he asked me with my degree in Russian how to pronounce the composer’s name Mussorgsky, and I told him it’s MOOSE-org-skee not moo-SORG-skee, he smiled and said, well I can’t do that, can I? No.
When I left FM in 1980 for a job at WNYC, no doubt well aware of my deep and closeted obliviousness, he said, well now, don’t forget the little people. He knew, of course, with Emerson, that “There is no great and no small / To the Soul that maketh all: / And where it cometh, all things are / And it cometh everywhere.” Salut, William!
There’s a story, probably apocryphal, that Bill, AUI? (announcing under the influence?) introduced the Tanglewood Festival Chorus as the “Fanglewood Testicle Chorus”.
One evening, when Bill Cavness, Tom Dunn, and I were sitting in Studio 4 extemporizing limericks, Bill Pierce walked in. I said to him, “I can’t think of a rhyme for ‘Cavness’.” Without missing a beat, Bill P wryly suggested, “Ravenous?”
Thanks for all the wonderful memories, Everybody.
One of my biggest thrills in working in Radio was at the 35th birthday celebrated by WGBH Radio at symphony hall. And since William Pierce was to be celebrated on stage, I got to do the symphony hall booth announcing to introduce Bill on stage.
I can believe it. The two Bills were a remarkable part of WGBH history, and your time at WBCN-FM and WGBH-FM was well spent.
I worked at WGBH FM & TV as a producer, announcer, and audio engineer for over 12 years. One wintery day, while in radio, I got an urgent call from Bill Busiek, my supervisor, from the radio booth in Symphony Hall.
“Nat! Bill Pierce is snowed in at home in Hingham; I need you to announce this afternoon’s BSO concert! The script is all written. How soon can you get down here?”
It was a slippery drive down Storrow Drive that afternoon, but luckily I found a space in the Symphony Hall parking lot. When I entered the announce booth, Bill Buisek handed me the script, fifteen minutes before 2:00, air-time! Happily, all went well, and there were no stumbles. I tried to deliver the narrative in a calm, low-key voice.
Two days later, I encountered Bill Pierce walking down the main hallway at WGBH.
“Hi Bill! Did you hear the broadcast?”
“Mercy, Nathaniel,” he replied in his familiar, sonorous tone,”I thought it was me!”
Guess who is coming for lunch? … if it’s a Friday, Bill Pierce would arrive at 11:30. My mother, Rachel Pierce Coburn would be preparing one of their family favorites – fish cakes. I always remember these days because Uncle Bill was always interested in what was new in my life. But, his stories seemed so much more exciting.
He would occasionally bring a guest to lunch … when Julia was with Bill the kitchen that day would be very exciting with by great food and stories. Our daughter, Rachel Coburn Johnsen, has my mother’s signed Julia cookbooks and she has carried on great kitchen traditions!
This trip down memory lane was triggered by Ina Garten’s fish cake episode and brought back memories about ‘GBH auction and Bill Pierce fish cake dinners.
We miss them all!❤️
One more Bill Pierce story…. This was around 1977, evening air shift. I was in VTR, I think Dennis Correia was in Master Control, and Bill was announcing. Maggie Bordett came in from Ops with a fresh batch of air schedules, and handed them around. We were all chatting, as she’d just gotten back from vacation in California and had lots of tales to tell. “Hey,” she said, “They have something new there you’ve gotta try!” as she pulled out a colorful paper envelope. “Taste these!” So, we all put out a hand as she shook out some kind of sugar crystals onto them.
Dennis checked the clock and warned “Bill, coming up on a break!” Bill tossed the handful of POP ROCKS into his mouth, and closed the booth door behind him. Seconds later, the On Air light lit, and we heard…. … … …
I believe that Dennis wrote it up in the log as “Static in booth microphone. Loose wire found and fixed.”
I came to WGBH from WJIB to work mornings on FM in the late 60s. I hoped to escape the crass world of commercial radio to bask in the purity of “Educational Radio.” I worked with Bill Cavness on Morning Pro Musica, produced Concerts from the New England Conservatory, and Ford Hall Forum. I also had the pleasure of “discovering” Robert J. when he called to ask if I’d prepare some wire copy so he could audition for a job. The rest of that is history.
One of the great treats of my time at WGBH was substituting for Bill Pierce in the booth during his weekly BSO concerts, summers at Tanglewood, and his vacations. When he was in the booth, I’d drop by often to visit. I couldn’t have asked for a better friend. He was a joy to talk and listen to. I was in my early 20s and in the early stages of a wonderful career.
I left Boston for Dallas, then San Diego, then New York. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting many great talents. Bill Pierce ranks high on my list of greats. His kindness has remained with me the whole time.
I was Director of the WOR Radio Network in New York. My office was just off the WOR lobby. One day I entered the lobby to see Julia Child waiting to be interviewed by Joan Hamburg. I went over to her and said “you probably don’t remember me, but I was at WGBH.” She did remember.
A second great memory of WGBH. I have great affection for my colleagues at GBH.
When I was hired at WGBH (the week of JFK assassination – November 22, 1963) the offices were located at the Museum of Science. One of my first jobs was to prepare the news for a new program: News at 10. The news was culled from three sources … the teletype wires of the AP, UPI, and Reuters. Frequently I was one of the only staff people (except the engineers) at the station during the evenings hours.
As a recent grad student at U. of C. at Berkeley, my political views were quite liberal. Barry Goldwater’s activities often ended up in the trash. I had a grand time writing the news from my own perspective while the execs were all home and asleep.
At one point, I appeared on camera to read the news with Bill as my “coach”. After a few weeks, Bill very nicely suggested that on camera presentation was not my forte.
Bill had a wonderful voice and his presentation was so professional and polished that he soon did all the on-camera presentations and I returned to producing and writing the show. He was a wonderful, sweet and gentle mentor and colleague.
Sorry, I have not pursued. My wife has ended up in a nursing home and I have had to deal with that. Things are finally settling down. Let me pursue with Jay in March. Keep checking in. Stay well. Much love, Fred
Bill Pierce was my Broadcast Speech instructor at Emerson College years before we met up again at WGBH-TV. He was a great mentor during my days of TV booth announce on weekends from 1962 through 1976. While attending BU, I gigged at WGBH-FM as night producer on week nights. The names of FM colleagues, T. F. Conley, Leslie Darren, Ted Mascot, Al Hulsen along with engineers Bill Busiek and Andy Ferguson come to mind from those days. In 1976, a unique opportunity in Los Angeles pulled me away from WGBH and LA has been my home ever since.
From the TV days, I still recall the night Julia Child debuted on P. Albert Duhamel’s I’ve Been Reading book review show. Instead of simply reviewing her book, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, someone, maybe it was Greg Harney, had the inspiration of having Julia whip up boeuf bourguignon on the show. That was a challenge at the cramped Catholic TV Workshop on Granby St. in those days. That show was in glorious black and white back then and was the genesis of the French Chef and Julia Child series.
I’ll always remember Bill Pierce for his integrity and many kindnesses in those years. A great role model for a young guy in the 1960s. It was a privilege to have known the likes of him.
Still in touch with the Ron della Chiesa who I had the pleasure of first meeting back in our WBCN days together. Really glad to maintain that connection from the good ol’ days at WGBH.
Bill Pierce was the smoothest, the greatest voice I ever worked with.
Along with several others, I floor managed Julia’s show.
My greatest memory of Bill was his announcing for the Boston Pops the evening that The Big Apple Circus and the POPS collaborated on POPS JOINS THE CIRCUS…80 musicians…40 strings…accompanying the great international circus artists in our Big Top set up on a Harvard soccer field. I was the ringmaster, Bill was the V.O. announcer. Anybody doubts it, I have the tape of that one!
No doubts at all! I was there in the audience – spectacular evening. It was a peak moment for my going on four year old, me too, catching up with crew and Paul. I have a tape as well, although, sic transit gloria 3/4 inch, nothing to play the cassette on. Wish there were a DVD. Big money maker? Hello, Fund Raising! And, of course, a tip of the hat to Bill Pierce, the most refined and eloquent rascal – he had a great sense of mischief – west of anywhere.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I was a 60’s scholar and I never heard, before or since any voice like Bill’s. Pure velvet
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
Are we getting anywhere with this. Can I help?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I changed the first line of this profile to reflect Keith’s corrected information.
Thank you, Keith. (Keith is Archives Manager at WGBH.)
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.
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?
I changed the first line of this profile from “1954 to 1984” to “1954 to 1986.” Thanks, Richard.
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!
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.
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.