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The Voice of Saturday Night: A Birthday Tribute to SNL's Don Pardo

Live, from New York! It's... Donnn Parrrdooo! For nearly 35 years Don Pardo has been the steadfast and unmistakable voice of Saturday Night Live. He has announced SNL's opening credits since the show's debut in October of 1975 — for all seasons except the seventh — and can still be heard to this day. Although Mr. Pardo — who turned 92 this week — is currently best known for his weekly "Not Ready for Prime Time" duties, he's had a remarkable multi-generational career that spans over 65 years and includes programs such as the original The Price is Right, Jeopardy, and a stint as a war reporter during World War II. In honor of  his 92nd birthday, we thought we'd take a closer look at this legendary voice of NBC

Watch/listen to Mr. Pardo's display of linguistic awesomeness. He was 88 at the time of this taping:

Born February 22, 1918, in Westfield, MA, Dominick George "Don" Pardo grew up between Norwich, CT and Providence, RI. He initially considered a career in law or dentistry but ultimately decided to stick with his first love, acting (he played Bob Cratchit in his high school's rendition of A Christmas Carol). In 1938, a year after graduating high school, Mr. Pardo landed a job with the 20th Century Players, a radio theater group which performed on Providence's WJAR-AM (now WHJJ-AM). Two years later, he transitioned from acting to narrating on WJAR. In 1944 Mr. Pardo joined the NBC Network as an in-house announcer where he would remain for the next 66 years, and become a pop culture icon along the way. Last month he became the first (and only) announcer to be inducted into the prestigious Television Academy Hall of Fame

One of a rare few to ever be awarded a lifetime contract with NBC (Bob Hope and Milton Berle are the others), Don Pardo's career literally spans multiple eras of television. For the last three decades his signature sound has been inextricably linked to Saturday Night Live, but a previous generation associates him with the original Jeopardy, while yet another remembers him best as the one-and-only voice of The Price is Right. And although his biggest impact is on entertainment programming, Mr. Pardo also holds the distinction of being the first person on television to report the news of President John F. Kennedy's assassination. 

One of Mr. Pardo's early NBC jobs was with The Jonathan Winters Show, a variety program starring Jonathan Winters that aired between 1956 and 1957. He appeared in a few sketches during the show's run — starting a trend that wold occasionally be repeated throughout his career. Watch & listen to early Pardo:

Also in 1956, Mr. Pardo became the narrator for the original The Price is Right, a job he held until the show moved to the ABC Network in 1963. Watch below:

Although he considered making the west coast move to ABC along with The Price is Right, Mr. Pardo decided to to stay with NBC in New York — a smart decision, as the game show ended its initial run two years later. But this was just the beginning for Mr. Pardo, and in 1964 he nabbed the job behind the microphone for the original Jeopardy, with host Art Fleming. He spent 11 years there, announcing 2700 episodes, and only missed one until the series concluded in 1975. Take a look at an early Jeopardy clip below. 

Of course, as was the case throughout Mr Pardo's career, the end of one opportunity led to the beginning of another, and on October 11, 1975 he became the voice of Saturday Night Live. If the sound of Don Pardo wasn't already ubiquitous through The Price is Right and Jeopardy, it would become legendary during his tenure at SNL. Fun fact: He famously mispronounced the cast in Saturday Night Live's premiere episode as the "Not for Ready Prime Time Players" instead of the "Not Ready for Prime Time Players." 

Saturday Night Live's writers had fun with Mr. Pardo over the years, often making his voice part of the sketches. He was prominently featured in the first season's "Don Pardo's Holiday in an Elevator," "Waiting for Pardo," "Don Pardo: The First 50 Years," and "The Don Pardo Digital Gift Catalogue." Later he made an appearance on camera as "Ron Lardo," and in 1980 sketch where Joe Piscopo tried to win the announcing gig. Watch the clip below to hear a surprise Pardo cameo (around 1:15) in Frank Zappa's 1976 performance of "I'm the Slime." 

During a recent interview on Late Night with Jimmy FallonJimmy Fallon said of Mr Pardo's SNL introductions: “There is nothing is like the moment when Don Pardo says your name at the beginning of the show. Nothing like that thrill. You almost want to cry.” It's a sentiment that's shared by many cast members.

But while Mr. Pardo's voice is as much a part of Saturday Night Live as the cold opening, he almost didn't make it past the sixth season. He was fired in 1981 — along with a majority of the cast — and replaced by Mel Brandt in an effort to revitalize the show. Luckily the retooling strategy didn't last long though, and he was back for the following season in 1982. In fact, these days Mr. Pardo's voice can be heard even when he's not there. On the occasional sick days, former cast member Darrell Hammond does his best Don Pardo impression (so spot on, Mr. Pardo has said, that it even tricked his sister-in-law).

Clearly a fan parody, Mr. Pardo has also appeared in a few non-SNL projects. In 1984 he reprised his Jeopardy role for Weird Al Yankovic's song, "I Lost on Jeopardy." The music video featured cameo appearances by both Mr. Pardo and Mr. Fleming (watch below). More recently, he was in the 2009 "Cutbacks" episode of 30 Rock as "Sid," the announcer of the "The Girlie Show," who was struck by lightning.  


Mr. Pardo officially “retired” from announcing in 2004 but SNL creator Lorne Michaels convinced him to stay on for just a few more episodes of the following season, then just a couple more... Six years later he's still going strong, announcing 20 shows a year, despite claiming that 2009 would be his last. These days Mr. Pardo lives in Tucson, AZ — he commutes to New York on Friday, tapes the show on Saturday and flys home Sunday. Let's hope he chooses to stick around for a few more Saturday nights.

As we close this post, here's a fitting final clip of Mr. Pardo reading serious news late into the night. If you watch long enough, you'll see the national anthem kick in as NBC "concludes their programming schedule for the day."

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Reader Comments (4)

Somebody recognized the voice, but neglected to place the face. I'm surprised it was overlooked.

It might have been their first pairing "on the air." It certainly was a sign of things to come. Take a look at the Vicks commercial during the Jonathan Winters clip. The on camera narrator is none other than Art Fleming.

This is very disturbing. Why can't I spot this stuff when there is a DAILY DOUBLE at stake? Damn!

February 26, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDavid Mikelberg

Wonderful and informative tribute with great compilation of historical clips! I created his fan page on Facebook after being surprised to discover nobody had previously made one for this broadcasting legend, and indeed broadcasting relict, with a mindblowing body of work.

March 1, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterBen Schwartz

Thanks Ben! Glad you like. You really can't get much more legendary than Don Pardo.

March 1, 2010 | Registered CommenterWViT

Another great find David! Wow; very impressive.

March 1, 2010 | Registered CommenterWViT

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