Old-time radio historian Jim Harmon minced no words in his book Radio Mystery and Adventure and Its Appearances in Film, Television and Other Media: “He was the announcer, perhaps the greatest announcer-narrator in the history of radio drama. He pronounced words like no one ever had—‘SIL-ver,’ ‘hiss-TOR-ee.’ But hearing him, you realized everybody else had been wrong.” That announcer was born Frederick William Foy on this date in 1921 in Detroit, MI…and although his wasn’t the first voice to recount the tales of “the daring and resourceful masked rider of the plains,” he “literally made many people forget there had been others before him,” according to Harmon.
Born to Anna and Ferdinand Frederick Foy, an autoworker, Fred did not enter this world unaccompanied—he had a twin sister named Betty (his only sibling). (Foy joked in a 2008 interview: “My Mom and Dad were not expecting a double feature.”) He developed a love of acting by emulating the heroes in the various library books he checked out as a child. Graduating from Detroit’s Eastern High School in 1938, Foy decided to remain home (instead of attending drama school) and look for any job opportunities in local radio. His lack of experience hampered his ambitions, but he eventually landed a gig at WBMC, a small 250-watt station. Fred wasn’t paid for his on-air duties—he depended on his second job as an elevator operator in a downtown department store to keep body and soul together.
With his WBMC experience, Fred Foy eventually made the move to Detroit’s WXYZ in 1942—the home of The Lone Ranger and The Green Hornet (and later Challenge of the Yukon). His stint at “Wyxie Wonderland” was brief, however; Foy was soon inducted into an Armed Forces Radio unit. His attachment with the 14th Special Service Company would prove most fortuitous. Fred would become the American voice of Egyptian State Broadcasting in Cairo, announcing news and sports while handling the distribution of American recordings throughout the Middle East. In concert with the USO, Foy helped sponsor and stage shows featuring the likes of Jack Benny and Lily Pons. Before his discharge in 1946, Fred received a commendation for voluntarily remaining at his post from August 10 until August 15, 1945 (the official confirmation of the Japanese surrender), issuing updates and news bulletins on the emerging situation.
Fred Foy returned to WXYZ after being demobbed, and for a couple of years served as a “second announcer” for many of the station’s popular series (doing the commercials at mid-break). The decision of Lone Ranger announcer Harry Golder to relocate to the West Coast to further his career would provide Fred with the opportunity of a lifetime: to announce The Lone Ranger, a show he had listened to faithfully in his youth…never dreaming that he would one day be associated with the program. Foy’s first broadcast was July 2, 1948, and he was also assigned the task of being star Brace Beemer’s understudy, frequently taking over for Brace during the show’s rehearsals.
Then came the day only dreamed about in old movie musicals: Fred would be pressed upon to play the role of the Ranger on a March 29, 1954 broadcast when Beemer came down with laryngitis! (“I guess I did all right,” Foy reminisced in 2003 to The New York Daily News, “because we didn’t get any complaints.”) Had the series not bid listeners an official fare-thee-well in September of that same year, Foy could have eventually taken over for Beemer…though doing public appearances would have been a little tricky; WXYZ’s George W. Trendle suggested Fred take riding lessons, but the announcer quit after the first one. When Brace Beemer took over as the titular hero of Sergeant Preston of the Yukon during that program’s final season…Fred Foy officially came along as Preston’s announcer-narrator (though he had appeared on that show—not to mention The Green Hornet—on earlier occasions).
When The Lone Ranger and his faithful Indian companion Tonto rode onto television screens on September 15, 1949, Fred Foy brought up the rear by reprising his role as announcer…though the narration for the initial episodes came courtesy of actor Gerald Mohr. Fred would continue his weekly invite to “return with us now to those thrilling days of yesteryear!” until ABC-TV cancelled the TV series on June 6, 1957. Foy stayed with the American Broadcasting Company; he joined ABC’s New York staff in 1961, and plied his announcing trade for talk shows hosted by Les Crane and Dick Cavett, not to mention The Generation Gap and other quiz shows. For ABC Radio, he was the host-narrator of Arch Oboler’s attempt to revive radio drama with Theatre Five, and he also lent his voice to an award-winning documentary series for the radio network, Voices in the Headlines.
Fred Foy would continue his love of radio by doing newscasts over WABC in New York, and his familiar voice could be heard not only as a narrator of documentaries on such notables as Sir Winston Churchill and John F. Kennedy, but as pitchman for such products as Colgate and General Motors. Foy stayed with ABC until 1985, and in retirement he wrote an autobiography entitled Fred Foy from XYZ to ABC: A Fond Recollection. Inducted into the National Radio Hall of Fame in 2000, and awarded the Golden Boot Award from the Motion Picture and Television Fund four years later, Fred became a frequent guest at old-time radio conventions…where he would enthusiastically recreate what many believe to be radio’s most recognized opening. Foy left this world for a better one in 2010 at the age of 89.
“A fiery horse with the speed of light, a cloud of dust and a hearty ‘Hi-Yo Silver’—The Lone Ranger!” You better believe that Radio Spirits has plenty of collections featuring the voice of today’s birthday celebrant, with The Lone Ranger Rides Again, Masked Rider, and Plains Thunder more than sufficient to whet any old-time radio fan’s appetite. But be sure to check out our latest Sergeant Preston of the Yukon set, Return to Danger—just in case you want a little dessert. Happiest of birthdays to you, Fred Foy—you’re not only one of the medium’s all-time greats…it’s safe to say that without you I’d be operating a blog without a proper name.