Wendell Niles, a veteran radio and television announcer who worked with such golden age performers as Bob Hope, George Burns and Milton Berle, has died at his San Fernando Valley home. He was 89.
A Toluca Lake resident for 55 years, Niles died Monday of cancer, said his son, Wendell Niles Jr.
Among his many credits, Niles served as announcer for such radio and television programs as “The Bob Hope Show,” “The Milton Berle Show,” “The Colgate Comedy Hour,” “The Tennessee Ernie Ford Show,” “It Could Be You” and “The Chase and Sanborn Hour,” with ventriloquist Edgar Bergen.
“He was one of the greatest radio personalities of our time and he was a great friend,” Berle said in a prepared statement. “He had one of the best voices the radio has ever known.”
Said Hope in a statement: “With Wendell’s death, we’re seeing the passing of a great era. He was a true pioneer.”
Niles also appeared in more than three dozen motion pictures, including “Knute Rockne, All American,” with Ronald Reagan in 1940. In 1960, he was honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for his work in radio.
Born and raised in Livingston, Mont., Niles began his show business career in the 1920s as the leader of a nationally touring orchestra. In the early 1930s, he settled with his family in Seattle, where he worked as the announcer for radio station KOL.
Niles came to Los Angeles in 1935, joining George Burns and Gracie Allen’s radio show as the announcer. With his late brother Ken, he developed what would become the radio drama “Theatre of the Mind.” During World War II, he toured with Bob Hope, entertaining armed forces across the globe.
In 1953, Niles told The Times that announcers faced a challenge unique to live broadcasts--keeping the audience’s attention during the commercials.
“An announcer has to perform like mad every second he is on camera or before the microphone to keep some semblance of attention so that the stars will have an audience when the sponsor’s appeal is completed,” he said.
During the late 1960s, Niles created a weekly television spotlight of aspiring performers, “Your All-American College Show.” He served as the program’s executive producer.
“When vaudeville dried up and radio quit, there were really no sources for new talent,” he told The Times in 1968. “I realized new talent had to come from the colleges. There are over 3,000 colleges in this country and they’re all loaded with talent.”
In addition to his son Wendell Jr., Niles is survived by another son, Richard Niles; a brother, Donald Niles; a sister, Grace Campbell, and nine grandchildren. At Niles’ request, there will be no funeral. A private memorial service will be held at a later date.