Don Pardo, who literally introduced television viewers to some of America’s biggest stars and soon-to-be-stars as the longtime announcer for “Saturday Night Live,” died on Monday in Tucson. He was 96.
His daughter Dona Pardo confirmed the death.
Mr. Pardo, whose career began in the radio age, continued on “SNL” through the end of its most recent season, in May.
While not many people knew his face, practically every American knew his voice for more than half a century. Mr. Pardo was with “SNL” for 38 seasons, beginning with its first episode, in October 1975, missing only Season 7, and for many years he had been the announcer on the widely watched game shows “The Price Is Right” and “Jeopardy!”
For many viewers of “Saturday Night Live,” the names of scores of stars — from Chevy Chase to Eddie Murphy to Tina Fey — were first heard in Mr. Pardo’s sonorous baritone, which announced the cast each week at the end of the opening skit.
“Every year the new cast couldn’t wait to hear their name said by him,” Lorne Michaels, the show’s creator, said on Monday night.
That voice was validation for many stars.
“The moment you said my name was the height of my career,” Maya Rudolph told Mr. Pardo in a video tribute when he was inducted into the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences Hall of Fame in 2010.
Dominick George Pardo was born on Feb. 22, 1918, in Westfield, Mass. (It was George Washington’s birthday, the source of his middle name.) His father, also named Dominick, a bakery owner, and his mother, Viola, were immigrants from Poland. Mr. Pardo’s eventual first name resulted from his wanting to distinguish himself from his father.
“They used to call me Nicky, and I didn’t like that,” he said in an oral history he recorded in 2006 for the Archive of American Television. “So when I got into radio, I took up Dom.” That, though, didn’t stick. “People would always say ‘Don,’ ” Mr. Pardo continued. “I said, the heck with it; I’ll be Don.”
Mr. Pardo became interested in oratory and theater while a student at Norwich Free Academy in Connecticut, and in 1938, while living in Providence, R.I., he began working with local troupes, among them the 20th Century Players, which performed on WJAR, the NBC affiliate in Providence. After about a year, the station manager offered him a job as an announcer for $30 a week — a pay cut from his job at Brown & Sharpe, a machine tool manufacturer, but his new bride, Catherine Lyons, told him to take it anyway.
In 1944, Mr. Pardo and a friend, Hal Simms, who would also become a top radio and TV announcer, made a fateful weekend trip to visit the NBC studios in New York. When Mr. Pardo stopped by to thank Patrick J. Kelly, the supervisor of announcers, for arranging the tour, he ended up with a job offer. He started with the studios’ night staff on June 15, 1944, working from 6 p.m. to signoff, 2 a.m.
Mr. Pardo joined NBC just as it was experimenting with television programming. One day in 1946, the boss came in and asked if he knew anything about baseball. He and another announcer wound up calling three televised baseball games.
Mr. Pardo called the games as a radio announcer would, following the maxim never to allow any dead air. It proved to be a poor mix with a new medium in which viewers could see the action. In his Hall of Fame acceptance speech, Mr. Pardo recalled that one reviewer had dismissed his efforts saying, “He doesn’t know the game, and he wouldn’t shut his mouth.”
Mr. Pardo shuttled between radio and television for a time until an assignment he received in 1956 proved to be a keeper: the original “The Price Is Right,” hosted by Bill Cullen. The show’s popularity made the Pardo voice famous, and the occasional on-air mention by Mr. Cullen began to attach a name to that voice.
It was on “The Price Is Right” that he developed, by necessity, his distinctive elongated delivery. Part of his job, he explained, was to describe the merchandise being offered on the show before contestants tried to guess its price.
“The cameras are moving so slowly, and that’s the way I had to describe it: slowly,” he said. “Those cameras were large then. You want to make sure you describe what the camera is on.”
The show, based in New York, switched to ABC in 1963, but Mr. Pardo chose to stay with NBC, where he had duties besides “The Price Is Right.” He was, for instance, the first to tell viewers of WNBC in New York that President John F. Kennedy had been shot, breaking into a “Bachelor Father” episode to do it.
Mr. Pardo’s decision to stay at NBC left him available to be the announcer for a new show, “Jeopardy!,” which made its debut in 1964. A trivia show in which contestants tried to provide the questions after seeing the answers, “Jeopardy!” was hosted by Art Fleming, who made a point of thanking Mr. Pardo by name in each episode, lifting him even further out of announcer anonymity.
The original “Jeopardy!” (a syndicated version with Alex Trebek has been broadcast since 1984) ran until 1975, again a serendipitous endpoint because “Saturday Night Live” began that same year. The show’s creator, Mr. Michaels, who was born the year that Mr. Pardo started at NBC, 1944, saw Mr. Pardo, with his radio-age voice, as a strait-laced counterpoint to the wackiness of “SNL.”
“It couldn’t have been a more different culture,” Mr. Michaels said. “But it was perfect for us.”
Mr. Pardo botched the very first opening, calling the Not Ready for Prime-Time Players the “Not for Ready Prime-Time Players.” But the misstep was forgotten, and Mr. Pardo became a signature part of the show, not just announcing the cast, musical guest and host but also introducing “Weekend Update” and playing an integral role in other bits. He missed Season 7 after Mr. Michaels had stepped away from the show temporarily.
Mr. Pardo, who had a lifetime contract with NBC, retired in 2004, but he continued to do “SNL” even though he had moved to Arizona after his wife died in 1995. For years he flew to New York each week. In recent seasons he recorded his material in Tucson.
He had countless odd moments and memorable encounters. In 1976, he appeared in a Frank Zappa performance on “SNL.” In 1984, he had a voice cameo in the Weird Al Yankovic song “I Lost on Jeopardy.” He was in the Woody Allen movie “Radio Days” in 1987 and a guest star on a 2009 episode of “30 Rock.”
In addition to his daughter Dona, Mr. Pardo is survived by two other daughters, Paula and Katherine, two sons, David and Michael; five grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren.
Mr. Michaels said it was too soon to make a decision on a successor to Mr. Pardo. But he said “Saturday Night Live” would surely present a tribute to him in the coming season.
“It was a happy accident and in some great way our lives intertwined,” Mr. Michaels said. “It was always exciting. Whatever montage we did to open the show, whatever pictures we used, it didn’t really come alive till you heard him say it.”