Don Robertson: The Voice of Happy Retirement
As the “Voice of CBS Sports” for 25 years, Don Robertson used his exceptional vocal cords to make a living. As a retiree, he uses that gift in more personal ways. Robertson worked most of his career as a staff announcer for CBS, introducing on-air talent and recording promos and commercial “billboards” – spots that identified the sponsors of a particular broadcast.
Robertson’s talents enabled him to cross paths with a number of notable figures, from the sports world and beyond. While studying at the University of North Carolina, he sang in the glee club with Andy Griffith. And once while in a hurry during a break in the CBS studio, he accidentally slammed a door into Vice President Nelson Rockefeller - also in the studio for an appearance on “Face the Nation.”
But people most often ask Robertson about his relationships with CBS’ visible personalities, and he is able to tell stories about sportscasting legends such as Pat Summerall and Jack Whitaker. He jokes about once receiving a complaint from the CBS vice president about a sport coat and tie he wore on air – an outfit he had borrowed from Frank Gifford.
Now Robertson’s friends are less well-known - but no less important to him.
“When you retire, you owe it to yourself to choose friends who will enhance your life,” he said.
The voice of a network
Robertson’s career choices were relatively cut and dried early on. When you have a voice as rich and distinctive as his, you sing or you go into radio and television. Because he “wanted to eat regularly,” he said, he chose broadcasting.
After working as a radio reporter throughout high school and college, Robertson received a degree in communications in 1950. He went in to the Air Force after college and served in Korea. In 1953, he left military service and returned to broadcasting, working for radio and television markets in North and South Carolina and Connecticut.
Robertson was working for a television station in Charlotte, N.C., when he got his “big break.” In 1961, he had moved to the CBS affiliate WBT, where “I think I was on the air all day,” he said. He did news, weather and sports for a morning show, and hosted a mid-day interview show. He also did play-by-play sports announcing for Davidson (N.C.) College.
He was in New York announcing a basketball game between the college and New York University at Madison Square Garden when a producer with CBS’ Wide World of Sports invited him to auditions that were taking place while he was in town.
“About two days later, the station manager came in and said, ‘Congratulations on your new job, Don.’ I didn’t want them to know I was auditioning, but he said CBS had called to make sure it was okay to hire me. So that’s how I found out I had a job with CBS,” he said.
Ultimately, Robertson moved to CBS Sports. Management there had decided they wanted one voice that viewers could associate with all their sporting events, and the voice they chose was his.
A lifetime of choices
As he advanced his career, Robertson was also raising a family with his wife Mary, whom he married in 1951 after knowing her for six months.
“I was in the military. You never know where you’ll be a few months from now, so you work fast,” he said of their brief courtship.
The couple had three children together. While Robertson worked long hours, he chose opportunities that allowed him a reasonable amount of time at home. He was once offered a shot at doing play-by-play announcing for the network, but a friend warned him that the travel would take a toll on his family.
So Robertson took his friend’s advice to heart and remained a studio man, someone whose voice was instantly recognizable, but who actually appeared on television only rarely.
In 1993, at the age of 65, Robertson retired to serve as the primary caregiver for his wife, Mary, who had severe rheumatoid arthritis and osteoporosis. Dementia-related illness claimed Mary in 2004, and Robertson moved to Pennsylvania to be near his young grandchildren.
He chose a retirement community 15 minutes from his son because of the opportunities it offered to keep busy and continue to meet new people. He is so visible among his neighbors that friends jokingly ask him what office he’s running for.
“Any day of the week you can find him working out, playing pool, or lending his famous voice to talent show efforts or community announcements,” said Robin Kaufold, sales manager at Ann's Choice, the community where Robertson lives.
While staying healthy and indulging his passion for people is important to him now, Robertson also views retirement as a chance to be useful to others. He volunteers to do voice work for Christian radio and television shows and is interested in reading for the blind.
“I have always believed that the talent the Lord gives me – I shouldn’t be paid for it. I feel like I was compensated well at CBS. I certainly don’t turn down money anyone offers me,” he laughs. “But being paid is not a necessity now.”