One night under his cowboy-themed bedspread a young Bill Ratner carefully adjusted the steel needle on his older brother Pete’s crystal radio set. He put on the headphones, moved the probe across the tiny sparkling crystal, and he began to experience the invisible world of voices.
The next day as he sat watching an afternoon kids’ TV program a deep, commanding voice announced, "This commercial message will be sixty seconds long." Bill held his breath as a 1953 Oldsmobile floated across the TV screen wending its way through forests and down bucolic country roads. When the commercial was over Bill sprinted into the kitchen and told his mother, "I know what a minute is. Sixty seconds!"
"Yes it is. How did you learn that?" his mother asked, wiping potato peelings from her apron.
"The man on TV told me."
"Oh? What did he look like?"
"I don’t know. He was invisible!"
Thus began Bill’s quiet, studied obsession with unseen voices – not the kind that appear suddenly within one’s head (unless you’re an animation voice actor) – but the kind that appear invisibly inside mechanized plush toys, in carnival thrill-rides, over loudspeakers at baseball games, on internet homepages, on TV, on the radio, and in movie theaters.
At age nine Bill and his friends John Barstow and John Waterhouse strung kite string between two orange-juice cans and dragged the string across Humbolt Avenue in South Minneapolis until it was stretched taut. Perched inside John Waterhouse’s bedroom window Bill shouted into his orange-juice can, "CAN YOU HEAR ME?"
"YOU DON’T HAVE TO SHOUT," responded John Barstow from across the street. "Yes, I can hear you." The immutable power of vocal transmission had hypnotized Bill and his friends.
Three years later Bill received a phone call that would change his life. It was a Saturday morning, and as he watched TV in his basement the phone rang. "It’s John Waterhouse on the phone for you, shit-head," shouted Bill’s older brother Pete.
Bill picked up the phone and listened as John Waterhouse reported breathlessly, "We’re at Jim’s TV & Radio on Bryant Avenue. Jim just showed us how to solder a microphone cable to the volume control of an AM radio and turn it into a public address system. You can hear your own voice coming out of the radio."
Bill was awestruck. Shortly after that transformative event he and his friends took soldering guns and proceeded to change entire households full of radios into public address systems. With rapt fascination they listened to themselves for hours on end. They swore an oath of allegiance, and together they established the Brotherhood of Radio Stations.
Inspired by his sixth-grade teacher, Mr. Close, Bill founded WCLO Radio – Stereo AM 1230. With a five-watt Knight-Kit transmitter he broadcast throughout his house and into the vast outdoors up to a distance of at least three-to-four houses.
It has been a long and valiant ride. From acting in small, undistinguished black-box theaters in the Upper Midwest, to selling radio ads to beauty parlors in suburban San Francisco, from telling stories before a microphone in beer-fumed Hollywood nightclubs, to standing guard with his unions over the ever-tilting playing field of the American media marketplace. Bit by bilious bit Bill has risen from the hoi polloi into the Pantheon of American voices where, in his starchy white toga and ox-hide sandals, he can be heard honking out the hits, belting out his copy, turning on a dime. From unctuous sincerity to whispery gossip, from profoundly shocked moral outrage to the resonance of grave and ethical truth, from low bathroom humor to pitch-perfect patrician amusement, Bill gratefully, humbly, and proudly moves his lips in return for generous remuneration.
He appreciates your visiting this virtual portfolio.