Updated: 5:07 p.m. Sunday, July 31, 2011 | Posted: 5:00 p.m. Sunday, July 31, 2011
Jonathan Phelps, 83, broadcaster with "tuxedo voice"
By Rick Badie
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Jonathan Phelps brought a mellifluous sound and wide knowledge of classical music to his lengthy career as a local radio announcer, and was described as having a "tuxedo voice."
Van Joyner, then a station manager for WABE, had listened to Mr. Phelps at WGKA, and considered it a fortunate break when the latter station was sold, leaving Mr. Phelps unemployed, though no for long.
"We were looking for someone at the time and it was a great opportunity," the Fairburn resident said. "He knew classical music back and forth, plus he had that voice. It gave you the sense that this man knew what he was talking about, and not just picking up a record and reading the label."
On July 21, William Jonathan Phelps of Atlanta died from complications of emphysema at home. He was 83. A funeral was held Friday at H.M. Patterson & Son, Arlington Chapel, which handled arrangements.
Mr. Phelps' voice was ideal for theater and radio, and he treated Atlanta to both. The pianist and ballet dancer was born in Nashville, grew up in Druid Hills and graduated from Boys High School and the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York.
After serving as an Army cryptographer during the Korean War, he became a WGKA announcer in the mid-1950s. He moved up to program manager before WABE courted him.
"One of the best things he did for the station was begin live broadcasts of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra," Mr. Joyner said. "He was there every time a recording was made. He wasn't an engineering type, but he knew when it was done properly, and we'd play it on the radio."
Mr. Phelps proved to be a great addition to the artistic stage community in Atlanta and the region. He was applauded for his role as Hamlet with the Southeastern Shakespeare Festival, a performance that also drew praise from Time Magazine. He appeared with Theater Atlanta, the Pocket Theater and Theater Under the Stars, among others.
While he enjoyed a notable theatrical career, Mr. Phelps lwas widely recognized by Atlantans as a classical music announcer.
The 30-year radio veteran was known for his "tuxedo voice," said Reva Ezell, Mr. Joyner's successor at WABE.
"The tone of his voice was commanding, deep and rich," she said. "And when you add to that his meticulous pronunciation, it was perfection. People believed that he knew what he was talking about. When he spoke, it was virtually impossible not to listen."
In later years, Mr. Phelps did voice-over work and, at one time, was the voice that welcomed passengers at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport. He retired from WABE in 1991; Lois Reitzes, someone he mentored, was his replacement.
He is survived by a sister, Katie Phelps of Atlanta.
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