Henry Dabecco: Bashful Bachelor With A Resonant Voice
By Edward L. Blank
Press TV-Radio Writer
| Henry Dabecco, alias
"Handsome Henry, the city's most eligible bachelor," is a quiet man.
He does not attract attention to himself for it's own sake, yet he has
one of the most familiar voices in the district.
A Mount Washington resident, Henry has been broadcasting for 21 years and making commercials in his spare time. He's got a classically clean, smooth delivery that lends itself to almost any kind of announcing, so naturally he's heard often.
During his years as a disc jockey, Henry sounded anything but retiring, so the discovery that he's an especially subdued person off the air came as a surprise.
"Well, I was extremely shy in high school," he said, "... extremely bashful. I would go out of my way rather than say hello to someone. Then I was told about it.
"I was told that in order to make it in the business world, I would have to come out of my shell, so to speak. Maybe 'shell' is not the right word. I just kept to myself, really.
"In order to counteract this I decided to become a radio announcer. We all take stock of ourselves sometimes. We try to come up with an accurate account, though we're not always successful. So I thought: "Well, if personality development is what I need, what better place can I get it than here? And the work itself always appealed to me.'"
As for his bachelor hood, "Well, I don't know that I'm free," Henry said chuckling, "But I am available. I'm not adverse to marriage. Certainly I wouldn't chase it or make it a project. I always felt if it's going to happen it would in it's own good time."
Late in the '40s, when almost everyone served apprenticeships at stations in small markets, Henry packed up and headed for WCVI, Connellsville.
| "At a small station
they can afford to be a little more patient with you," he said. "The
change in my personality started to come about very slowly.
"I did find myself coming out of it and asserting myself more and more."
He moved to WJAS in 1951, then to KQV, WTAE-Radio and finally Channel 4, where he's a booth announcer from 8:30 p.m. to sign off Wednesdays through Sundays.
Sitting in KQV's picture window studio playing top 40 records was an ordeal of sorts for him, rather like having Rudolph Valentino spin platters like "The Jingle Bell Rock." Henry found it challenging:
"Yes, it was," he said, "because, as you know, I'm very quiet and very slow, so it was a maximum effort. But I rather enjoyed it because it was quite different from anything I'd done previously."
Even the type of announcing was offbeat for him. "You had to talk fast and loud. Everything had to be very tight and fast," he added, snapping his fingers a few times with amusement. "This was the mark of success."
Doing a late afternoon, middle of the road music show on WTAE seemed to suit him best. Yet, despite the change of station and format, some of Henry's air personality remained constant: He was always suavely, but formally "up." Off the air he was a different person.
"I don't really know if people would expect you to perform on the street as you would on the air. That would be phony. You do have to exaggerate your personality over the air for the sake of impression.
"You've got to turn off when you come off camera or off the mike or off stage. You've got to be yourself again, because when you're on
|the air - while you are yourself - you're
almost somebody else. There's a little gray area there.
"When you're on the mike, you're aware that you're talking to a lot of people, and they don't want to hear your problems. They don't want to know how you feel today because maybe they don't feel too well and maybe the tuned in to be brightened up."
Henry left the turntables in March, 1968, to do TV booth announcing. He's there throughout the evening programming, the 11 p.m. news, the late movie and the Dick Cavett Show.
He usually leaves by 3 or 3:30 a.m., he said, except when the movie is something long like "War and Peace." Between announcements he may read, talk with the engineers or view the Channel 4 lineup. "I find myself watching movies more and more now," he said.
At first I was restless in the booth, as I was accustomed to working at this radio thing," he added. "Then I made the adjustment."
A couple of months ago he turned up on camera. He and Del Taylor are alternating hosts of "Community Outreach," a public service series at 6:30 p.m. Saturdays on Channel 4.
"I like that," Henry said. "Working in the booth you feel as if you're being sort of ignored or passed over. At least when you have a program, you have something to look forward to.
"In the booth, you sit there knowing you're under consideration for something else all the time.
"Today, you're on stage performing, and tomorrow the lights go out. So you sit by and wait until you're considered, and the lights go on again."