Radio’s lost one of its most golden voices

  • Julie Muhlstein / Herald Columnist
  • Thursday, November 2, 2000 9:00pm
  • Local News

I remember when gas cost 27 cents a gallon. I remember fluoroscope machines that showed the bones in your feet when you went to buy saddle shoes. I remember pulling a chilled Hires root beer bottle from the icy bath of an old-fashioned soda cooler.

There are slices of Americana I’m too young to remember. I have faint recollection of TV’s golden age, but missed the glory days of radio. What I know about "Bob and Ray" and "Fibber McGee and Molly," I know from my dad, not from hours spent huddled by the family Philco.

Merrill Mael began his radio career in 1939, just a year after Orson Welles sent listeners into a collective panic with his storied broadcast of "Invasion From Mars."

On Oct. 16, Mael died of complications related to cancer. He was 76. Mael’s death silenced a voice heard in radio programs and ads for six decades, from the golden era to our 24/7 age. For the past year and a half, Mael had lived in Everett.

He was heard on "Breakfast at Sardi’s," "Doctor Kate," "Maxwell House Coffee Time," "Mirth and Madness," "The Standard Symphony Hour" and other vintage programs.

"He did it all in old-time radio," said Mael’s widow, Sandy. "He did a warm-up show for Art Linkletter. He played Uncle Fletcher on ‘Vic and Sade,’ a Chicago program they brought to the West Coast."

Uncle Fletcher "was a grumpy old fellow" whose one-word answer to life’s challenges was "fine," Sandy Mael said. "I teased him a lot about it being typecasting."

Sorry to say, I don’t recall it. But I have heard Mael’s voice. So have you.

After decades in radio, he is best known in these parts for a single line: "I’m standing here with Sunny Kobe Cook."

In recent years, Mael was the mattress maven’s unseen sidekick in Sleep Country USA commercials. Can’t you just hear him, countering a sales pitch with a chipper question: "Sunny, what’s the catch?"

"He’s a delight to work with," Cook said in 1998 when I interviewed her for another column. Others who worked with Mael had similar praise.

Longtime Seattle radio personality Jim French began casting Mael in his mystery dramas in the 1970s.

"You could ask him to play just about any part; he did a magnificent job," said French, whose "Imagination Theater" airs at 9 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays on KNWX-770 AM. French’s previous credits include KIRO’s "Mystery Playhouse" and "Theater of the Mind."

He recalled one Mael character who was suspected of being crazy.

"The only thing wrong with the dear man was he was hard of hearing. He wore a special hearing aid that picked up broadcasts from the future. He played this man as a bizarre oddity in town. He was lovable," French said.

Mael was involved with Radio Enthusiasts of Puget Sound, an organization founded by Mike Sprague of Bothell.

"He was one of those guys who started in radio in his teens. He owned stations in Alaska, he was on radio in Europe, he’s done so many things beyond the Sunny Kobe Cook stuff," Sprague said. "He could do anything, from humor to very serious drama."

Radio acting is a bygone art form. But some things never go out of style.

"He was a caring person," Sprague said. "Often I’d pick up my phone messages, and it would be Merrill with some odd voice, cackling or something. But he was always kind. I’m a major fan of Merrill Mael."

Sandy Mael, who still lives in Everett, is her late husband’s biggest fan. "Everybody thinks their husband is the best, but mine actually was," she said. "He exposed me to a world I would never have known."

At its annual convention in June, Sprague said, the Radio Enthusiasts of Puget Sound will honor Mael "in recognition of what he’s meant in the history of this club."

French can think of no one more deserving.

"I considered Merrill Mael to be one of the most moral and finest men I have ever had the honor of knowing," French said. "The world needs millions of Merrill Maels."

Talk to us

> Give us your news tips.

> Send us a letter to the editor.

> More Herald contact information.

More in Local News

A Mukilteo Speedway sign hangs at an intersection along the road on Sunday, April 21, 2024, in Mukilteo, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Long live the Speedway! Mukilteo’s main drag won’t be renamed

The public shot down the mayor’s idea to change the name: 77% voted ‘No’ in an online survey, with 95% opposed on Facebook.

Motorcyclist dies in crash on East Marine View Drive in Everett

Around 8 p.m. Tuesday, a motorcycle and a vehicle crashed into each other at the intersection of 11th street and East Marine View Drive.

Logo for news use featuring the municipality of Darrington in Snohomish County, Washington. 220118
Motorcyclist dies in crash on Highway 530

Jeremy Doyle, 46, was riding east near Darrington when he crashed into the side of a car that was turning left.

The Marysville School District office on Thursday, Aug. 31, 2023 in Marysville, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
‘Financially insolvent’ Marysville schools to get unprecedented oversight

Superintendent Chris Reykdal will convene a first-of-its-kind Financial Oversight Committee, he wrote in a letter Tuesday.

Woodside Elementary Principal Betty Cobbs on Monday, June 17, 2024 in Bothell, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Everett’s first Black principal retires after 51 years

In her office, Betty Cobbs kept a black-and-white photo of herself at age 5: “I am right there, with dreams of becoming an educator.”

Junelle Lewis, right, daughter Tamara Grigsby and son Jayden Hill sing “Lift Every Voice and Sing” during Monroe’s Juneteenth celebration on Saturday, June 18, 2022. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
On Juneteenth: ‘We can always say that there is hope’

The Snohomish County NAACP is co-sponsoring a celebration Saturday near Snohomish, with speakers, music and food.

Granite Falls
Man, 35, dies from heart attack while hiking Lake 22

The man suffered a heart attack about 1½ miles into the 6-mile hike east of Granite Falls on Friday, authorities said.

36 hours after final show, Everett radio host Charlye Parker, 80, dies

When Parker got into radio, she was a rarity: a woman in a DJ booth. For the past 12 years, she hosted weekend country music shows at KXA.

Dr. Scott Macfee and Dr. Daniel Goodman outside of the Community Health Center on Wednesday, June 12, 2024 in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Everett CHC doctors, feeling like ‘commodities,’ speak up on ailing system

At the Community Health Center of Snohomish County, doctors say they feel like “rats getting off a sinking ship.” They want it to get better.

Logo for news use featuring the municipality of Mountlake Terrace in Snohomish County, Washington. 220118
Man charged with shooting at ex-girlfriend, child in Mountlake Terrace

The man, 21, showed up to his ex-girlfriend’s apartment and opened fire through the door, new court records say.

People walk along Olympic Avenue past Lifeway Cafe and Olympic Theater that currently hosts Lifeway Church on Friday, July 7, 2023 in Arlington, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Arlington churches waged covert ‘battle’ against Pride event, records show

Sermons, emails and interviews reveal how an LGBTQ+ nonprofit became the target of a covert campaign by local evangelical leaders.

Drive-in movies are coming to the north Island. (Port of Everett image)
Where to catch outdoor movies this summer in Snohomish County

Bring a chair, blanket and the kids for a cinema night under the stars with your favorite movies, including “Barbie” and “Trolls.”

Support local journalism

If you value local news, make a gift now to support the trusted journalism you get in The Daily Herald. Donations processed in this system are not tax deductible.