The phone rings. Jack Wagner perks up and slips a piece of paper into his typewriter. The Voice of Disneyland is ready for action.
Wagner listens and carefully repeats back his assignment: "Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome Lady Bird Johnson as she . . . does what? Proceeds through town square for a dedication? ... Oh, a wildflower planting. Gee, I never heard of that, so she's going to plant a wildflower, is she? OK."
"Ladies and gentlemen," says Wagner, taking another practice spin, this time shifting into a voice so infused with energy and enthusiasm that had he been reading the dictionary out loud on a street corner, people would have stopped just to listen, "please welcome Lady Bird Johnson as she proceeds through town square for a wildflower planting."
It's just one of the scores of announcements that Wagner records every week for Disneyland, Disney World and Tokyo Disneyland. On one day this week, for instance, Wagner recorded more than 50 announcements for Disney theme parks.
Wagner, 62, has been working as Disneyland's official narrator since 1970. He often spends most of his waking hours in the cool, dark sound studio where he churns out everything from the greeting that welcomes visitors at Disneyland's entrance (he has to record a new one every time the ticket price goes up) to the friendly-yet-firm warning that cautions Matterhorn riders to keep their arms and legs tucked into their sleds until the vehicle comes to a complete stop. Besides taping messages in his own vocal style, Wagner has recorded the voices of Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck and a host of other Disney characters at the park and for special shows.
"I sometimes think of myself as the eighth dwarf," said Wagner, popping out tapes and darting from side to side of his small, gadget-packed studio, located about 2 miles from the park.
But there is more to Wagner's unusual occupation than discoursing for Disney. His voice has proven so distinctive that a growing number of corporations, police departments, airports and schools are paying to use it for their own purposes.
Wagner also is a versatile sound engineer with a knack for shortcuts and money-saving recording techniques that have made him popular among producers in the growing field of taped musical productions and video marketing presentations.
The same voice that tells the Tinkerbell story each night also hawks everything from weapons systems to pharmaceutical equipment.
For example, it was Wagner's voice, recorded against a backdrop of James Bond music, that pitched to Pentagon officials a proposal to purchase dune buggies loaded with rocket launchers and machine guns for desert warfare. The armored vehicles are made by International Ordnance Systems, a Los Angeles defense contractor. Hardly the stuff of bedtime fairy-tales.
There are plenty of voices for hire in Southern California, but Jack Wagner is not your garden-variety golden throat.
"Jack is absolutely one of a kind," said Dan Dorsey, creator of the hit recordings "Bachbusters" and "Beethoven or Bust." "What makes him unusual is his wide range of audio skills," said Dorsey, who spent two years apprenticing with Wagner in the 1970s.
And he combines those skills in an affordable package, said Dennis Despie, president of Select Productions in Tustin, which has hired Wagner to create voice and music tapes for everything from Super Bowl half times to an upcoming ground-breaking ceremony for AST Research's new corporate headquarters in Irvine.
"There are a lot of announcers in the world," Despie said. "What makes Jack unique is that he has the production facilities to do all the master tape work, the dubbing, the mixing and the narration. Normally you have to go out and separately hire a narrator, a recording studio and a sound engineer. What could cost $10,000 in a typical recording studio, Jack can do for about $500."
Ray Angora, a technical director at CBS Television and a close friend of Wagner since the 1940s, agreed. "If you buy Jack's services, you get a complete package," Angora said. "He can do several voices, sound effects, even sing in meter. He'll mix it and blend it. And he'll get the job done fast, sometimes in the same day. I don't think there are many people out there who can do that."
Although Wagner said that about 80% of his time is spent on work for Disney and that his first priority is to complete Disney projects, his vocal chords do not belong to the company.