His voice is seldom heard. But the sounds of Fred Norris have been making Stern Show fans laugh for decades. In addition to playing the audio drops that we all know and love, Fred is the head writer and the longest tenured employee of the Howard Stern Show, excluding Howard himself.
Raised in the bucolic farmlands of Central Connecticut, Fred was banned from watching television growing up. Instead, Fred read and memorized as many books as possible, including the encyclopedia, filling his head with the otherwise useless knowledge that he shows off during the long-running bit, ‘Win Fred’s Money’.
While still in college, Fred worked overnights for WCCC in Hartford and at the end of one late shift, met the man who would change his life forever, Howard Stern. Since 1979, Fred has written some of the Stern Show’s most legendary bits, lent his voice to countless impersonations and will even strum a few guitar licks whenever Howard is in the mood to sing a tune on-air. Fred lives in New York with his lovely wife Allison and his daughter, Tess.
a blog by Fred Norris
If we had a Rock And Roll Hall of Fame for Stern Show memorabilia - this object would
certainly be in it.
Next to the display case of carts.
Next to the snare drum and cymbal Howard would use to punctuate a joke.
It might even be on a velvet pillow with spot lights.
It has been part of the Howard Stern Show for over 30 years. It has traveled all across
America. It has been to England. And it has been heard by millions of listeners for
It is “THE SOUND GIZMO”
Maybe one of the most iconic artifacts if the Stern show. (Next to Garyʼs caps)
It arrived in an nondescript brown cardboard box between October of 1981 and June of
1982 at the studios of WWDC - DC-101 Washington D.C. I opened this tiny package
while Howard was off being bored to death by the General Manager of the station.
There was a business card that came with it. A simple parcel from a fan. It probably
cost $20 dollars when it was new and was more than likely made by a 9 year old Chinese kid
in a sweat shop (before they started making Nikes). I put in the batteries and looked at
As you looked at the face of the Sound Gizmo you saw it had different settings:
And some other knobs that you could twist to “fine tune” your sound to perfection.
Yeah well, they all sucked. It didn’t sound like anything but cheap shit. But that in itself
So I played with it some more. I managed to make it sound like a helicopter. Then the
gunshot didn't seem too bad. You could manipulate the speed knob or the motor setting to sound like a vibrator.
(Hey, Robin you ready to do the news? SFX Hmm, sheʼs busy right now, letʼs do a commercial break.)
The real beauty of the Gizmo was you could be more spontaneous and create theater of
the mind on the spot. No searching for carts or walking down the hall to make a cart with
You had the sound right at your fingertips.
In the old days Fred had to rely on his voice, carts (the red, 8 track tape looking things in this pic) and his Sound Gizmo
You have to understand that we didnʼt have samplers - iPads - apps or anything back
then that was portable and that could make decent sound effects. You had to depend on
carts, tapes or records with the sound effects on them. Any sound that you wanted had
to be pre-planned - meaning - go to record - cue up record - put cart in machine - put in
record - hit the button - start the record and stop it when you got what you wanted.
Now it was the ʻSound Gizmoʼ - and your imagination. You could put this thing in a briefcase and carry it to where you wanted to go. You could hold it, manipulate it and create funny moments which made this thing priceless. It was a one of a kind device.
Howard in a helicopter? Sound Gizmo.
Woman getting off in her bedroom by herself? Sound Gizmo.
Pretending to be on a jet when something stupid was happening? Sound Gizmo.
The best use of the “Sound Gizmoʼ was back in the ʼ80ʼs (or ʼ90ʼs) and we did a radio
broadcast from a listeners home. Greg Lake of Emerson, Lake and Palmer was the
guest. Howard asked Greg to sing ʻLucky Manʼ - and Howard volunteered to do the
Moog Synthesizer solo done by Keith Emerson on The Sound Gizmo.
It was ridiculous - it was funny and it worked. Keith probably played the solo
on a device the size of a Buick and more cables than an old time telephone
And Howard did it on this.
They could have saved millions in carting around their synthesizers on tour.
Well as the years went on, technology advanced. There were samplers on Casio
keyboards with big yellow buttons - Instant Replay Machines that could hold thousands
of sound effects recorded in pristine quality to help you create an ʻaural movieʼ with the
touch of some buttons. Then computers came along with screens that had ʻpages and
pages of sound effects.ʼ So the little Sound Gizmo became less relevant.
Fred's Instant Replay machines - where many of the sound effects you hear everday come from
But I will always remember how “The Gizmo” could make the sound of a womanʼs
personal friend or Mamalooka BooBoo Dayʼs helicopter. You could reenact JFK getting
shot. Or replicate the synthesizer solo to “Lucky Man” in a low tech way.
The days of cheap plastic and imagination was all you needed to make ideas on the
Stern Show come to life. It made listeners laugh and smile.
If you want - you can buy one off of eBay for about $75 dollars.
Or just remember the good times it helped enhance on the Howard Stern Show.
I get a lot of spam/garbage/junk in my email.
Real Age, REI Anniversary Sale, GPS Receivers, Tea Party, Asian Women Want You...
Skip that last one.
But one day I got an “Inspirational Quote” in my e mail. and here’s what it said.
“Keep on going, and the chances are that you will stumble on something, perhaps when you are least expecting it. I never heard of anyone ever stumbling on something sitting down.”
Alright - Who is/was Charles F. Kettering?
Here’s what I found out. He was born on a farm in 1876. He had a hard time in school because of his poor eyesight which forced him to drop out of college.
But he eventually went back and ultimately got an electrical engineering degree from Ohio State in 1904.
After he graduated, he got a job with National Cash Register where he invented the first electric cash register. Cha-ching.
Then he moved on to work in the automobile industry...
...where he invented the first electric ignition system for automobiles. So now you could start the engine without having to crank it.
You might say - what’s the big deal?
Well, some times while cranking the motor of your 1928 Dodge - it could backfire. Ask your grandfather.. Or better yet, ask Ronnie.
When that happened could fracture your ‘radial styloid’. I’m no doctor, but that sounds like it hurts. Or if you were on a hill and the parking brake wasn’t properly engaged - the car could roll over you. OR the crank handle wouldn’t disengage and you could break your thumb, wrist and arms if the crank spun and you had the wrong grip. Needless to say - I think the electric starter was a big deal.
Kettering also invented electric lights for cars so drivers could drive better at night.
He developed new technology for regarding spark plugs, leaded gasoline, automatic transmission, and four-wheel brakes.
At General Motors he also developed diesel engines, safety glass, and the refrigerant Freon which is used in air conditioning. Kettering's home was the first house in the United States to have air conditioning. OK - so he started us on the path of killing the ozone - but he was no dope.
His inventions, especially the electric automobile starter, made him wealthy.
But what was really great about him is that in 1945, was that it wasn't all about money for him.
He helped found what became the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center.
It was founded on the principles that American Industrial research techniques could be applied to cancer research.
Here was a wealthy guy who gave a shit about mankind.
Kettering not only invented things that improved our lives, he was in favor of developing technology that could help save them.
Next time you drive by a building - notice who the building was named after. There might be a great story there.
Unless it’s McDonald’s. Then just go in and get a Quarter Pounder with cheese and a large order of fries.
Click for more info on Charles Kettering
* Possibly from Mars
* Formerly known as "Earth Dog Fred"
* Once changed his name to "Eric"
* Fred plays guitar and is the lead singer of the band King Norris