John Carlson was never at a loss for words, but when he broke into broadcasting at WBET-AM in Brockton in the mid-1950s, he would warm up before going on the air by reading the dictionary aloud.
Mr. Carlson, the play-by-play announcer for New England Patriots games on WEEI-AM from 1980 to 1986, knew from an early age that he had an engaging voice.
“His mother, Helen, took him to the Holbrook Grange hall, where he would do public speaking,” said Mr. Carlson’s son, John Jr. of Rockland. “He had a gift, and my grandmother encouraged him to use it.”
Over the years, his repertoire included reciting the Gettysburg Address and patriotic verses at Boston Pops concerts and, for nearly 25 years, providing the radio voice for Bill Shea’s Replacement Countertops commercials.
Mr. Carlson, who retired as a brigadier general in the Massachusetts Army National Guard and formerly was its public affairs officer, died of respiratory complications April 5 in South Shore Hospital. He was 82 and a lifelong Braintree resident.
“I’ve never met anyone more passionate about broadcasting,” said Jon Morris, a former Patriots center who provided color commentary in the booth with Mr. Carlson. “John was always trying to do better at it and was very good at what he did, while never being full of himself.”
Morris, who also served in the National Guard, visited the Commonwealth Armory one day with Mr. Carlson, “and he surprised me by making me an honorary lieutenant colonel.”
While on the air, Mr. Carlson tried not to cough or clear his throat, and he preferred to broadcast football games standing before an open press box window. He had attended the Prescott School of Broadcasting in 1953, two years after graduating from Braintree High School.
At WBET, where he had read poetry on air at age 12, Mr. Carlson learned the business from scratch. He was a disc jockey, read news and weather reports, and produced features.
He also was the voice of Brockton High and Cardinal Spellman High sports, at first earning $12 for broadcasting their football games. “He had no engineer, no color commentator, and he had to climb a ladder with a suitcase filled with equipment into the press box at the old Keith Field in Brockton,” said his son John Jr., who along with his brother, Eric, would help Mr. Carlson set up.
“By the time he had paid for gas and lunch, Dad said he had already spent the $12, but he loved it,” John Jr. added. “He treated the players as if they were wearing Patriots uniforms. When he interviewed them, they felt like they were on top of the world.”
Armond Colombo, a legendary Brockton High football coach, said Mr. Carlson was “a magnificent play-by-play announcer and a high-class individual. I always felt he could go far beyond broadcasting high school football.”
Through his work, Mr. Carlson attended two very different Super Bowls. The first was Brockton’s 16-14 victory over Newton North in the inaugural Eastern Massachusetts high school Super Bowl at Boston University’s Nickerson Field in 1972. Then in 1986, he was in the booth at Super Bowl XX in New Orleans, when the Chicago Bears defeated the Patriots, 46-10.
His transition to Boston radio began when he was a guest on “Sports Huddle” and was the color commentator on WBZ broadcasts of Patriots games alongside Gil Santos.
Mr. Carlson also was a sports talk show host at WEEI from 1976 to 1987, and at WRKO until 1990. He also worked Beanpot Tournament and New England Whalers hockey games, Boston College football and basketball, and Minnesota Vikings football in 1990.
When WHDH took over the broadcast of Patriots games in 1987, Mr. Carlson was replaced by Curt Gowdy. “We’ve come to the end of the page. Thank you all,” Mr. Carlson said on the air, drawing praise from the Globe and elsewhere for his graceful, gentlemanly exit.
Mr. Carlson was a two-way back with semi-pro teams in Quincy, Hingham, and Canton, hanging up his uniform at age 37. He coached Pop Warner football in Braintree and was freshman football coach at Cardinal Spellman.
John W. Carlson enlisted in the Massachusetts National Guard while a junior in high school. He attended the Field Artillery Officer Candidate School at Fort Sill, Okla., and was commissioned a second lieutenant. He was information officer for the 26th Infantry Division and state information officer and assistant adjutant general for the Massachusetts Army National Guard, retiring in 1993.
“John had the ability to grasp a situation and speak intelligently at a moment’s notice,” recalled his friend Frank LaBollita, a retired Army colonel, who added that as a public affairs officer, Mr. Carlson trained junior officers on how to best present themselves when speaking with the media.
Mr. Carlson’s service-related affiliations included membership in the Ancient and Honorable Artillery Company, and his numerous decorations included the Meritorious Service and Army Commendation medals.
In uniform, Mr. Carlson was the narrator at several Boston Pops concerts in Symphony Hall, including four appearances in 2002.
“Not all media people are comfortable in front of the orchestra, but John was a natural,” said Dennis Alves, Pops director of artistic planning. “He took on the role of Lincoln reciting the Gettysburg Address with ease. He had a great voice and a quick grasp of what he had to do. He was just perfect.”
Mr. Carlson completed his bachelor’s degree in communications at Curry College in 1986, and from 1987 to 2000 was a part-time lecturer in the college’s management department.
College president Kenneth Quigley Jr. said Mr. Carlson “loved his involvement with our athletic teams and his students. It was always a pleasure to hear the general’s voice around campus.”
A columnist for Gatehouse Media and board member at the Boston YMCA, Mr. Carlson was active in Braintree civic affairs and a speaker at Veterans and Memorial Day events.
In 1956, Mr. Carlson married Irene Goodwin, who died in 2005.
Mr. Carlson’s sons followed him into the military. John Jr. is an Army chief warrant officer, and Eric, who lives in Braintree, is a retired Air National Guard lieutenant colonel.
In addition to his sons, Mr. Carlson leaves two daughters, Kathryn Youngman of Whitman and Jennifer of Braintree; two sisters, Ruth Muncy of Lenoir, N.C., and Jeanne Mullen of Braintree; seven grandchildren; and a great-grandchild.
A service has been held. A private burial will take place in June in the Massachusetts National Cemetery in Bourne.
“He came from humble beginnings. His father, Oscar, emigrated from Sweden and my dad accomplished everything from the ground up,” John Jr. said. “He had a passion for leadership and serving his country, and believed that through hard work, good things would happen.”Marvin Pave can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.