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January 20, 2014

A smoker's voice Former broadcaster is at forefront of Brooksby Village smoking ban

PEABODY — Bob Mehrman was a radio and television announcer from the 1950s to the 1980s. Then, in 1990, he lost his voice box to cancer.

But he never lost his voice.

And that was more than a matter of the electronic device that, held to his throat, allows Mehrman to speak in machine-like tones. Rather, it was a function of his sense of humor and a drive to help others. At 86 he is today a key player in the effort at Brooksby Village to enforce a total ban on smoking, which went into effect Jan. 1.

It’s a role he has played before.

Mehrman began smoking while he was in the Navy, serving from 1945 to ‘47, a time when cigarettes were available to servicemen at cut rates. That was a pattern Mehrman saw again in college, where he abandoned a course in business administration to pursue the career he loved at Emerson. In those days, young women could be seen on the street giving out free packs of cigarettes.

Mehrman, who lived mostly in Beverly, began his broadcasting career at North Shore radio station WESX, where he remembers once proudly announcing the letters as WSEX.

“Nobody called,” he smiles.

His voice soon brought him to Boston media for stints at TV channels 4, 5, 7 and 56, as well as at radio’s WJIB. For a time he did talk radio on WEEI. His voice was hard to miss in Greater Boston. Even though smoking was barred in the studio -- where the residue can build up and foul the equipment -- and the Surgeon General had raised warnings about the dangers of tobacco as early as 1964, Mehrman continued puffing away.

In the mid-1980s he quit smoking altogether. It was too late. Two years later came the symptoms.

“I thought it was laryngitis and I thought in a week it would go away,” he remembers. Doctors saw a lump on his vocal cord. No sooner was it removed than it returned. Tests determined he had cancer, not merely in the lump but in the vocal cords themselves. To save Mehrman’s life, doctors removed his voice box in 1990.

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