By Jerry Allegood, The News & Observer, Raleigh, N.C.
Oct. 24–GREENVILLE — Robert A. Allen, a radio and television announcer better known to generations of Eastern North Carolina residents as the folksy Slim Short, died Sunday. He was 80.
For 34 years, Allen was host and producer of “Carolina Today,” an early morning talk and news show on WNCT-TV in Greenville. The show, which ended in 1997, was a staple for early risers.
“If you grew up in Eastern North Carolina, you knew Slim Short,” said a family friend, Sammy Gay of Walstonburg. “I always felt he was our own personal version of Andy Griffith.”
Gay, 55, said he listened to Allen regularly when he was a boy, first on radio and later on television. He recalled Allen’s program on a local radio station when his partner was a bantam rooster named Cicero.
The rooster often seemed to crow on cue with Allen’s jokes and observations. Allen once told an interviewer that his trick was to wait until the rooster stretched his neck before crowing. Then he asked, “Isn’t that right, Cicero?”
Gay said he followed Allen when he took his program and Slim Short persona to television in 1959. “That’s who we listened to while getting dressed,” he said.
A native of Kinston, Allen began his broadcast career on WFTC radio in his hometown. He worked at several stations, including WGTM in Wilson.
Allen’s daughter-in-law, JoAnn Allen, said that at that time he worked as an announcer and also hosted a country music program. A friend suggested that he needed separate names for each of his jobs. By one account, he took Short from a phone book because he thought it was funny and a station manager added Slim.
“Nobody knows me by any other name except close friends and bill collectors,” he once said.
In early years he wore a derby and striped vest, but he later gave up the derby.
For many years the show had four hosts. “We had a newsman, a farm news man, a weatherman and then me — I don’t know what you called me,” Allen said in a 1997 interview.
Allen and his co-hosts interviewed hundreds of local residents, giving free publicity to countless fundraisers for schools and fire departments.
Friends and family said the down-home style was not an act.
“He was the same in person,” said JoAnn Allen, his daughter-in-law. “He acted the same and was kind to everyone.”
John Moore, who worked with Allen from 1991 to 1995, said he learned more from Allen in 18 months than he could have in broadcast school. He said Allen taught him how to talk with anyone on any level.
“He said, ‘Put yourself on their level, eyeball to eyeball,’ ” Moore said.
He said Allen’s reputation and fame won’t be matched.
“He was the star in Eastern North Carolina,” Moore said.
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