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Town Criers Get Together for a Cry-Off

JENNIFER LUDDEN, host:

Despite the myriad means of modern communication, some people prefer to share information the old-fashioned way: town crying.

(Soundbite of bell)

Mr. JOHN WEBSTER (Official Crier, Markham): Oyez! Oyez! Oyez! Milords, ladies, all ye in attendance, gather 'round. As the official town crier from Markham, Canada, I have an announcement of great importance.

LUDDEN: That's John Webster, the official town crier of Markham in Ontario, Canada. He and other criers took part in a Town Crier Competition this week in Los Angeles. Alex Cohen of member station KQED stopped in and has this story.

Unidentified Man #1: Yeah. Yeah, yeah, yeah.

(Soundbite of group vocalizing)

Unidentified Man #2: Shake it up baby now.

(Soundbite of laughter)

ALEX COHEN reporting:

Shortly before the competition began, the town criers warmed up their vocal cords while posing for a group picture. These criers not only sound the part. They look it. They sport colorful turn-of-the-century costumes and read from elaborate handmade scrolls. Each cry starts with a standard, `Oyez! Oyez! Oyez!' says Jerry Praver, town crier of San Luis Obispo County in Central California.

Mr. JERRY PRAVER (Town Crier, San Luis Obispo County, California): That's spelled O-Y-E-Z, and it's French. And in English, it would be, `Yo!'

COHEN: Town criers can cry about anything--the opening of a business, a marriage announcement, a community event--but for the first round of this competition, contestants had to cry about their hometowns. Jerry Praver's wife, Bev, is the town crier of Cambria, California. In her town cry, she admonished those who mispronounced the name Cambria.

BEV (Town Crier, Cambria, California): I ask you, did King Arthur reign over Camelot (pronounced came-a-lot)? No. Did the three wise men ride on camels (pronounced came-als)? No. Do you take pictures with your camera (pronounced came-era)? No.

COHEN: Contestants also had to write and perform a cry about the city of Los Angeles. Crier Redmond O'Colonies of Martinez, California, describes how LA was the first city he arrived in when he emigrated from England.

Mr. REDMOND O'COLONIES (Town Crier): Twenty-eight percent of California's population in 88 cities diagonally park in a parallel universe!

COHEN: O'Colonies, like many of the others competing, says he likes to dress up and perform. Crying is also a bit of a career for him. He charges up to $1,200 for his acoustically awesome announcements.

Contestant Andrew Hansen of La Conner, Washington, says he likes town crying because he enjoys reminding people, especially kids, that there used to be a much simpler way of getting the word out.

Mr. ANDREW HANSEN (Crier Contestant): I mean, we all have television, we have the Internet services. I mean, communication today is instantaneous. When we did this as a living centuries ago, we were the only news.

COHEN: The winner of the first-ever Los Angeles town crier championship was John Webster, the only contestant from Canada. For NPR News, I'm Alex Cohen in Los Angeles. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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