A Dream Fulfilled

New Wheel of Fortune announcer is a Huntington native

By Angela Henderson-Bentley

Jim Thornton - A Dram Fulfilled

When Jim Thornton was a child growing up in Huntington, he had the opportunity to try out a microphone for the first time at his church. From that moment on, he knew what he wanted to do with his life.

“I talked into it and said a couple of words, and I was just like, ‘Wow,’” Thornton said. “I could hear my voice coming back over those speakers and I thought, ‘Wow, what power.’ So I think that’s when it got kind of stuck in my head that I enjoyed announcing. I enjoyed being on a microphone.”

Now Thornton is living his dream of being in front of a microphone; this year, he was chosen as the announcer of Wheel of Fortune.

It’s been a long road from Huntington to Wheel of Fortune for Thornton. After graduating from Huntington High School in 1983, he attended Marshall University for a year. But in 1984, he moved to Los Angeles with a Marshall classmate.

“I knew I would have to leave Huntington to get the kind of opportunities that I needed to try out,” Thornton said. “I thought, ‘Well, if it doesn’t work out, I’ll move back in six months.’”

After a rocky start and several odd jobs, Thornton got his break when he was hired as a producer at Metro Traffic, which provides traffic reports for radio stations across the country. Over the next 20 years or so, he worked his way up the radio ladder, eventually becoming a news co-anchor for KNX 1070 in Los Angeles. Thornton also did voiceovers for a number of projects including the MTV show Celebrity Deathmatch and the Walt Disney/Pixar movie Monsters, Inc.

“It’s been a meandering path with a whole lot of little side forays,” Thornton said.

The opening at Wheel of Fortune occurred when the show’s longtime announcer Charlie O’Donnell suddenly passed away in November 2010. Wheel of Fortune executive producer Harry Friedman contacted Thornton’s agent about having Thornton re-record some of the audio that O’Donnell had already voiced. In December, the show’s producers asked Thornton to come into the studio and tape.

“It was a little daunting, but I did it,” Thornton said. “I was so afraid of somebody having to yell, ‘Stop tape!’ – I mean, it was the stuff of nightmares. I was thinking,

‘I can’t blow this. I can’t fail at this.’ And it turned out that all of my anxiety was for nothing; everybody made it easy there. They really did.”

Thornton was named the show’s new announcer in June and officially began working in July. Two of the first people to congratulate him on set were the famous host and hostess of Wheel of Fortune, Pat Sajak and Vanna White.

“They’re nice people,” Thornton said. “Pat and Vanna are genuinely what you see on TV; Pat’s the same guy off camera as on camera, and Vanna’s really sweet. Both of them came up and congratulated me.”

Thornton said he knows he has some big shoes to fill.

“I just hope that I am making Charlie proud somewhere up there,” he said. “I’m just doing what I do and not overthinking anything but just trying to be a good part of the show.”

When Thornton is taping Wheel of Fortune, it’s actually an old friend from Huntington who helps him get in the right frame of mind. Thornton said the key to voiceover is imagining a specific person in your head; talking to that person helps you focus. For Thornton, that person is often his former next-door neighbor, Jean.

“I do it this way: I take whatever the copy says – whatever the person is going to win or could win or has won – and I look at it, and I imagine that I just got an envelope addressed to Jean in my mailbox by mistake. And I say to Jean, ‘You mind if we open it together?’ And she says, ‘Sure.’ So I rip it open, and…‘You’re going to Maui! You’re going to Cancun! To Costa Rica!’ It puts me in a happy place because I know who I’m talking to; I know she’s thrilled and she deserves this. I usually picture her or a good friend of mine, a guy that I go and have a beer with. And then it’s like, ‘Wow, I’m happy for their good fortune!’”

Thornton, his wife Sue and son Sam return to the Tri-State whenever they can. In fact, with his dream of being in front of a microphone fulfilled, Thornton’s dreams now are of his hometown.

“I miss Huntington, and it’s always going to be home to me, no matter how long I’m in Los Angeles,” he said. “Most of my dreams involve my old house, my old neighborhood. That’s how much, after all these years, Huntington is still a part of the fabric of who I am.”

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