The first announcer to be elected national president of AFRA, his career before the microphone was launched in 1930 at Los Angeles radio station KFI. Working steadily, in 1936 he became the announcer for NBC’s nationally broadcast Kraft Music Hall radio variety show, hosted by famed crooner Bing Crosby. Joining AFRA’s Los Angeles Local at the union’s founding in 1937, Carpenter gave back to his union with two terms as president of the L.A. Local, from 1940 – 41 and again from 1944 – 45, before his 1946 election to the national presidency.
His voice became so well known that in 1947 Radio Life magazine stated, “If his face were as familiar as his voice, Ken Carpenter would be recognizable on the streets of every Hamlet or metropolis in America.”
Between 1944 and 1945, while both president of the L.A. Local and a national vice president, Carpenter tackled his most public challenge after AFRA member and film industry giant, director Cecil B. De Mille, refused to pay a $1 assessment voted on by the L.A. Local membership to help fund a critical fight against a California anti-labor “right-to-work” bill, Proposition 12. The August 1944 L.A. Local newsletter dubbed the Prop 12 struggle “labor’s fight for life,” warning “Failure to pay your assessment will result in suspension from AFRA.” AFRA suspended De Mille’s membership in January 1945.
De Mille had hosted the star-studded Lux Radio Theatre since mid-1936 and, in partial defense of his refusal to pay the $1, publically asserted that that the L.A. Local Board made the assessment without membership meetings or a vote. Carpenter rebutted De Mille over the radio on March 31, 1945: “That is absolutely not true … the action of the board was referred back to the membership at a regular meeting. Mr. De Mille was sent by mail a written notice of both membership meetings but he failed to attend a single meeting of his union in all the six years of his affiliation.” DeMille lost his case and his expulsion from AFRA meant he never worked on radio or television again.
In recognition of his courageous service to AFRA and AFTRA members, Carpenter received George Heller Memorial Gold Card No. 5 at the AFTRA convention in Detroit in 1961. Carpenter’s star on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame in the category of Radio is at 6706 Hollywood Blvd.