Florence Aaronson, celebrated Baltimore voice-over artist known as Flo Ayres, dies

Florence Aaronson, a celebrated radio actress and voice-over artist known professionally as Flo Ayres, died Friday of complications of dementia and COVID-19 at her Mount Washington home. She was 98.

“She always said she was going to ‘leave her home feet first’ and she got her wish,” said a cousin, Betsy Harmatz of Pikesville.


Florence Aaronson, daughter of Nathan Aaronson, and his wife, Rebecca Spector Aaronson, was born in Baltimore and raised in various city neighborhoods.

“I’m probably the grande dame of voice-overs,” Ms. Aaronson told The Baltimore Sun in a 2007 interview.

Florence Aaronson Ayres

Ms. Aaronson’s talents for mimicry began when she was a child. She delighted in telling stories, and while attending Western High School nursed the ambition to become a dramatic actress. She also reveled in the role of class clown while entertaining her fellow students with her myriad voices.

“A frowning home economics teacher took her aside one day and told her if she put a tenth of the effort into home ec that she did in her drama class, she could still get a passing grade,” reported the Sun Magazine in a 1987 profile of Ms. Aaronson.

“I don’t remember what I got in home ec, but I did a damn good show in the drama class.”

After graduating from Western, she enrolled at the Ramsey Street Drama School and performed in community theater in downtown Baltimore. In the early 1940s, she went to the Baltimore Gas & Electric Co. building on Lexington Street to watch a performance of a local radio drama, and when the female lead fell sick, she went to a less than impressed and somewhat cranky director and offered to read her lines.

“Just like the old-time movies I went up to him,” she explained in the 1987 magazine article. “He was so rude and nasty, but I said I’d be happy to read her lines ... and the rest is history.”

In 1948, she performed in a Johns Hopkins Playshop production of the English translation of “Martine,” and in the late 1940s, began her radio career in Washington, adopting the professional name of Flo Ayres.

Ms. Aaronson went to New York where she spent a year trying to break into network radio dramas, which at that point were being assailed and eliminated by television, so she returned to Baltimore where she decided to make commercials. She teamed up with Walt Teas, and the two specialized playing in husband-wife commercials.

“For more than 40 years Flo Ayres has been able to get sense out of the messages being hawked by places like Mel’s Buick and banks with a heart of gold,” observed the Sun Magazine. “Hers not to reason why, hers but to read her lines and speak them so clearly and pleasantly and memorably that even in our dreams we hear her voice. We have no idea who she is or what she looks like or even if she’s there.”


In reality, Ms. Aaronson was quite diminutive and stood only 5 feet tall.

“I’m short, but you can be anything you want behind the [mic]. Behind that [mic] I’m 6 feet tall. Behind the [mic] I’m a gorgeous blonde,” she told the magazine. “That’s what’s beautiful about radio, the listeners have to work to use their imaginations. On TV you just sit there like a nut.”

Her ability to do hundreds of voices insured that she was in demand and worked steadily.

“Flo is a woman of literally hundreds of voices,” the late Elane Stein, WBAL-AM personality, explained in the 1987 magazine piece. “She is probably the most talented radio actress in the United States.”

Ms. Aaronson became well known for being the voice of Debbie for the Baltimore Blast whose lines including “geezi peezy,” which she delivered in a pure Bawlamerse patois. Debbie was so successful that she earned the prestigious ADDY award given by the American Advertising Federation.

Locally, another radio commercial that added to her following was the character of Granny Packer, which she voiced for Al Packer Ford.


In the magazine article, Ms. Aaronson explained that she drew her characters “from life.”

“I consider everyone around me fair game. It’s having an ear and a deep interest in people,” she said. “I am an observer. I keep my eyes open and look at what’s around.”

She narrated for National Geographic, SeaWorld and AARP. She also hosted regular radio shows such as “Tuning into Life” and “The Heart of the Matter,” as well as wrote and produced “For the Young at Heart,” a radio series.

During the 1960s and 1970s, she taught radio and communications at the Johns Hopkins University, Goucher College and Towson University, where she stressed to her students they had to assume the character they were intoning before they went before the microphone and read one line of copy.

“It’s a type of communication where you have nothing going for you but your voice. You must portray the character and set it up in people’s minds with no visuals. From that aspect, it’s difficult,” she told an interviewer, Jessica Novak, in 2008. “If you’re doing a granny, you better sound like a granny and come across even visually for the listeners so they can see this character. You have to make it come alive for people from nothing but sound.”

When Dr. Leigh Vinocur, a physician who worked in emergency medicine, was trying to break into medical broadcasting 30 years ago, she turned to Ms. Aaronson for guidance. Ms. Aaronson became her voice coach and mentor.


“We just hit it off, said Dr. Vinocur, who was associated with WBAL for many years as a medical broadcaster. “She became another grandmother and surrogate mother for me. She was my best friend and the most caring and giving person. She was funny, smart, had a quick wit and was so sarcastic.”

Dr. Vinocur and Ms. Aaronson enjoyed vacationing together, and during the last few years she had become her caregiver.

A lover of children, Ms. Aaronson wrote, produced and starred in “Doo-zees and Don’t-zees,” a four-year collaboration with musician and teacher Lon Ephraim, was geared toward children and manners and released in 2007.

“In song and dialogue, she tells her audience to put their toys away, eat good foods and don’t give up on what you want to do,” reported The Sun in 2007.

“I see around me a lot of children who are lacking manners. I feel they are not listening to their parents,” she explained in The Sun interview. “I wanted to get across in a subtle way how they could do better. I wanted my CD to be so entertaining they don’t know they are being taught something.”

She was a member of SAG-AFTRA and was a founding member of the Washington chapter.


She continued working steadily until about a decade ago when she lost her sight and was no longer able to read scripts.

“But her voice never changed,” said Ms. Harmatz.

The Morning Sun


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Funeral services were held Tuesday at Sol Levinson & Bros. in Pikesville.

In addition to Ms. Harmatz, she is survived by a nephew, Marc Gerber of California; a niece, Ann Herman of Bethesda; and three other cousins, Barbara Lepson of Pikesville, Monte Ephraim of Baltimore, and Lon Ephraim of Silver Spring.