York native Steve Zirnkilton’s ‘Law & Order’ voice known to the world
First Moravian Church brought S. Morgan Smith to York as its pastor and his prominent family lived here for years. Steve Zirnkilton, a descendant and York County native, is known to millions. Background posts: How come few in York know about S. Morgan Smith anymore? , Samuel Small tops York, Pa. community contributor list, Cameron Mitchell, Craig Sheffer, Dixie Chick born here.
Pastor-turned-entrepreneur S. Morgan Smith left a world-wide legacy by spawning the forerunners of Johnson Controls, Precision Components, Voith Siemens Hydro and American Hydro.
But a member in his family line, Steve Zirnkilton, is known to many more.
Or at least his voice is.
That’s the voice of York native Zirnkilton that is spoken at the beginning of the TV show “Law & Order.” …
It all goes to show the power of the airwaves.
Dan Fink, writing in the York Daily Record/Sunday News (5/30/2000), begins a column profiling Zirnkilton with those famous words:
“In the criminal justice system, the people are represented by two separate yet equally important groups: the police who investigate crime, and the district attorneys who prosecute the offenders. These are their stories. . .”
Anyone who has watched TV in the past 10 years has probably heard the somber words that begin each episode of “Law & Order.”
The voice behind those words belongs to a York County native.
Steve Zirnkilton has lived in Maine for almost 20 years. But he was born in York, attending York Suburban and York Country Day School until ninth grade before moving to New York for high school. His father, Frank Zirnkilton, still lives in York. He was president of Teledyne McKay. His mother, Jane, lives in Maine.
It was in York Steve caught the bug that sent him first into radio and later to the voiceover acting he does today.
“There was a news guy on WSBA in the mid- to late-’60s named Bob Holman,” said Zirnkilton, 41, the familiar voice as smooth and deep on the telephone as it is on TV. “He went to the same church as my family did. I would hear him on the radio and see him in church and I’d think: ‘That’s the guy.’ ”
The sense of isn’t-that-cool wonder that 10-year-old Steve felt deepened when he started at New England College in New Hampshire. One look at the campus station told him this was where he belonged.
“It was like somebody hit me with a 2-by-4,” he said.
After college, he took a job at a small local station and was a radio guy for the next few years. He used to spin records, do the news, work crazy hours.
“I loved radio,” he said. “But it didn’t pay well.”
He moved to Maine in 1981 and gravitated to politics, serving in the Maine Legislature from 1982 to 1988 and from 1992-94. At the same time, he began to develop his voice work contacts.
His family continued to live in Seal Harbor, but Zirnkilton commuted to New York, taking whatever jobs he could find. He rented a tiny studio in the city for his recording work then would drive or fly back to Maine on the weekends.
“There were lots of times I questioned myself,” he said. “Is this the right thing? Was I dragging my family along on this ‘Field of Dreams’ quest?”
But slowly, the work began to pay off.
In 1989, he did the “bumpers” – those short, promotional announcement at commercial breaks on TV shows – for a mostly forgettable NBC show called “Nasty Boys.” But he met the show’s executive producer, Dick Wolf, who was putting together a new legal drama called “Law & Order.” Zirnkilton landed a small role as a detective in the pilot episode, but that’s just a footnote to the story now.
“When (filming the pilot) was all over, he came to me and asked, ‘How about doing this?’ ” Zirnkilton recalled.
He went to New York to meet Wolf. They went over the script, Wolf explained how he wanted the introduction to sound, and they did it. The whole thing took about an hour.
But that hour has brought him a steady source of income. Each time the show airs – it will be on NBC’s prime-time schedule for another five years and airs several times a day in reruns on A&E – Zirnkilton collects a residual.
“It was a huge break and to this day, it’s a very important thing,” he said. “Beyond the finances, to have something (on the resume) that most people have heard of is a big help. But it has enabled me to chase after my dream.”
Zirnkilton can also be heard on “Today” show ads and will be the narrator on “Arrest and Trial,” a new syndicated show from Wolf to begin this fall.
To find out more about Zirnkilton, check out these sites:
Also of interest:
– Ex-York countian Steve Zirnkilton has performed in every ‘Law & Order’ show.
– Check out this list for induction in a York County Arts & Entertainment Hall of Fame .
– Add another to list of entertainers with York links.