Wednesday, May 19, 2010

A Very Good Question

A short time ago, I offered my readers a chance to quiz me concerning my profession. The lovely Karen, from Karen Cooks, took me up on the offer, and asks a very good question (three of them, actually, as well as two requests for elucidation):

Years ago I met a guy on-line. We eventually talked on the phone and he had the most wonderful voice. When we finally met in person, I found that his voice was just like any other Joe - nothing to write home about. I learned he used to be a radio host and when we talked on the phone he used his "radio voice". (This was only the first of many inconsistencies I had the displeasure of encountering with him). So, to my question...

1 - Do you have a different, normal speaking voice when you're not recording?
2 - Did you have training to acquire a radio voice? If so, what type?
3 - Is it work to speak with a radio voice? In other words, are you always conscious of having to speak a particular way, or does it come rather naturally?

Thanks, Karen. I would have assumed there were others curious about the answers to these questions, but I've never been asked them before. Maybe nobody else cares? I hope not, because then the next 1,200 words will be mighty boring. In any case, I'm happy to provide some answers. I'll try my best to cover everything in one interminably long ramble.

I don't have a different working voice than conversational voice, per se. That is, I don't consciously change the timbre of what emanates from my throat when I'm in front of a microphone. Unless the job calls for something radically different from my 'at home' voice (a characterization, or perhaps a dialect; rarely the case) I speak fairly much the same whether working or not.

Having said that, however, I am more careful with my speech when recording for a client. I make sure to pronounce everything clearly and distinctly, and also give added emphasis to those things that would seem to need it. For instance, most clients will want the word FREE to receive more oomph than you'd use if it showed up in conversation with a friend or spouse. The word YOU will often be given a bit of punch, in order to let the listener know that he or she, personally, is the target; that sort of thing, giving the listener verbal cues to pay attention.

There are also some 'tricks' employed by announcers to add flavor to a read; mic presence is one, and projection another. If I want to sound intimate, or even sexy, I'll get right up on the mic and speak softly. If I'm really trying for a hard sell, something difficult to ignore - possibly even irritating to the listener, but unlikely to be forgotten quickly - stepping back a bit from the mic and really projecting (adding power to the voice, similar to a stage actor making sure that the person in the last row can hear the lines) can be a useful technique. These things do not change the actual voice, but are an accentuation or diminution of what is already present.

As for whether or not I trained my voice, or had lessons, yes and no. I went to broadcasting school because I didn't know any better. That is, I didn't know that what I already had would have been enough to land me the job I now have. Some of the training I received was useful in a technical sense - learning the basics of operating a board in a radio studio and such - but I didn't really need the elocution lessons. Mostly, what I received in return for my tuition was confidence in my skills, and that was valuable.

Again though, having said that, one thing I had to train myself to do was actually something I had to train myself NOT to do. Having been raised in Boston, I had a slight Boston accent. Luckily, my parents (most specifically, My Father) had hipped me, early on, to the fact that some people found the Boston accent annoying. So, I was educated, at home, to include the 'R' that so many Bostonians drop naturally from words such as 'park' or 'car' (I don't pahk my cah in Hahvid yahd.) I did still have to watch out for some regional pronunciations (I used to say "hahf" rather than "haff" [half] and "ahnt" rather than "ant" [aunt], and those would never have been accepted in a professional setting.)

How I got to broadcasting school is a semi-interesting story, so I'll fill some space with that.

I had been employed in the customer service department of an office supplies company, answering phones and putting together orders for pencils, typewriter ribbons, fax paper, and other things nobody uses anymore. Then I was laid off. While on my way downtown to collect unemployment, I saw an ad on a subway train. It said something to the effect of, "Why not become a radio personality? Attend our school and we'll show you how!"

Many of the customers of the office supplies firm, upon hearing my voice on the telephone, commented how much they liked it. Some asked if I had been in radio, while others said that I should get a job in that field. Seeing the ad, and remembering those kind remarks, I immediately went to the school (after picking up my unemployment check) and enrolled.

When classes convened, I found that I was the oldest person in the class by a good ten years. I was thirty three. I graduated as valedictorian - it would have been a crime if I hadn't, given my age - and got a job here, at Marketing Messages, a couple of months afterward.

Now, on to your friend. If I understand you, and I hope I do, he did something totally different when on mic. He actually changed how his voice sounded, as opposed to working with his natural voice. Some folks can do that to good effect; most can't. I haven't heard him, of course, but many folks who do that, from my experience, suffer from what we at Marketing Messages call "cheesiness". It's the Ted Baxter effect. Or we might call someone like that Rick Radio. Usually - not always, but usually - when someone effects a voice that they feel is announcer-like, it will actually be overblown and unintentionally comic.

For my part, I was blessed with good pipes. I can no more take credit for my voice than I can my eyes or ears. I didn't choose my genes. If you have the chance to do so, however, get yourself a father and mother who both have good voices. Mine did (in the case of my mother, does!)

Let's see... anything else? Oh, yes. Is it work? You bet it is. When I'm reading a script, I'm always conscious of my pronunciation, my pitch, my timing, my emphasis, and how much I'm being compensated for my time (which isn't enough to make most folks jealous, but it does pay the rent, so no complaints.)

And I think I've answered your questions. If you (or anyone else) wishes me to expound upon any of the answers, feel free to ask for specifics via your comments.

Talk to you soon.


  1. Interesting.

    My husband does voices and his voice sounds sort of different, while still sounding like himself.

  2. This was enlightening! I never knew this was how you got into being a voice talent.

    Do you remember who your very first client was? Or any funny classroom antics during broadcasting school? Have you ever had difficult reading takes?

  3. Very interesting take on it. Believe it or not, even as a more-or-less Bostonian, I find the true Boston accent a little tough to take. My wife seems to revert to it after spending time with certain friends, and I notice every time. I had the luxury of being born to Boston parents in Virginia, and learning to talk in Maryland, so mine is not too strong, though I do say "Ahnt"... an "ant" is something totally different.

    Sometimes it shows up, though, depending on where and when I learned something. A few years ago, I realized I said "pray for us sinniz..." Yeah, that one had to go.

    Of course, those dropped Rs (or Ahs) have a tendency to intrude other places. Ha! Conservation of mass and all that:

    "Weah havin' the Past-uh ova foah pahster dinna!"

    Now, down here in RI, the true local accent seems to combine the worst of both Boston and New York:

    "A readin' from the letta of Poowl t'the Rominz: Brothas an' sistas..."

    "Pray to the Lod with reverence and oar"

    Sadly, I think losing these regional accents is a pity. I will always remember my Nana telling me to "put on my shots" when it was hot out.

  4. I never knew you guys could talk the Queen's English.

    I love pahstah!

  5. Jazz - I think you've succinctly expressed what it took me 1,500 words to do. I sound like me, all of the time, but perhaps a slightly different me when working.

    Michelle - My first client was National Amusements, the owners of Showcase Cinemas and other movie theaters across the country. I was hired, at Marketing Messages, specifically to read the recorded show times, prices, etc., for movies shown at those theaters. I was the movie line guy, and heard in some 17 or 18 states, over the telephone, in that capacity. My job expanded from there, as did the company I work for, and we now supply many thousands of firms with telephone services (among them such high profile folk as... well, you can check out our client list here:

    If you don't mind, I'll save the funny classroom stories and difficult takes for fodder for future posts :-)

  6. Cricket - I still slip into the accent rather easily when in the company of those who use it all the time, when I'm playing ball or something like that. It has its charms. Pronouncing all of the R's in double-jointed curses, for instance, lends them an air of respectability that you really don't want :-)

    My favorite, from religious services, comes from the Lord's Prayer...

    "And forgive us are truspisses..."

    That one, I always try to pronounce correctly rather than going along with the crowd.

  7. Elaine - The Boston accent is, of course, closely related to that of certain sections of the UK. This is because Bostonians, most with some sort of ancestry from that general region, stayed where they were when others fanned out across the North American continent. We retained the old speech patterns, while others, further removed from the source, lost them.

  8. Someone once told me I should be doing radio with a voice like mine (I've often been told I have a nice and clear voice). However, this man said that while looking at me. Being already insecure about the way I look (as you know), thát didn't help at all. Nów I can laugh about it.

    You my friend, have both the voice ánd the looks! You could have been doing television ;-)

  9. We retained the old speech patterns, while others, further removed from the source, lost them.

    Or more accurately, we retained our old speech patters, while others, further removed from their origins, gained new ones. :)

  10. Interesting! I love coming to Boston and hearing people speak with their accent. I can see where it would not be good for radio/advertising though.
    I talk to clients in the Boston area and I have a "cheat sheet". If I did not have that, I would be pronoucing a lot of town names wrong. :)

  11. ToonMan does a mean Donald Duck

  12. My wife once went to a prayer meeting in Connecticut with a friend of hers, and returned endlessly reciting a somewhat dramatic prayer that a local woman sent up -

    "Oh, Lo-uhd, thenk you fuh owuh try-uhls; you unduhstand them, WE DON'T! (maybe you had to be there; or it's harder to render into text than I thought. . .)

    The same friend, who was from there, but had been in college in Michigan for a few years, was told by her mother, "You've gawt such a TWAAANG!"

    Of course, I get no end of mirth from the classic Brooklyn accent of 'Me and Oyl (Earl) are gonna change the erl in his caw. . .'

  13. How funny to read some other ideas about peoples voices. My hubby being in bands like you and he being lead singer and guitar player had a "phone voice" and a regular voice. Not so much anymore since he has not performed in a band in a few years, but he falls back into the phone voice when he is talking on the phone.

  14. Very interesting to know how you got into this business. I quite like the Bahston accent. :)

  15. That was a fascinating post. Thanks for sharing a little of your life with us.

  16. Talk to you soon.

    Is the tag line new? Or is my memory short? (I COULD check previous posts, but it's late and I'm hurrying through this coz Happy Hour is calling. But I did "read the whole thing." Duty and Obligation.)

    New or not, it's Verrah cool. Did I get the accent right?

  17. How fun, Jim!! I loved reading this...I took a broadcast class in college...but decided not to major in it...much to hard for me. :-) So you see, I'm all admiration of your talent, and understand what hard work it is! Hugs, Janine

  18. This was a great read! And very entertaining. I think you have the coolest job ever!! Sounds like fun to me!!

  19. love the story about how you got into broadcasting school in the first place. having heard your radio voice and your conversational voice i can attest to the absolute veracity of consistency between both those voices.

    and i have to say even a thick boston accent doesn't grate on my ears the way any accent from the 5 boroughs does. lord have mercy, i feel my spine decalcify a bit especially when a brooklyn transplant to PA starts to speak.

    i've been known to horrify a few when i descend into a pennsylvania dutch accent though too.

  20. Thanks, Jim... very interesting! I grew up in MA and we moved to AZ when I was 14. After being teased mercilessly by kids in school for my accent, I lost it quickly! A favorite story in my family is about my sister. We grew up hearing my Mom call the serving spoon with holes in it, the "slotted spoon". I guess we figured she just wasn't pronouncing her R's as usual, and my sister, after losing the accent in AZ, started calling it a "slaughtered spoon". LOL

  21. What a VERY interesting post!! Great questions, Karen...and enlightening answers, Jim. I learned a lot...and I always love that!
    I have a friend who is a D.J.,(different than what you do, I know...) but I say that to say this: I love his voice...but his voice is different in 'person' than on the air...and I tease him about that.
    I really REALLY enjoyed this, Jim....

  22. huh. very cool story. weird the things we stumble into, isn't it?

    people at my last two companies frequently remarked that i sounded like i should be working the 900 lines when they talked to me on the phone. i decided that wasn't something i needed to hear, so now i change my tone slightly when i talk on the phone. i actually can't really hear the difference, but a friend (who is a vocal coach) helped me. *shrug* it's still me, just a bit different.

  23. Buck - You think you're lazy? It's my blog, but I'm not going to go back and check the old posts, either. Actually, I thought the same thing when I wrote that tag - "Have I used this before? It's pretty good!" Anyway, whether I used it before or not, I'll be using it from now on :-)

  24. Buck - Oops! Forgot to comment on your accent question. What you've given an example of is the South Park accent (think Cartman) that drops the Y upon occasion (think "Respect mah authoritah!")

  25. Fascinating I resonate far younger than I am but with lots of empathy which I have..interesting..

  26. I think if I had your vocal talents I'd come up with an extra-annoying voice to use on telemarketers.

  27. The Ted Baxter effect . . . LMAO. We have friends in New Hampshire and boy is that entertaining listening to their accents. Enjoyed the post and learning more about your profession Jim.

  28. maybe if you were homeless and drinking you'd be hired also


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