Entries Tagged as 'announcers'

learning from mistakes – the radio version

Being a voiceover talent AND an old radio person, behind the scenes stuff involving announcers has always fascinated me for no particularly good reason. Social media has taught me I’m not the only VO/Radio Guy who finds this stuff interesting.

So the other day, when I was listening to NPR, I noticed there was a different voice doing the underwriting announcement. It was particularly different to me because it was a man.

What was going on? Was this ANOTHER NPR announcer change?

As you may recall from a blog post a few years ago (2013 to be exact; you do have all these posts memorized, don’t you?), a man named Frank Tavares who had been the NPR underwriting voice for decades ended his run. A change was made.

In deciding to make a change in their underwriting voice, NPR management decided to pick a female voice. An voice and stage actress named Sabrina Farhi was chosen.

While I liked her commercial demo, I am on record as saying I did not like the underwriting reads Farhi gave on NPR…. after about 2 years, neither did NPR. For the bad reads, I blame NPR.

In 2015, Jessica Hansen replaced Farhi as NPR underwriting announcer. Fortunately, Farhi is still doing voiceover and theatre work, according to her web site, as she should.

Hansen gives a better promo read than Farhi did but I always hear a kind of aloofness in Hansen’s underwriting reads as opposed to a more friendly or at least conversational read that I think might sound more engaging to the listener.

Also, it should be assumed and can be safely noted, NPR doesn’t give a rat’s butt about how I think their underwriting scripts should be read…likely nobody does.

Also I’m going to assume that Hansen, like her predecessor, is reading as directed so she can’t be blamed if I don’t like her reads.

So since I’ve heard a male underwriting announcer recently, does that mean he has replaced Hansen at NPR?

Doesn’t seem so. But it does seem like I am late to the party on the addition of this second announcer to the NPR funding credits voice roster.

This article from Virginia Commonwealth University notes that their alumnus, Chioke I’Anson is one of two voices now reading Underwriting Promo scripts for NPR. This change took place around November 2016. Evidently I hadn’t been listening closely enough to NPR.

Dr. I’Anson (Ph.D.) is not a professional voice talent. NPR’s director of promotion and audience development heard I’Anson at an NPR Story Tellers Workshop, liked his voice and offered him the job.

Where was the lesson in all of this? Let’s go back to 2013, when NPR replaced Tavares with Farhi…the change was trumpeted across the media. When Farhi was replaced (fairly or unfairly depending on how you look at it), NPR looked bad.

When L’Anson came on board, it was billed as ‘an addition’ to the announcer roster not ‘a replacement’. Further, there was very little written about it. No big announcement, a behind the scenes change, done and done. That, it would seem, was the lesson learned.

giving the announcer his due

announcerOften times, I feel like a was born in the wrong era. When I think of the birth of radio and consequently, the birth of the announcer, well, that’s one of those times.

In 2016, most people don’t have a sincere understanding of what radio meant to their forefathers in the 1920’s. It would be unfathomable to a teen or twenty-something today to accept almost 100 years ago radio immediately became an indispensable necessity to every American (possibly every person in the then modern world – but I don’t know the rest of the world’s broadcast history as well as I know America’s).

At a given time back then, maybe 60% or more of the U.S. population would be tuned into a single radio broadcast or network. No broadcast or network enjoys that kind of broadcast influence today. Radio, the medium, and its performers were true and enormous stars of the first magnitude

At the center of it all was the radio announcer. The unique, often calming voice that offered direction, news, commercials and so much more to listeners throughout the radio broadcast day.

That must have been so cool to work in radio back then.

Folks today know about Don Pardo because of Saturday Night Live. But he wasn’t even among the most famous of the early days of radio. People in Pittsburgh know of KDKA radio and some folks in our country might know that station was America’s first commercial broadcast station. But Harold Arlin of KDKA was the first nationally recognized announcer in America. He was a really big deal!

What about Milton Cross who was the voice of the Metropolitan Opera, hosting its Saturday afternoon radio broadcasts for 43 years, from the time of their inception on December 25, 1931 until his death in 1975. That was a national program. Oh, and Cross actually started his radio announcing career in 1921! That’s AMAZING!

And then Fred Foy. Not sure who he was? He was the announcer for the Lone Ranger radio series. Yup, a bunch of you just experienced that light bulb: “Ahhhhhh!”

Nobody like that exists today. No one even close.

Since Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show left the air (his announcer Ed McMahon went with him), the closest thing modern media has is Conan O’Brien’s sidekick/announcer Andy Richter. Andy’s great (truly) but he doesn’t have the sway that guys like Arlin had in his day.

Change is a constant. Life and media evolve.

Though I still think it would be fun to “Return with us now to those thrilling days of yesteryear…”

live announcing in a theatre makes it a performance

Peter K. O'Connell Live Announcer

Getting up on a stage was never something I strove towards.

I really much prefer being in the back of the house in a closed off space or room with a microphone, which is pretty much the set-up for most of the live announcing I have ever done.

But this past Veteran’s week, in my live announcing duties for the area American Legion Band, there I was, coming through the curtain of a tightly packed stage (full of talented musicians, mind you) in a very handsome theatre to guide the hundreds in the audience through a night of memorable, emotive songs.

Of course, I’ve done more of my share of MCing (emceeing, being an MC or emcee – grammar rules and spelling always fail me on this word) and that’s basically what this gig is for this enormously talented band. But of the majority of those many other emceeing events I’ve done over 30+ years, the events have historically been held at a hotel banquet room or similarly bland location.

When you’re on a stage, in a fully functioning theatre with a marquee outside and inside you see a proscenium arch, giant stage curtains, lighting grids, dressing rooms, spot lights – the whole shooting match – it’s a bit more real. For me it feels less like “emcee” or “live announcer” and more like “stage performer” – something I NEVER wanted to be.

Except I was. The spotlight squarely on me. Oy! I should have polished my shoes or something.

Thank goodness there’s a script for me to read on stage because memorization, in my finest hour, was never a strong suit and today at my age, it just ain’t happening.

I made it through, my part went fine and everyone said they were very happy with my ‘performance’.

That’s kind, but I would have been just as happy if I’d simply been called a fine “live announcer”, left in a backstage room with a reading light and a live mic. The stage is not the place for me.

But hey, it’s all good. I must remember that it’s just nice to be invited. And above all, I AM appreciative.

3 reasons attending FaffCamp is critical for your voice-over career

FaffCamp is March 19-22, 2015 in San Antonio, Texas

FaffCamp is March 19-22, 2015 in San Antonio, Texas

FaffCamp is coming to San Antonio, Texas March 19-22 this year. If you’re already attending, I look forward to seeing you there as I will be there as an attendee and a presenter.

Registration information is here.

If you work in voice-over, you are invited to attend…like right here, now, this is your invitation. That knocking sound you hear is opportunity.

For those uninitiated, FaffCamp is a peer-to-peer professional development conference for working voiceover pros (not just voice talents, voice actors, and narrators, but all pros who do work related to voice overs). It’s participant driven and highly interactive, just like its sister event FaffCon.

But at FaffCamp much of the agenda is set in advance, which makes it possible for Faff Camp to welcome a larger group.

Plus, there are cool things we do only at Faff Camp, like Topic Tables, Adopt-a-Question, and Lightning Talks! And since we have two tracks, Starting Smart and Working Pro, we welcome voice talents at ALL career stages.

I don’t have an ownership stake in FaffCamp or FaffCon but I am on the organizing committee and have been for many years, because I believe in it.

 This is FaffCamp producer Amy Snively, associate producer Lauren McCullough and Peter K. O'Connell (me), the sponsorship guy at FaffCamp 2013

This is FaffCamp producer Amy Snively, associate producer Lauren McCullough and Peter K. O’Connell (me), “the sponsorship guy” at FaffCamp 2013

FaffCamp and FaffCon have directly helped my voice-over business and here’s how I think it can help yours:

1. FaffCamp presents interactive and expert advice on performance, technology and business management from vetted industry leaders. All of this information is specifically tailored to the voice-over business because the people presenting it are working in the voice-over business

2. FaffCamp is like Voice-Over College. FaffCamp brings together a whole lot professionally and financially successful voice-over talents. Many of these folks are past Faffers who have both learned a lot and shared a lot at Faff events. Bottom line: walking and talking between sessions, at meals and in other social times is basically like going to Voice-Over College. If you have questions – the answers are likely at FaffCamp.

3. You’re surrounded by people who understand you. Either you are today or want to be someone who sits in a booth all day and talks to him/herself. You’re not normal and neither are FaffCamp attendees, cause we do the same thing. We understand the professional and personal challenges of being a performer, a small business owner and bread winner. You got questions? Very likely we’ve got experienced answers and the meter is NOT running.

One last piece of advice: Go.

female voice talents – there may be an opportunity for you

npr_logo

News from All Access today reported that National Public Radio is dropping their current underwriting voice talent. They have one in the interim but it sounds like they may be willing to audition other voices. They seem to want a female voice. Go get ’em, ladies (and no I don’t know where to send you — you have to do SOME work here).

Now while you ladies are practicing saying “This is NPR. National Public Radio” I’d like to address this change of voice talent at NPR.

The long time underwriting voice talent for NPR was a gentleman named Frank Tavares, who had been the underwriting voice talent for a reported 31 years. He was great but a change was made and that’s showbiz.

The network’s idea, it would seem, was to insert a cost-saving move while also vocally changing things up a bit by adding a female voice. OK, no problem there.

Auditions were held and the winning voice talent was an actress named Sabrina Farhi, who started on NPR in October 2013.

Her NPR underwriting reads were awful. Dreadful. Like nails on an angry chalkboard.

And none of the bad NPR reads were her fault. Repeat, NONE of them! I can prove it.

I’d heard Sabrina’s underwriting reads and could not get past the horrible, robotic read she voiced. This was the winner? Didn’t anyone else hear how tone deaf and unlistenable these underwriting reads sounded?

So after a while, during the few times I actually listened to NPR, I just switched away during the underwriting reads. Not what the network wanted, I’m sure. But I assumed it was just my professional ear not being able to grasp what the network was looking for. Maybe I was missing the musicality of it all. Certainly, I’d been wrong before (I told myself) and maybe I’m wrong on this.

Well, given the announced change, I guess not.

However, after reading tonight’s news on the change at NPR, I went to Sabrina Farhi’s web site and listened to her commercial voice-over demo. I couldn’t figure out how this voice got hired!

Upon further investigation, I rule as follows:

Sabrina Farhi has a wonderful voice which offers a clean, thoughtful interpretation of copy. The voice I heard on the TIAA CREF commercial was NOT the read I heard for the NPR underwriting voice-overs.

This woman is a talented voice actress with real chops who, if she was directed to use that TIAA CREF voice on the NPR underwriting reads, would and probably should still be employed today. On a side note, she like me has terrible trouble pronouncing the word “statistically”. And so if she’s anything like me, she’s an amazing voice talent! 😉

So my professional experience leads me to believe that it’s not the voice talent that’s at fault in this case, it’s the producers.

Yup, somebody either in underwriting production or in the underwriting department directed Sabrina to read in a monotone, cold and oblivious way that was evidently unlistenable to more people than just me.

The underwriting voice for NPR has to have a certain authority to it, yes, but NPR (more than any broadcast network) has a kind of humanism attached to it (in my opinion, anyway) that needs to be conveyed in the voice of the radio network. Frank did a great job doing that and Sabrina probably could have too if someone was directing her correctly.

So now it’s been announced that voice talent Jessica Hansen will serve as NPR’s underwriting announcer in a trail run beginning this month. Here’s hoping that she gets a new director who better understands voice-over direction, voice talents in general and the NPR brand.

you don’t replace a legend, you become one

The late Don Pardo, announcer on NBC's Saturday Night Live

The late Don Pardo, announcer on NBC’s Saturday Night Live

He’s not asking my advice but if Darrell Hammond did, those would be my words as he steps in to become Saturday Night Live’s new announcer following the death this past August of legendary NBC announcer Don Pardo.

He’ll create his own style and that’s as it should be.

He’s a wonderful choice (since they decided not to pick –or audition–me) and I don’t think I’m the only one who thinks so.