female voice talents – there may be an opportunity for you

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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.

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15 Responses to “female voice talents – there may be an opportunity for you”

  1. Yay! I agree, there were reads she did that sounded just fine, and then those other two note reads that had me yelling at the radio. (I do that often, usually when I wander away from NPR.)

    I hope she finds other work at NPR, and a new director, perhaps as a host on This American Life with the other hipster, Ira Glass. That would be cool.

    Monk

  2. I’m not thrilled about the new voice either — she sounds like she has a lot of mucus hovering above her soft palate. I get an image of Horton Hears a Who: “An elephant is faithful, one hundred percent.” You can hear how hard she’s working, and she still has an annoying sibilance. The speech sounds very artificial and cheesy, like a recording you’d get when put on hold at your OB/GYN. I’ve turned off NPR so often now because of women’s voices, accents, inflections and a myriad of speech impediments that I hardly listen anymore. If NPR really wants to address the “national” part of its audience, it might quit trolling the east coast, just for a start. And how about universities start working on this issue.

  3. Totally agree with Amy. My friends feel that Jessica’s voice mirrors all the fake NPR voices that Saturday Night Live has used for years. Please let her trial period (which is a trial for me), end quickly.

  4. I agree with Sandee, I’m reminded of SNL satire everytime I hear Ms Hansen. I listen a lot less since she started, I never even noticed Sabrina’s voice as anything to like or dislike, which is how it should be.

  5. I agree. Jessica Hansen was the underwriting announcer on my local station and I could not believe when I realized she got the national gig. I agree, Scott. I never noticed Sabrina’s voice. Jessica’s is unbearable.

  6. This is a great discussion. When I first heard Sabrina Farhi on NPR I loved her voice, it was great. She had a lovely tone, and a great conversational yet professionl lilt. And then over the next several months I noticed that she got more and more nasal and, as you say monotone. Then, when Jessica Hansen started I thought “Oh they found someone new and I like this voice” She reminded me a lot, and every time I hear her she continues to remind me of Diane from Cheers, Shelley Long’s voice. On the whole I enjoy her voice a lot, but occasionally her overly “proper” style annoys me. I understand that she studied Kristen Linklater’s work, who is in my opinion the best vocal coach, period. I studied voice under one of Kristen Linklater’s students myself and her book Freeing the Natural Voice is the best. But, as others have noted whoever is giving Jessica direction must want this is very proper style from her.

  7. Thanks Tess.

    Best always,
    -Peter

  8. I’ve noticed a change in Jessica’s tone over the past few weeks. Her voice now feels less corporate, having more warmth and a bit of an uplifting quality, like she is having fun reading the script. In fact, I wish I had her voice on my phone….hmmmm….because she seems more human and less robotic.

    Looking into her acting career, she’s done a good bit of comedy so good call on the SNL sounding cadence. I much prefer Ms. Hansen’s voice to the typical droll announcer (or those whiny, nasal voices that are all too common). In the long line of female news readers at NPR, Ms. Hansen’s voice stands out with it’s own quality, much as the voices of Melissa Bloch, Nina Tottenberg, Debbie Elliot do and all of whom I find pleasant to hear.

  9. Does anyone know the timing of the Jessica Hansen underwriting spots? I’m trying to figure this out so that I can silence my radio for them. I can’t take it. I haven’t been irritated by an NPR voice before this.

  10. I really thought you had hired Shelley Long.
    It’s uncanny.

  11. Yes, she over-emotes over neutral copy which completely distracts from the message. Please, NPR, rethink this voice that appears on air several times every hour.

  12. Ms. Hansen seems like a good and decent person, but I couldn’t stand Diane’s voice on Cheers — and Ms. Hansen’s has the same effect on me. Like a prudish, pretentious schoolmarm. Like Diane. It’s awful. I turn to a new station whenever she comes on.

  13. I, too, MUST turn off NPR whenever Jessica Hansen speaks. She has the most irritating voice I’ve ever heard. Yuck.

  14. At least now they’ve made the switch to the new voice who is a little bit better. Still now my choice.

    Not sure why NPR feels their promo voice needs to sound pretentious and superior. It makes the audience feel like they should lucky to be allowed to listen. Likely that’s why their pledge drives (and listenership) have faltered.

    Great radio informs but it also talks WITH the audience, not AT them.

    Just my two cents.

    Best always,
    –Peter

  15. I love NPR but cannot stand the voice of Jessica Hansen. Descriptions aside,I am astounded that as irritating and annoying her voice is, that someone in the management of the on air production side made this really bad call. That’s the person who should be held accountable, not the voice talent. Please, please change this voice. I hardly noticed the last one.

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