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Wednesday, August 21, 2013

The Voice In The Booth

A friend who saw my entry yesterday about famous voiceover guys asked if I've ever done that kind of work. The answer is yes, but at no point was voiceover work my fulltime job. I always did it on the side without allowing it to interfere with my regular radio gigs. Still, when I was starting out, I would have loved to be a television booth announcer.


For one thing, the guys who did that job at the network level (e.g. NBC's killer trio of Bill Wendell, Don Pardo, and Fred Foy) had long-term contracts and lots of job security. Secondly, I just loved the way they sounded in their few seconds of airtime. I was particularly taken with the guy who did the promos for "The Mike Douglas Show," an afternoon talk show syndicated by Westinghouse in the 1970s.

I don't know his name, but he always sounded like he knew all the stars on the guest roster personally, because he only identified them by their first names. As a slide with Kirk Douglas' picture appeared on the screen for five seconds, he'd say, "Kirk...with Mike...tomorrow!" Or we'd see Charlton Heston and hear, "Charlton...with Mike...today at 4:30!" It couldn't have been simpler, but the guy really sold it, every time.

In my mind, I could hear myself pushing my teenage broadcaster voice down a couple of octaves to intone, "Zsa Zsa...with Mike...tomorrow." Or, to promote a really big get for Phil Donahue, "Jesus...with Phil...today at 10!!"

But I never had a network gig like that. In fact, I wouldn't have known who to approach to even have a shot at doing it. However, I have had a few local opportunities, including the one I wrote about three years ago, remembering my fill-in work for the booth guy at WDCA-TV in Washington, DC, where my friend Mark Feldman ran the marketing department. 

I was later hired to record intros and promos as the original voice of NewsChannel 8 when it launched as a local cable news outlet in the DC area in 1991. I also provided the recorded voice of a radio announcer for the stage comedy "Shear Madness" when it debuted at the Kennedy Center in 1987 (they used that recording until 1992!). And in the early 1980s, I did some voice and on-camera work for WTXX-TV (an independent station whose promotions guy, Mike Watt, was a fan of my radio show), as well as some imaging for radio stations in Oneonta (NY), Flint (MI), and Monterey (CA) that my boss was consulting. Along the way, I voiced a few industrial videos and plenty of commercials, too, but I have forgotten when and for whom.

I have always found voiceover work relatively easy. If someone else provides the copy, I'll usually nail it in a take or two, so there's no time pressure -- unlike commercial work, which can involve many more takes because the client or agency rep doesn't feel like they're getting value for their money. In their mind, for what they're paying me, it doesn't matter if I did it perfectly the first time. I should sit there for a half-hour or more and keep doing it over and over until my throat is raw.

Broadcasters, on the other hand, want it quick and clean -- faster than you can say, "Oprah...with Dave...tomorrow!"

Previously on Harris Online...