Stop Hiding Behind Your Voice
July 29, 2014
The honor of making a living as an air personality has been and still is a small fraternal order. I got the on-air bug at a high school broadcast workshop at the University of Missouri. The emphasis was on news reporting, but at night we were on our own and back at the dorms we had rigged together enough equipment to do mock DJ shows.
The ham in all of us would come out as we took turns playing music and talking into a mic. Everyone would make up air names and for no reason at all I used the name Wildcat Weaver. The workshop was fun and I began to think about being on the radio.
I wanted to be on the air because it was fun and I got to be the life of the party by playing music and being the cool guy. During my college years I was fortunate enough to work part-time at two of the three commercial stations in town. My first full-time opportunity came in Amarillo, TX at KPUR and lasted for six months. when I was lucky enough to land a gig in St. Louis at KSLQ. So I was three-and-a-half years into being paid as a personality before I realized it was not me, but someone else on the radio.
Having grown up listening to and working side by side with jocks, it dawned on me one day that not flubbing words on the air wasn't good enough. Up until then, I had listened but had not heard what the good and the great air personalities were actually doing. They were being themselves. I had listened with my ears but not my brain.
This revelation hit me one day while listening to an aircheck from the previous day's show. From an execution standpoint I was using all the right words and sounded friendly, but I was not projecting my whole voice. My PDs had done a good job of teaching me, but even around the station I had not really been me.
After that day, I began listening to myself and others in a totally different way. I started listening for realness and the humanity of each jock. This meant paying close attention to other personalities around me and meeting others to compare the in-person experience to their on-air persona.
I had to practice off the air to be the real me on the air, it sounds crazy but it was like having an iron mask on for years only to finally have it removed and seeing my face again. It is all about the highs and lows of your total voice and ridding yourself of doing an impression of a radio personality. The day I was comfortable with my voice was the day I really became a radio professional.
I can visualize the nodding heads of those who have either gone through this and those who are trying to figure out if their real voice is okay for the airwaves.
My inspiration for this column came from an air personality who is not sure of her sound and her PD has her thinking she sounds too young on the air. It is pretty funny considering the station's target demo is 18-34 and the PD has never been on the air part or full-time.
Jock: It has been a minute since you critiqued an aircheck for me. I think the last one was two months ago. My PD has given me more air time and he's paying more attention to my air work. This is my latest demo and yes, before you ask, it is all from one show.
Coach: It is good to hear from you again. I hope you are now taping and listening back to every one of your shows. Here is my critique, better yet -- I am going to call you, is it okay if I tape our conversation?
Jock: Sure, call me now.
Coach: It is good to hear your voice. Again, I wanted to talk instead of exchanging e-mails because I think this critique requires it. Also, I am taping it so I can give you an accurate summary of what I am about to tell you.
Jock: Oh no, was I that bad?
Coach: No, don't overreact -- it is just that I think you have reached a point which makes this necessary.
Coach: You say all the right words, but you sound uninterested. There's no passion behind your words. Don't get me wrong, you sound better than you did on the last demo you sent. But you don't sound like you are connected to what you are saying.
You sound way too robotic; is it a programming directive for you to approach your presentation that way? Because if it is, keep doing what you are instructed.
Jock: No, my PD has never told me anything like that. I think this is the way I sound best. I mean, he told me I sound too young and I am trying to give him what he wants.
Coach: I applaud you for trying so hard, however I do think he wants you to sound like you are having fun. You are supposed to lead the party. What has your PD been telling you?
Jock: Well in my last critique he told me to smile and try not to sound so young.
Coach: He has increased your hours, so the young thing does not sound all that important. Are you sure he is talking about your voice and not the slang you use for different terms on the air?
Jock: I never thought about it, I will ask him. So what am I doing wrong?
Coach: It is not a question of anything wrong; it is a question of you sounding like you are happy to be on the radio. Think about this, if you were on a first date with a guy and he talked to you with that same robotic non-passionate sound you have on this demo, you would think he wasn't interested in you. Not only that, you would never go out with him again. Transfer that thought to radio, why would anyone want to listen to someone who did not seem interested in what they were saying?
Jock: (Laughing) No I would never see him again, I see what you mean.
Coach: I know what you are going through; you are trying to figure out how you should sound. Just let go, that laugh I just heard should be heard by your audience. Stop trying to hold down the pitch of your voice and be yourself, let folks hear the same you I hear on the phone. I bet when you check with your PD, you misread what he meant by sounding young. If whatever it is was a big deal, he would not have increased your hours.
Jock: You mean just talk?
Coach: I mean to let your voice come through and not the manufactured one. You need to practice off the air and listen to yourself. Also, there is nothing to feel bad about; every good jock comes to this point in their career. I went through it. The way you phrase and deliver content is so on point. The only thing missing is your actual voice and that is why I wanted to talk with you and not exchange e-mails.
Jock: This is going to be weird, because I have always tried to sound like I thought a jock should sound.
Coach: Bingo, all you had to do was just be you. You got procedure and presentation confused with projecting your voice rather than a voice you thought was a radio voice. So get busy and go use the voice you use when you are not behind a mic, (Laughing)
Jock: Will do and I will check with my PD on the young sounding thing.
Trying to sound like others can only take you so far in this business. It will be easier to sound like yourself once you get used to hearing yourself.