Bob Souer, Professional Storyteller, Pittsburgh, PA
By Jerry Vigil
If you’re in radio, doing freelance voiceover on the side, and hoping to one day break free of your full-time job for a full-time career in voiceover, this interview is for you. But don’t expect to learn how to make that break anytime soon. Bob Souer spent 30 years in radio, doing professional VO work on the side for nearly all of those years, and in most years, surpassing his radio income with his VO income. Nevertheless, “pulling the trigger” and leaving that full-time job was something that would not happen until just recently, in 2009, when Bob left the corporate world to focus his time 100% on voiceover. Today, Bob enjoys a thriving VO business doing work for everything from network television to the internet. His client list includes: The San Francisco Giants, The History Detectives (PBS/Lion TV), The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, The Military Channel, Harris Corporation, Hewlett-Packard, Cigna Insurance, Federal Express, Time Warner, Kodak, Iomega and more. Check out this month’s R.A.P. CD for a sample of Bob’s VO work and visit his site for more at www.bobsouer.com.
JV: Tell us how you got into radio. When and how did it all start for you?
Bob: Well, in 1979, I was working for a builder in the west suburbs of Chicago, a builder that’s still in existence, Pulte Home Corporation. I was a sales manager for them, relatively newly hired. Now the way it worked with Pulte back then -- and with some other builders, at least in the Chicago area -- is you didn’t have to have a real estate license in order to sell homes for a builder. You just worked directly for the builder; they paid you a commission on the homes that were sold in their subdivision. So I was working in the subdivision and had an office in what eventually became the garage of one of the houses that I was selling -- as they often did back then and still do sometimes. And in through the door walks a tall, slender gentleman and his wife and two small kids. I said hello to them, and immediately the two small kids took off into the model house that was attached to that office/garage. The gentleman’s wife took off after the kids to make sure they didn’t break anything. The gentleman was turning to me to say, “I guess I better get going here, but we’ll stop back in after we look around.” I said, “Please do.”
Then he stopped and he turned back and looked at me and said, “By the way, my name is Frank Dawson. Have you ever worked in radio?” I said, “No, I haven’t. How do you get into radio?” He said, “Well, I’m the Program Director of WKKD over here in Aurora,” – this was in the west suburbs of Chicago. He said, “I’m actually looking for a part-time announcer right now. Why don’t you come audition?”
I honestly thought he was kidding. But he and his wife ended up buying that house from me, and over the course of the next few months, as things were buttoned up with getting the house ready for them and so forth, he asked me again and again and again, I think a total of six times before I finally believed him. So I drove over to the radio station and said hello, and he put me in the production studio. Of course, I didn’t know what it was at the time course.
In 1979, maybe there was digital recording, but it wasn’t at this place yet. There was an analog reel-to-reel machine in there and a cart machine and a small round-pot mixing board. He turned on the microphone and set a level for me, had me read a couple of lines, and then he punched record and play on the reel-to-reel machine and walked out the door saying, “Read through this copy that I’ve put here for you twice and let me know when you’re done.”
So I did what he asked. A couple of news stories, a commercial, a weather forecast, a sports report and a traffic report, as I recall, was the contents of the copy that was there. When I finished recording the two times through, I knew enough about reel-to-reel tape recorders to push the stop button, so I stopped the recording and went and found him in his office and told him I was done. He came back and saw that the recording was stopped and asked me if I’d waited until I was finished recording to stop it, and I said yes. He thanked me and I was on my way.
Again, this was 1979, and those who are reading this who are old enough remember 1979 was a rather significant year of recession. I got a phone call on a Friday afternoon and it was Frank, and he said, “Well, Bob, we had seven people audition for this part-time, one night a week position -- the overnight guy’s night off, Sunday night to Monday morning. We had seven people audition and five of them had radio experience.”
I was sure after that set up that the next words out of his mouth were going to be, “I had to pick one of them. Sorry. I need somebody with experience,” or words to that effect. But instead what he said was, “And you were the best, so can you start on Monday training to be ready for next week?” I said, “You’re kidding.” He said, “No, I’m serious.” I said, “Okay, what time should I be there?” He told me and so I started training.
Two hours later, the vice president from Pulte comes in, big sigh, sits down in the chair across from my desk and says, “Well, Bob, there is a recession on. The president of the company has just been fired. I’ve been demoted to your position, and we have to let you go.” So that’s how I found out that God wanted me to get out of real estate and into radio.
I worked that part-time job, one night a week, overnights, for about three months. In the meantime I managed to find a job through the help of the guy who actually trained me at the radio station. It was a job as a security guard, working overnights at a local laboratory. One morning I was coming home from my night of work, and the phone rang just as I walked through the door, at about 8:15 in the morning. It’s Frank, who is now my boss of course, at the radio station. He says, “Bob, any chance you can come in today during the day?” I said, “I just got finished with my overnight shift.” He said, “Well, I really need you.” I said, “Okay, I’ll be there. Can you give me until 10:00 so I can take a shower and change clothes before I come over?” and he said sure.
So at 10:00 I show up and go on the air -- my first time during the day -- doing midday. This is a beautiful music station, so it wasn’t a real intensive personality format or anything. It was just a matter of doing the breaks and announcing the station calls and doing a few live spots and back timing to hit the network news at the top of the hour. It wasn’t terribly difficult stuff.
After I’d been on the air for a few hours, bang, the door of the studio slammed open, and standing there is a tall, slender, dark-haired, good looking gentleman. He says, “My name is Chuck Filippi. I’m the General Manager. I didn’t think you could sound this good.” Bang, the door slammed shut. That’s how I found out I was being hired to do middays, full-time for the station, and that’s how I got into radio.
JV: Did you get into production and voice work at this station?
Bob: Very quickly after I started working for them full-time, they started assigning me commercials, and at first, of course, I was just horrible. I was dreadful doing commercials, because all of my voice experience up to that point was singing and acting on stage. I had studied in college to be an opera singer and ultimately had abandoned that career when I found out how long it would take to build a career where I could actually make a decent living. So I gave that up, but I make use of what I learned in terms of breath control and phrasing, and so much of the instruction in music and in singing comes into play every day in the work that I do now, in voiceovers, so God doesn’t waste anything.
Acting on stage, of course, the idea is you want to hit the back row. People need to hear you all the way to the back of the theater. So I was just terrible at doing voiceovers on commercials because I was always so loud. But eventually I learned, through listening of course, and also being instructed by really good people like Todd Beasley, who was the Production Manager at that station back then and still a good friend of mine. He lives in western Virginia now, in the Roanoke area. He gave me a tremendous amount of help in figuring out how to interpret copy well. And Frank, of course, who was the Program Director, and then other people who came through really helped a lot.
I also listened to great voiceovers. John Doremus was still working in Chicago back then, a great voice talent, long since passed from the scene, but he was one of those people who had a voice you could just listen to for hours. For many years, he was the voice of some of the music networks on the airlines. When you would plug in your headphones on a long flight and listen, it was John Doremus who did the announcing for a lot of those, especially classical programming. In 1976, I remember listening to him do a series for Union 76 gas stations on the patriotic moments that were just absolutely riveting. Anyway, I got a chance to hear a lot of great voices and began to work on emulating or at least absorbing some of what I was hearing there.
JV: What came next?
Bob: After I had been at the station for a couple of years, one day something happened that sowed the seeds for how I would transition from radio into voiceover as a profession. I was sitting at the station having a big pity party for myself because the General Manager had taken every single member of the staff out for a free lunch except me, because I was on the air doing middays. He even took the receptionist. So in addition to being on the air and having some commercials to do, I also had to answer the phones.
So I was feeling pretty sorry for myself. The phone rings and I answer, and the gentleman at the other end of the line says, “Hello, my name is Mike Hislop. My brother, Mark, and I have a video production company called Video Impressions. We listen to your station and we’re wondering if anybody there would be interested in doing a voiceover audition for us.” I said, “What about me?” He said, “Okay, do you have a demo tape?” I said, “Come by at 3:00 and you can pick up my demo tape.” The reason I said that, of course, is because I didn’t have a demo tape and I was hoping that my friend, Todd, who was the Production Manager, would help me to get one together. When he got back from lunch, along with everybody else, I said, “Todd, we’ve got to put together a voiceover demo.”
So we took some of my commercials from the control room, loaded the carts into a multi-deck cart machine and played them onto a cassette tape. We typed up a file folder label that read “Bob Souer’s Voiceover Demo, put it on the cassette tape, and put it in a jewel box. When the guy came by at 3:00, I handed it to him, and I didn’t hear a thing from him.
In the meantime, a number of months later, I applied for and got a job at a station in Chicago, WAIT AM 820, a union station no longer on the air, as is WKKD. A few months after I had been working there, one day the Operations Manager calls me over to the phone and says, “You have a phone call.” So I pick up the phone and the guy on the other end of the line says, “Hi, Bob. My name is Mike Hislop. My brother Mark and I have a video production company called Video Impressions, and I don’t know if you remember, but about nine months ago you auditioned for a voiceover job with us.” I said, “Oh, yeah, I remember.” I didn’t tell him it was the only voiceover audition I had done. He said, “Well, it’s for a government project and it’s taken all this time to work out all the paperwork. So I’m sorry you haven’t heard anything from us, but we got the job and they want to hire you.”
So I went in and did that voiceover from them. That was for a federal high energy research laboratory, called Fermilab, or the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, which is located also in the west suburbs of Chicago, in Batavia. I still work for Fermilab to this day doing voiceovers occasionally, a few times a year. And that company, Video Impressions, in the next four years it went from a couple of guys who had been wedding videographers, landing their first corporate job, to a $7 million a year video production company, and I did all of the voiceovers for them.
So it was learn by doing. I learned how to read corporate and industrial copy in a way that illustrates and illuminates the information so that it makes sense to people, even if they aren’t extremely familiar with it. We did tons and tons of corporate videos, for UPS, Motorola, Bell Laboratories, lots of big corporations that are headquartered there in the Chicago area or have branches there. And that led to other work, sometimes working for those companies for their in-house departments. It just kind of went on from there to more and more voiceover work.
JV: Did you stay in radio during this time you were doing all the voice work for Video Impressions?
Bob: That first voiceover job was in 1983, and I have worked at radio stations and done some corporate work for many years after that, always having a day job, because I was always afraid of what would happen if I just did the voiceover thing and couldn’t make it go. So I kept doing both until 2009, but I wasn’t working in radio anymore by that time. I had a corporate job then and my voiceover business had grown to the point where I was quite literally only getting five hours of sleep seven days a week.
I would get up early in the morning, go into the office Monday through Friday, work for my eight and a half hours and come home and do voice work. Sometimes I would have an ISDN session over the lunch hour, if I could get away long enough. Otherwise I would schedule them for right after I got off work, and I would do ISDN sessions almost every day or phone patch sessions, live sessions, for the first hour or two after I got home. Then I would take a break and take a nap and have some supper with my family. Then I’d go back into the studio and work on audio books or corporate narrations or e-learning stuff, recording and editing until late into the evening. Then I would collapse into bed for those five hours and get up the next morning and do the same thing. On the weekends I just got up and worked all day, catching up on the stuff that I had fallen behind on during the week.
That was the point when I knew that I had to just finally step away from the corporate job, because I was just getting so busy I couldn’t keep doing it. That went on for about three years before my wife and I looked at each other and said, “This is getting ridiculous. Let’s take a step out and see what will happen.” It’s gone well, thankfully.
JV: What caused you to leave radio for this corporate position you mentioned?
Bob: I was offered a job with the Billy Graham Association, working in their corporate media. So I was still in a sense involved with radio, because I was providing programming to radio stations, among other things. I worked on television stuff for them as well. It was something that I enjoyed enormously; it gave me a chance to do more voiceover work as part of my regular job, plus lots of writing, which I’d always enjoyed doing.
Even when I was a Program Director, if the Production Manager was willing to work with me on it, I would continue to write spots and so forth. I always enjoyed doing that. So that gave me a chance to do a lot of writing and a lot of work and be involved with an organization that was doing really good work all over the world. It was a great opportunity. But that’s what finally got me out of radio entirely.
JV: So, from 1979 to 2009, that’s 30 years in radio. You were on the air, a Production Director, Program Director…
Bob: Correct, and some of it was with a network. I used to work for -- back when they had it -- Pat Robertson’s outfit, CBN. They had a radio network for a while, and I was a corporate announcer for them, news anchor for a while, and then I did a talk show for them. Most of the rest of the time I worked for either a local cluster or an individual station. For the first few years I was just a staff announcer at an easy listening station, that kind of thing, and then I became a Production Manager first and then a Program Director in the mid-‘80s.
I worked in the production studio quite a bit. I enjoyed doing the voiceovers a lot and enjoyed writing the commercials, working with clients, helping them get the results. It was very enjoyable, very appealing. And I loved working with people.
JV: What’s one of the key things you recall about being a Program Director?
Bob: This was advice that was given to me very early in my radio career: somebody said to me once, if you ever become a Program Director, make sure you hire people who are better than you, because they will make you look good. And that’s exactly what happened over and over again. I always tried to find people who were way better at the things that they could do. In fact, when I first became a Program Director, the guy who had preceded me as Program Director had been a morning man as well. We needed a morning guy and we needed a Program Director, so I cast myself in that role. I was, frankly, pretty abysmal at it. So I quickly found somebody who was better at being a morning man than me, and I made myself his sidekick. That worked out pretty well.
I loved helping people get better. I’ve stayed in touch with a lot of people that I’ve worked with through the years, and I love to see how people have blossomed and grown and become much, much better at what they do. It’s been exciting.
JV: It sounds like you had your fingers well into the VO business from the very beginning.
Bob: Yes, and candidly, I was not one of those guys who grew up with a burning desire to be on the radio or anything like that. I just kind of stumbled into it. I mean, if Frank hadn’t bought a house from me, I would have never gotten into radio, I suspect. But he did, and so as I said, that was how God directed my life in that way. But it wasn’t, “Oh, man, I love radio and I can’t stand not working in it,” or whatever. It was just something I ended up being fairly good at, so I did it.
But the thing that I most enjoyed was working on the commercials at the station, and I particularly enjoyed doing the narration work and the commercials and so forth that I did in the voiceover studios. I just loved that work. So, yeah, for most of the time when I worked in radio, my freelance voiceover income was twice what I made at the station. Whatever size market I was in, I was always making more money doing voiceovers than I was working at the station. So doing voiceovers full-time was something I flirted with for a long, long time, but I just never could make myself pull the trigger, until it got to the point where it was just so obvious that even I couldn’t miss it.
JV: It’s amazing you were with the radio stations as long as you were, given how long you’ve been at the VO business and how well you had been doing with the freelance all those years.
Bob: Well, I guess some of it is just sheer inertia and unwillingness to actually pull the trigger and make whatever changes. The radio business is littered with some real gems, some really wonderful people -- and then a few people who aren’t maybe quite in that camp. But I had the good pleasure of working for a couple of really, really superb people, including Chuck Gratner, the General Manager at WORD-FM and WPIT-AM in Pittsburgh. I believe he is still the General Manager there. That was the last local radio station that I worked with. That’s the Salem cluster in Pittsburgh. In the mid-‘90s, things really started to take off for me in the voiceover thing in Pittsburgh. I was very candid talking with Chuck. We had a great, open relationship in terms of really being candid with one another about what we were thinking and how things were going and so forth. So I said to him one day that I was thinking about maybe quitting and just doing the voiceover because of how well it was going. He said, “Well, Bob, I’ve seen a few people make that transition and some others crash and burn.” He said, “Why don’t you just give it one more year and if it’s still going well, I will support you wholeheartedly.” Maybe what he was trying to do was just keep me around the station for a year, but I don’t think so. I think he was operating with at least my best interests in mind, as well as his own.
And they were wise words, because the following year things did turn down a little bit, and it would have been very tight for us if I had stepped away from the station. That was one year when I made less than what I was making at the station. He also gave me a raise as a way of providing me with some incentive to stick around the station.
So it was always one of those things where I really wanted to, but I just didn’t feel comfortable with pulling the trigger until, like I said, in 2009. It was actually the end of 2008 when it was painfully obvious. But the Billy Graham Association was going through some programming changes in the early part of 2009, and I didn’t want to walk away from them – leaving them stuck with the stuff that I had helped to plan for and then not actually see it through to fruition. So I stayed until things were launched and running and then I quit.
JV: When you finally did pull the trigger, were there some surprises, things you didn’t expect?
Bob: Well, my wife and I had been talking about it for over a year. With three years of five hours of sleep a night, obviously we had some time to talk about it. I said to my wife about a year before I finally pulled the trigger, “I think that if I quit the Billy Graham job, it’s going to unleash an economic engine that is going to amaze both of us.” What I was surprised by was how true that turned out to be. Being able to just concentrate on my voiceover business has allowed me to really serve my clients and generate a lot more business than I thought would be possible. I am so grateful. Things have gone remarkably well.
In 2008, the great recession was beginning. It was a stupid time to make a move like that, from a purely look at it from the outside point of view. But my experience has been remarkable, and for that I’m very grateful, and it was genuinely surprising. I had no idea that things were going to fly and fly pretty well, but they have, thankfully.
JV: Many people focus on fears at a point like that. You were quite optimistic. Maybe that had a lot to do with the success.
Bob: Well, there’s no question that for many years I allowed my fear to keep me from taking action. It was only after becoming convinced that it was ultimately my fear more than anything else that kept me from stepping forward, that I realized, I can sit here on the sidelines and be afraid, or I can move forward. So it was time to move forward, to jump in with both feet and swim for all I was worth. And thankfully, we’ve not only not drowned, but we’ve stayed nicely afloat.
JV: Would you say the timing was right, or would you have liked to have bailed out of the employee position long before you did?
Bob: I’ve looked back, and there have been a number of times, going all the way back to the late ‘80s, I can see a number of points where I easily could have transitioned into just doing voiceover work and it probably would have gone well.
The interesting thing is, I look back at each of those times along the way, when I could have made that transition, taken the other fork in the road -- to use Robert Frost’s poetic illusion of The Road Less Traveled and all of that, two paths in a wood diverged -- each time I can look at that and I can say it would have gone well, but I also recognize in looking back at it, that I accumulated experiences that have helped me to do better what I’m now doing than I would have if I had taken that transition back then. In other words, I would have missed out on a number of relationships and a number of experiences and a number of places of working and a number of kinds of things that I’ve done, that would have meant I would have had to find the way to learn those things differently than I did.
So I don’t regret any of the decisions made to delay things in the past. But, yeah, I was definitely very ready to make that move. And I would have liked to have done it a few months sooner, but like I said, it wasn’t the right thing to do for the organization, and I have labored very hard never to burn a bridge with anyone. A few people have lit the bridge from the other side, and I can’t do anything about that, but I’ve not lit it from my side or anywhere in the middle. I just believed that it was appropriate to provide service to make sure that all of the things that we had talked about and planned for, actually came to fruition before I walked away. Frankly, I’m very glad that I did that, and maybe one of the positive benefits to that is to this day I’m still doing freelance work for the Billy Graham Association. I have a recording session with them coming up again next week. So, the fact that they were willing to continue working with me might have something to do with the fact that I didn’t leave them in the lurch at the time that I stepped away.
JV: You’re a good guy, and I think it’s serving you well.
Bob: I don’t know. The Bible says there is no one good except God, so I’m not sure that I would acclaim that, but thank you. That’s very kind of you to say.
JV: Having been a production guy as long as you were, you must be a gear head to some degree.
Bob: A little bit. It would be one of those jack of all trades, master of none kind of thing -- although I will admit to being pretty good at doing voiceovers, I guess -- at least certain kinds of them. I know enough about gear to plug the correct end of the cable into the microphone and the other end into the preamp or the mixer or wherever it goes, and to route the signals from the mixer to the monitors and the workstation and so forth and so on.
But I’m not hardcore in any of those directions. I’m not one of those guys who has a microphone closet that’s full to bursting. I have a simple but extremely serviceable set up. I use a simple little Mackie mixer. I have a Sennheiser 416 microphone that I use for literally everything, from audio books to promos. My voice sounds good on it, and once I settle on that, I don’t change. I don’t see any reason to swap things out, and enough people hire me in enough different kinds of settings, that I’m reasonably confident that there are no problems with any of that.
Years and years ago I remember reading – it might have been in Popular Mechanics or something like that -- a description of the ideal amplifier: a straight wire with gain. So I tried to sort of emulate that with my chain. You know, microphone to mixer to workstation and that’s it, and as simple and straightforward as can be. Any processing that needs to be done is done in post, and since the vast majority of what I do is simple, straight voiceover, corporate narrations and e-learning and audio books and even commercials, it’s just my voice dry that goes everywhere. So I do very, very little processing. I do a podcast for the Embassy of Austria and a few other things like that, where I do a little bit of processing, but it’s all pretty straightforward.
JV: You use the preamp in the Mackie?
Bob: Yes. I used to have a DBX 286A that I had in line with it, but after I moved to my current studio, I don’t know if the DBX got dropped and something got messed up or if I didn’t just plug it together quite correctly or I bumped a knob or a button or something, but I wasn’t happy with the sound I was getting from the DBX, so I just went back to straight into the Mackie, and it seemed to me the sound was a little cleaner.
JV: You do a wide variety of voiceover work. What’s your favorite?
Bob: Documentaries. I’ve had several that have run on PBS. There are four – I think they’re still currently running occasionally on the Military Channel -- about sniper warfare.
JV: What do you like about doing documentaries?
Bob: First, I love telling stories, as you might be able to tell by now in this conversation. I love telling stories, and to me, a documentary is just the right length. An audio book sometimes is a little too long. A documentary is just about the right length, somewhere between an hour and an hour and a half, maybe two hours.
It’s a beautiful length, but there’s a long arc to it and it’s always fascinating. I am endlessly fascinated by the things that I learn from the narrations that I do. I’ve learned more than I could ever have dreamed of knowing about the paving industry, because I do a lot of e-learning for a company that does training programs for people who work in the paving industry, both asphalt paving and concrete paving.
I did a documentary a number of years ago for the History Channel in Canada about the role the Canadian embassy played in 1979 and 1980, during the Iranian hostage crisis, getting four Americans out of Iran. It was just fascinating. It was a piece of history that I knew about, because I lived through it, but I did not know the details of what those amazing Canadian diplomats did to get those American citizens out of Iran safely and the lengths they went to.
Things like that I just find endlessly fascinating. So I love that part of the business. Honestly, it’s really cool watching TV and hearing your voice come out of the speakers.
JV: That’s that part of the radio guy in you I’d bet.
Bob: Yeah, without question. I vividly remember the first time I was driving along in 1980, listening to my radio station that I was working for at the time and heard for the first time one of my commercials come on the air. Wow, that was an amazing experience.
JV: Have you utilized voiceover coaches?
Bob: I’ve had two voiceover coaches in the last several years who have absolutely been wonderful. And it’s interesting, because it’s like they’re two sides of the same coin. One is Nancy Wolfson, who is based in Los Angeles; BraintracksAudio.com is her website. Nancy is a brilliant instructor and works with people of all levels of voiceover experience, and was absolutely transformative in my voiceover journey. I started working with her before I left my job with Billy Graham.
And then after I worked through Nancy’s curriculum for a year, I started working with Marice Tobias, TobiasEnt.com, or Tobias Entertainment is her website. Nancy is very much about process, about understanding business, about the tools that you need in order to perform effectively, especially in commercials. Marice is about helping you understand yourself and about helping you understand what the things are that you’re doing that are getting in your own way and preventing you from performing at the level that you can. Marice is much more internal; Nancy is much more external. In my view, without working with both of those ladies, I would not have learned the stuff that I needed to learn.
I actually had my first bit of training from Marice in the ‘90s, when I saw her speak at a special event in Nashville. I had written down her phone number, which she gave to all of us, and kept it in my wallet for -- I am not kidding -- nine years before I finally got up the courage to work with her, and then only did when a friend of mine essentially tricked me into calling her. Marice works only with working pros. If you’re starting out in voiceover, you cannot work with her, and there’s really no point in trying until after you have some experience. But she does work with people who are still in the process of transitioning. She worked with me for a year, a year and a half, before I made my transition. In fact, when I told her when I first started working with her that the goal that I had was to make the transition to just doing voiceovers full-time, she said, “Bob, here is my advice to you. Keep working at your day job until you are ticking everybody off.” -- actually, she used somewhat stronger language. “When you get to that point, you will know that it’s time to make the transition.” So that’s essentially what I did. I wasn’t actually ticking anybody off, but I was getting to the point where I was so close to collapsing in exhaustion that I just couldn’t keep doing it.
JV: Layoffs seem to be the modus operandi in radio these days. In your 30 years in radio, did you ever have to deal with that?
Bob: I’ve only known one other person who worked in radio for at least 20 years who was never fired, and I don’t know whether I should be happy about that or not, because I know a lot of people who ended up being fired from a radio job ended up getting a much better situation for themselves. But somehow God provided a doorway into another opportunity right before what would have been my firing. This happened over and over and over again.
The only time I came close to it was when I was working for CBN and they sold the network to Salem, which is now the Salem Radio Network. I ended up leaving CBN, getting laid off from that job, but I was hired the next day by the people who bought the network. So it wasn’t really being fired. I just went to the new owners. I don’t know if that’s a significant thing or not, but I always considered it an amazing thing, because so many people who work in radio end up getting fired every year or two, for a while anyway, and for that I’ve always been very, very grateful.
JV: Any advice you’d like to offer up to radio folks who would like to follow in your voiceover footsteps?
Bob: Well, you made a comment in one of your questions earlier about the fact that I was laying the groundwork for this for a long time, and I have talked with a lot of people, some of whom I’ve known well and some of whom I’ve only just met when they sent me an e-mail or made a phone call. I’ve talked to a lot of people working in radio interested in getting into voiceover, and my first piece of advice to all of them is that voiceover is a wonderful way to make a living. It’s a terrible way to make a living quickly. It takes a lot of time to build up a voiceover business that will provide for you. So if you think that doing voiceover is something you might want to do and you still have a radio job, start working on it now. And if you have four weeks or four years until your radio job evaporates, use that time as effectively as you can.
Second thing is, most people who work in radio assume that because they voice at least some commercials, that they know something about voiceover. And while that might technically be true in a very limited sense, the fact is that very, very few voiceovers, maybe a few local car commercials for radio and television and a few other things, use a typical radio announcer’s sound on commercials. Most of the time, that sound will not get you work, no matter how many people have told you you have a wonderful voice. What you need to do is begin training now for what is the kind of deliveries that you need to do in order to make money doing voiceovers, and believe me, it’s very different.
And the third thing is that it’s not about the sound of your voice. That’s true for radio too, of course. What you sound like doesn’t get you the job – well, it might help you get a job somewhere along the way, but it isn’t going to keep the job, no matter how you sound. Basso profundo, tenor, alto, soprano, it doesn’t matter where your voice range is; it matters how well you tell the story, and concentrating on the story and what it is and how to tell it as effectively as possible. And learning how to do that… that is the goose that lays the golden eggs.