Writing For Your Station Voice: How to Win Friends and Influence Your Word Processor

by Marshall Such

(With conviction) You don't have to fire your station voice because he/she isn't giving you the reads you want for your liners and promos. In fact, just using italics, bold face and underlines can make a world of difference in the interpretation of your copy. (As an aside) And the power of stage directions should never be underestimated as a means of conveying what you're hearing in your head--much like the stage directions above illustrate the tenor of these sentences.

Viva la differencé

(Thoughtfully) Consider this. Here's a piece of copy for a weekend promo:

THIS WEEKEND...THE COWBOYS, THE EAGLES, IN THE HOTTEST CONTEST OF THE YEAR. AND Q-95 IS PUTTING YOU ON THE FIFTY-YARD LINE--ACTUALLY, IT'S CLOSER TO THE TEN AND THE SEATS ARE UP KINDA HIGH AND, AH--BUT Q-95 WILL AT LEAST HAVE YOU THERE FOR THE BATTLE ROYALE OF THE NFC EAST.

JUST BE THE NINTH CALLER WHEN YOU HEAR THE SOUND OF THE WHINER FROM THE NOSEBLEED SECTION (SFX) AND YOU AND THREE OF YOUR FRIENDS ARE ON YOUR WAY TO SEE THE COWBOYS SHOOT DOWN THE EAGLES THIS SUNDAY AT TEXAS STADIUM.

THEY'LL LOOK LIKE ANTS. YOU'LL HAVE TO WALK DOWN SIX FLIGHTS TO THE CAN. BUT YOU'LL BE THERE. FREE COWBOY TICKETS, FROM THE PEOPLE WITH THE OXYGEN TANKS, AND BOY, YOU'RE GONNA NEED 'EM, Q-95.

(With anticipation) Now, the same copy with some punctuation, stage direction and graphic embellishment.

(Ballzy) THIS WEEKEND..THE COWBOYS (sfx), THE EAGLES (sfx), IN THE HOTTEST CONTEST OF THE YEAR. AND Q-95 IS PUTTING YOU ON THE FIFTY-YARD LINE. (normal voice, a little sheepish, flustered)--ACTUALLY, IT'S CLOSER TO THE TEN AND THE SEATS ARE UP KINDA HIGH AND AH...(back to ballzy with a little attitude) BUT Q-95 WILL AT LEAST HAVE YOU THERE FOR THE BATTLE ROYALE (roy-L) OF THE NFC EAST.

(A little faster pace) JUST BE THE NINTH CALLER WHEN YOU HEAR THE SOUND OF THE WHINER-FROM-THE-NOSEBLEED-SECTION (sfx), AND YOU AND THREE OF YOUR FRIENDS ARE ON YOUR WAY TO SEE THE COWBOYS SHOOT DOWN THE EAGLES THIS SUNDAY AT TEXAS STADIUM.

(Like an announcer from a '50s Sci-Fi trailer) THEY'LL LOOK LIKE ANTS! YOU'LL HAVE TO WALK DOWN SIX FLIGHTS TO THE CAN! BUT YOU'LL BE THERE! FREE COWBOY TICKETS FROM THE PEOPLE WITH THE OXYGEN TANKS, (kinda under your breath) AND BOY, YOU'RE GONNA NEED 'EM, (back to ballz) Q-95.

Total elapsed time for the modifications? Five minutes.

The Psychological Difference

(With thoughtful consideration) Believe it or not, most voice talent want to give you great reads. It may sometimes seem that a promo or liner you fax out comes back rather dry and listless. But if all your announcer is reading is a set of words with no accentuation, that's probably what you'll get back.

It's akin to a great classical violinist sight reading a piece of music. Without the dynamic markings, phrasing, accents, embellishments, and tempo designations, even a superb concerto is going to sound like a fifth grader with an attitude.

Making the Markings Work

Most experienced voice people will respond similarly to the same "dynamic" markings you write. Some examples:

• A double dash (--) means an abrupt stop--a change of thought or momentary pause.

• A series of periods (...) represents a slight pause...or contemplation.

Italics generally connote a change in timbre or a slight emphasis on the word.

Bold lettering will indicate hitting a word much harder than the other words.

Underline is like a cross between bold and italics. It means hit the word a little harder with a different inflection, but keep the flow of the copy intact.

• A bold underlined italic means nail the mutha! With double !!

• And don't forget that your voice talent may not know pronunciations. The city of Carmel is car-MEL' in California and CAR'-mel (like the popcorn) in Indiana.

Talent Center Stage

(A little scholarly, but not pompous) Working with stage direction is completely subjective. If you know your voice talent well enough, inside phrases or jokes may evoke the delivery you're looking for. But some standard directions, i.e., forcefully, up-close-and-personal, pick up the pace, with a smile, wryly, throw away, dead ass serious, reflectively and tongue in cheek will give most announcers an idea of where you are going with your words.

And don't be afraid to allude to contemporary icons--Ted Baxter like, Richard Simmons on methadrine, James Earl Jones, a Richard Lewis fluster, Butthead talking to Beavis, etc..

Nailing It

It would be great if we all had the time to produce phone patch sessions with the station voice. But the day-to-day realities of radio life don't allow for such luxuries. So to optimize the performance from your station voice: write it as you hear it in your head. With some creative designations you will get back an inspired performance which will translate into a better on-air product.

Summary

Lackluster performance in your station voice may not lie with the talent, but with your scripts. An extra five minutes for accentuation and stage direction will give you back what you conceptualized in your original copy. Learn the common designations that are familiar to voice talent, and use them. Voice talent want to deliver a quality product. They just need some guidance.

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