THE SOUND OF MUCOUS
posted by James Reel
I’ve been snorting fine powder during the past few days. No, it’s not what you think; I don’t work for a rock’n’roll station. I’m talking about dust (I do, after all, work for a classical station).
My wife and I spent the weekend moving things out of the front rooms of our house in preparation for the arrival of painters. That means getting cozy with draperies that have been collecting dust and dog dander for nearly three years, and moving books and bookcases that have stood unmoved for about a decade. I won’t go into detail about what lay behind the bookcases, except to say that if I hauled in some salt water I could open a beach.
Yesterday, the workers started scraping off the Sensational ’70s popcorn ceiling (which had been applied after the asbestos era, thank goodness), and that means even more particulate matter is floating through my home. I’m vulnerable to allergies anyway, and none of this is doing my voice any good. It’s sounding scratchy, coming out at a higher basic pitch, and fading out on some end-of-sentence syllables, and my inhalations are even wheezier than usual. I’m not making excuses for poor performance, something about which Ikka Talvi has some amusing things to say in his August 14 blog post, merely taking an opportunity to observe that the voice is the most important tool at a radio announcer’s disposal, and the slightest change in the voice makes a huge difference in our performance.
You can’t see my face or gestures; you can’t see me sit up straight in anticipation of some favorite piece of music or slouch in dismay when I’m confronting some piffle I can’t stand. The only way I can convey information, attitude and personality is through my voice. And because that’s all you as a listener have to go on, it’s probably easy for you to tell when something’s off—I’m tired, or distracted, or unprepared.
Announcers have certain ways of faking it. Smiling helps; you can’t see it, but the smile does brighten our vocal delivery. Placement of voice in the mouth and throat helps control pitch and tone; at all costs, we’re supposed to keep our noses out of it, if we want to avoid that baby-girl voice so common among young women now (is this the downside of spurning cigarettes?), yet we can’t afford to sound stuffed-up and adenoidal, either.
So I can understand why more than one announcer has confessed to me, “I can’t stand the sound of my own voice.” We’re hyper-aware of things that would otherwise pass unnoticed. But it does make me wonder why people who loathe their voices work in radio. Perhaps it’s because most of us are too ugly for TV.