Wednesday, December 10, 2008

I don't know why public radio broadcasters sound so different from commercial radio broadcasters.

Yesterday's drive back from Boston took a little longer than usual, as bad weather started right at the Maine border. (Today is warmer, but rainy; snow starts tomorrow. Sigh.)

I didn't really mind, though, since I hadn't seen or heard any news earlier in the day, and Maine Public Radio gave me wall-to-wall coverage of the Blagojevich arrest.

But MPR wasn't giving me timely weather updates, so I switched over to a commercial station -- and almost blasted myself out of the car. Not only was the volume of the commercial station much louder than MPR's, but the radio announcer's voice was totally different -- smoother, brighter, louder.

Public radio's voices are an easy target for comedians -- Saturday Night Live had a recurring feature called "The Delicious Dish" featuring Ana Gasteyer and Molly Shannon, which produced one of the funniest SNL sketches of all time (here -- only marginally safe for work, and even funnier if you just listen without the video).

Why is this? Why do some radio formats demand the "broadcaster voice" and others discourage it? Why do public radio broadcasters often sound as if they're talking down violent offenders?

Five Random Songs

"From Off to On," The Knife. A track from a rare live performance (Gothenburg 4/12/06); The Knife are a Swedish brother and sister who perform in long black coats, black wigs and masks. The fact that I own this 2-CD set, a gift from a friend, makes me way, way cooler than most people. (Thanks, John.)

"Rainbow Tour," Mandy Patinkin, Patti Lupone and Company. From the Evita soundtrack.

"Rotten Peaches," Elton John. I got a copy of Madman Across the Water from my brother-in-law over Thanksgiving, and have been listening to it just about nonstop since. Thanks, Scott!

"Alone," Daisy Eagan and Matt Prager. From the original demo recording of She Can't Believe She Said That, the musical I stage-managed this fall. Someone else's voice is on this track, too, but I don't know whose -- Matt? Matt's currently mixing the original cast recording, and I'll announce it as soon as it becomes available.

"Better Days," Bruce Springsteen. From Lucky Town. "I got a new set of clothes and a pretty red rose/And a woman I can call my friend."


norby said...

It is a risk switching radio stations, you never know what's going to happen. Just going from song to song can be risky.

I adore Mandy Patinkin-somewhere I have a CD of him singing a variety of songs from musicals he's been in.

Laura Benedict said...

I worked at KWMU, the big public station in St. Louis when I was in college and just after. They mocked me shamelessly about my southern accent, then proceeded to teach me how to speak in that rather bland Transamerican way.

I think it has a lot to do with the announcers' backgrounds. Few of them come out of commercial radio--they start out announcing classical music or jazz and have to have some facility for languages. Public radio draws a very different sort of personality.

Also, most of the people you hear on NPR are journalists--and they're not really trained in radio first, so they can be easily trained by the affiliates. People who go into public radio tend to stay there--or go work for non-profits.

When I was there, you could really tell the difference between the people who were going to go on to the commercial world and the ones who were going to stay in the public biz. They were way more cheerful!