Tips for the Classical Music Radio Announcer
by Rich Capparela
The following guide for would-be classical music announcers was prepared for the "Music Personnel Conference" in Los Angeles on February 6th, 1998. Take it with a grain (or two) of salt and enjoy it.
AIR PRACTICES GUIDE
A few thoughts on being a better classical announcer
|ANNOUNCER TIPS - VALID QUESTIONS
WHY AM I HERE?
What's the point to this program/this break? What are my goals in being on the radio in the first
place? Education, illumination, companionship, entertainment, to provide a few seconds
between each piece? Fame? Big bucks?
WHO IS THE AUDIENCE?
How many of them are there? How much do they know about this music? What are they doing
while they listen? Where are they? Why have they tuned to WXXX?
WHAT'S THE POINT OF ALL THIS?
ANNOUNCER TIPS - SOME ANSWERS
(or "What No Announcer Wants to Hear")
Radio stations, be they non-commercial, commercial, college owned, city-operated, classical,
pop, jazz or talk are all services. Therefore you, as an announcer, are on the air to serve the
listening audience. How that service is best provided is decided by folks who wear ties. The
weirdest thing about radio is that, while you're working for the station, you're serving the
audience. At any given moment you are talking to only one person. Orators work the crowd.
Radio announcers communicate one to one.
The audience doesn't need to pass a test in order to listen to the service. Anybody can be
listening. They may be listening with bated breath or they may be having sex. They're in the
car, the living room, at work or in the shower, They have WXXX on because they like the
general sound of the station. Save yourself a bruised ego later on by realizing now that your
one audience member is very much like a casual, somewhat easily distracted acquaintance
with a frustratingly short attention span. That person likes you but hasn't much time for you.
Once a station's service has been decided, its aim is to get as many people as possible
listening to it. Whatever it takes to accomplish that end will be done. Economics, community
needs and even politics all contribute to the station's mission. The announcer is but one
aspect of the service. The person behind the mike is the front line soldier who gets the most
glory and is the most vulnerable.
ANNOUNCER TIPS - "DO"
Literally! The person on the other side of the microphone may not be able to see your face, but
they can certainly hear you when you crack a smile, In addition to the great music, listeners are
tuning in for companionship. Be a friend rather than a scholar.
Think of each time you crack open the mike as parachuting. Just as you'd never jump out of a plane without having first prepared the chute and checked every piece of gear (twice), you'll want to know what you're going to do (engineering) and say before each and every break. Full scripting can be too restrictive but a list of items is vital.
(E.I. OUTRO, ID, TIME CHECK, WEATHER, STORY ABOUT BACH/ZSA ZSA LOVE CHILD
(ELVIS), INTRO TO HUNGARIAN FUGUE).
Having prepared adequately, tie each segment together in a conversational - not billboard -
manner. Each break element should move logically forward to the next element whenever
possible. Here's an example: "It's twenty before one on this sunny Thursday afternoon but you
may want to bring the umbrella with you if your going out this evening, There's a 40% chance
of rain tonight. . . ."
Tell your audience only a fraction of what you know about the piece/soloist/orchestra. Make it a
point to build your introduction around one item and tease the listener with it ("Next on WXXX
we'll hear a performance directed by one of the few conductors who have had equal success
with the music of both Scott Joplin and Giuseppe Verdi." (James Levine))
Treat performers as if they lived down the street. Refer to composers as if they were still alive
and in the news only last night. In other words make them accessible. Place their
activities/histories in ways that will make them human beings instead of museum exhibits.
Recreate for your listener the excitement, passion or ordinariness of these people's lives.
Read everything you can about music and musicians, especially be on local happenings.
In tackling those foreign words, make them sound as if they were items found in everyone's
home ("Oh, liebschen - did you remember to viola da gamba the Papillons for Sven?") Say the
names on mike the same way you say them to your friends in casual conversation. If you're
comfortable sounding with the words, the audience will be too.
When outroing a Strauss waltz, one kind of energy level is required. Quite another is
appropriate coming out of the Brahms' Requiem. This is obvious, right? Then why do so few
announcers adhere to it? Were we perhaps doing something else and not listening? If we
expect the listener to pay attention to our show, shouldn't we join them?
Dead air is, indeed, a Program Director's worst nightmare, when discretely applied it can also
be a listener's best friend. If Goetterdaemerung has just ended perhaps a heart beat (or six) is
in order. A non- silent pause may also be introduced by using your voice (quietly) as a
transition vehicle from music to announcing. This is the place for the editorial comment that can
be tossed off.
Love you they may, but the listeners don't really care if you're having a lousy week. Even if it
hurts, you have a responsibility and that responsibility is to entertain and enlighten Plaster that
smile firmly on your face and put the quibbles behind you. An open mike is not the place to air
your grievances about co-workers, management, lovers or landlords. Next to Mozart our woes
are pretty lame.
The art of effective communication with a mass audience takes years of practice. You're being
given the opportunity to learn the skills needed to go on with broadcasting as either a career or
as a vital tool applicable to just about any field you can name. Relish your hours behind the
mike what stories you'll collect for your golden years!
ANNOUNCER TIPS - TRY TO AVOID
The audience is not auditing a musicology course. They just have the radio on in their car.
Avoid giving yearly chronologies of the composers' lives or the 24-city tour schedule for that
pianist. Erudite professors are not the dullest group of humans in the world. That distinction
goes to lawyers. But it is a close call.
When an announcer feels tentative, it comes out in a condition known as sing-song. This
phenomenon has the effect of making the announcer sound as if they've just come off the boat
from Scandinavia. If your sentences and phrases generally end on an upswing, you've
contracted sing-songitis. The cure: better preparation, five deep breaths and relaxing.
Let the listener decide if Brahms was the Romantic period's most important symphonist. Sure
Rubinstein's Chopin is great stuff but is it really the best? And who is to say that Tennstedt's
Mahler is the finest available on disk (or, worse yet that his recordings don't hold a candle to
his live performances)? Assume that the listener will figure it out eventually anyway or didn't
really care to know one way or the other in the first place.
If you don't know something, do one of two things. Either 1) Don't bring it up or 2) Admit it. Who
likes hearing a bad liar?
Announcers often succumb to the temptation of becoming word junkies. It starts off innocently
enough, with the random beautiful and the occasional great but soon the announcer finds it
impossible to get through a break without five or six magnificents, wonderfuls, towerings,
splendids and, in the most progressed stages of the disease, even bodaciouses.
One of the easiest traps to step into is the cruising syndrome. As we get comfortable within the
format, small mannerisms creep in. Here are a few examples of cliches:
"Now we'll hear music by Bach - his..." Redundant.
"Next is the music of Mahler." All of it?
". . . .That was the Spring Symphony by Schumann. It's a winter afternoon,
though, here at WXXX. . . ." Stretching too far to connect.
Especially the above suggestions - blindly, anyway. The best in any field are the ones who
break the mold. If, eventually, your creativity is stifled by conventions, give yourself the freedom
to stop a moment, question your motivation for wanting to go your own way and then, if
sufficiently confident of the defensibility of your reasons, go ahead and cut that new path.
You have one of the cushiest, sexiest, most desirable, powerful and maddening jobs in the whole wide world. Use the privilege well and enjoy. You can touch a person's life or a community's history in ways beyond your imaginings. Enjoy the learning, the growing (even the criticism) and the sheer thrill of knowing you are in a justifiably enviable position - the ubiquitous guest in homes, cars and offices throughout the region.
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