The first time I was asked to do voice-over work, it came as a complete surprise. For one thing, it had never occurred to me that I might do voice-over. For another, I was only about 15 years old.
I was a Boy Scout, growing up in Champaign-Urbana, Illinois. Some big national Boy Scout jamboree-like event was coming to town, drawing thousands of scouts and scout leaders to the area. I don’t remember exactly what it was all about, but the opening gathering was set to occur in the Assembly Hall on the university campus.With about 17,000 seats, this was the venue for college basketball games and huge shows like the Ice Capades and big name rock bands.
The program for the evening involved a short play about a boy who was the senior patrol leader of a scout troop with some problem he had to solve. There were live actors performing the play, but the speaking parts all had to be prerecorded in order to be played over this massive hall’s sound system.
I don’t know why I was chosen (they didn’t ask for volunteers, and it wouldn’t have occurred to me to volunteer if they had) but I was asked to voice the part of the senior patrol leader. So a few hours before showtime, I found myself in the announcer’s booth at the upper level of the arena, reading this character’s lines into a tape recorder.
That evening I sat in the regular seats along with thousands of other Boy Scouts, watching the actors far below on the main floor, and hearing my own recorded voice booming out over the assembled multitudes. You might presume that would be an exciting experience, but it actually felt more surreal than thrilling.
I think the show came off pretty well, but, surprisingly, it did not immediately launch me into a high-profile career on the stage or the silver screen. I did act in a few skits in high school talent shows, and at the end of my senior year I was the emcee at the annual school-year-wrapup evening of awards and senior class hijinks.
But aside from that, I never followed up with anything else in the field of performing arts until 1987 when a friend, Jeff Saslow, mentioned to me that he thought I had a good voice for radio, and invited me to join a small group of guys that produced a weekly show devoted to men’s issues on KFAI, a small community radio station in Minneapolis. So I became a member of the Man Made Radio collective, and over the next three or four years I co-produced a number of half-hour radio shows, featuring interviews, poetry, music, and our own commentary. You can hear one of the shows that Jeff and I made together here:
Since Man Made Radio ended, voice work has been just an occasional thing. I made a few radio appearances as executive director of the Twin Cities Free-Net in the mid-1990s. A voice-over I did for a television public service announcement by Hennepin County Medical Center was memorable mainly because it had to last exactly 60 seconds, resulting in numerous retakes. “That was 61 seconds, can you speed it up a little?” “Okay, that one was 59 seconds. Slow down just a tad.” And so on.
The longest voice-over I’ve done was a six-minute instructional relaxation tape, accompanied by floaty, mellow music, for Cigna, the health insurance company. If it were up to me, I would redo the audio mix to boost the voice a bit and back off on the music so the instructions could be heard more clearly. But I just talk into the mike, I don’t get to sit at the mixing board.
If you’re in the mood to put yourself to sleep, you can listen to the relaxation recording below.