Radio to VO: Not the Kiss of Death!

?Oh, no ? never say you were in radio if you want to be hired as a voice talent!

Have you heard that? I know I did when I left full-time radio six years ago. Sure, I was a working voice talent before I became an on-air personality. OK, so I began my career as an actress and singer before ever stepping into a whisper room. Still ? that was the advice when I left: Hide your years as a radio personality!

Randye Kaye WEZN

back in the days of carts!

Well, I officially disagree. Sorry, but I?ve never been one to follow advice without question (hence my departure from corporate radio, but that?s another story).
So ? here are seven things I learned from my years in radio that actually have made me a better voice talent. So there.

  1. Cold Reading Skills. When a piece of copy is thrown in front of you, and you must deliver it ? live, without a pre-read ? with some semblance of understanding and expression, those skills get sharpened fast! Sure, adrenalin helps, but you also develop the ability to read ?laterally? with one part of your brain focused on the words you are saying and another part looking ahead to see where it goes. You learn to phrase-as-you-go, on the fly.
  1. Variety.? So, you have to read the same script many times,, word-for-word (please don?t even add a ?the? without written permission?oh corporate radio, again), you learn to try new approaches within the reality of the copy if only to keep your brain involved.? Great practice for the inevitable VO ?Five in a Row?
  1. Think Fast. While that song is playing, you may have just a few precious seconds to give away the prize to the caller, edit the phone call down to some good cuts to use on the air, and have it all ready to go by the fade-out. ?You learn to trust yourself, and not overthink decisions. These qualities increase confidence in the VO booth.
  1. Timing. Most on-air personalities are given very specific timing requirements for newscasts, weather reports, breaks, and of course the commercials they often have to produce after their air shift.? You get to develop an inner clock for a :60, :30 or :15 spot that cannot be even a half-second over time. Very helpful later on, as your ability to change tempo and make it work is called into play for voiceovers.
  1. Production Skills. Back when voice talents usually left the recording studio waving goodbye to the engineer as we went onto our next job, without an editing care in the world, my experience doing radio production enabled me to make that engineer?s job easier because I had great respect for? and some knowledge of ? the job that lay ahead for him/her.? Now, of course, I use many of those skills myself, in my home studio.? The fear factor was greatly reduced by my years in radio, getting cozy with Adobe Audition.
  1. Acting is Reacting. My last seven years in radio were spent in the wee hours, as the ?second banana? on a morning show.? It reinforced the need for a combination of skills: Preparation plus Improvisation. Technique/Emotion. Intellect/Imagination. Left Brain/Right Brain.? Call it what you will, but you can?t always know in advance how you will feel, even if what you will sayis in print before your eyes. Radio reminded me that I can?t plan everything ? that the other person in the ?scene? always has an

    Radio toVO? Sure!

    effect on the next moment. Yes ? even in one-voice narrations, where the ?other person? is invisible except in your own imagination. Acting is reacting, after you have started somewhere, with a clear POV (point-of-view).
  1. Good Reads Comes From a Place Of Truth. Yes. You learn to believe that the Saturday morning promotional appearance will be great fun for your listener.? You do a morning radio bit with complete commitment to its value. You read sports stories knowing that the scores matter greatly to your listener, even if you personally don?t know a football from a volleyball.? And ? you find that different radio gigs require you to use a different part of your personality. I play a specific ?character? (i.e. a facet of me) when I now do fill-in work on a classical music station. Morning radio allowed me to be snarkier than PM Drive did. You learn to find, and invest in, the truth of your situation, and of the copy.

So ? former radio person, hold your head high! We have nothing to be ashamed of. If you are in voice-over, then I?ll bet some of those radio skills have come in handier than you admit. And the new skills we?ve had to develop only make us better.
Now I can sleep past 3 AM and still talk for a living, Thank you, radio, for the good years and the great lessons. I think I?ll keep those radio credits on my voice-over resume ? um, down near the bottom. Just in case.

Reader Interactions


  1. Randye, as a 25+ year veteran of radio, I couldn’t agree more that the skills I learned during that time have helped me immensely in the area of VO, especially my production skills. Radio’s business skills and sales techniques have also helped me in marketing myself and sustaining my own business. May I add that the 30 years I’ve been acting have also added to my confidence in copy interpretation, improv and characters. Thank you SO MUCH for bringing to light the “other side” of the argument! :o)

  2. Some of the top people in VO spent years in radio honing those very skills, including Beau Weaver, Joe Cipriano and Randy Thomas off the top of my head.
    Botton line, if you have the chops you can do well in the VO field.
    As you know, Randye, it has to do with working on your craft and making the right business moves.

  3. Great piece Randye: It is so true that radio folks get a bum rap. The cold reading skill is the key and getting that great timing & production education really help. The flip side is some long time radio folks become what I call “lazy readers” and just crank out words without really THINKING about what they are saying or where they are going with the copy. That is the big habit to break before getting into VO professionally.
    I started in radio and that built a great foundation for my media studio business. We also get to work with a lot of current & ex radio folks because those are the folks who LOVE to read for a living!
    Tim Keenan, Creative Media

  4. …thank you, Randye. one less thing i have to feel guilty about.
    and thanks for reminding me where some of my “inate” VO abilities were honed: especially the “internal clock” and the “cold read”. both talents have astonished some of my clients during VO sessions, whereas I just thought everybody could do it.
    and the production skills? ‘had them going in…had them BETTER coming out of radio.
    Radio…with a Capital R…is still my first love. radio…with a small r………….meh.

  5. I’m learning that while I have to be careful about the announcer coming out in me, I’m proud of my radio background. It’s why I got interested in voiceovers in the first place! Thanks for a great piece about that from a former radio guy.

  6. As long as we lose that dreaded ‘announcer voice,’ you’ve listed some very valuable skills ex-radio folks use almost every day in their new voice-over career.
    Unlike the people that never come out of the protective shell of their home studio, we actually know what it feels like, to have people stare at us and tune into us. In live radio there are no second chances to redo a read. We don’t have hours to prepare. We have to focus and work with sound engineers and directors. We have to build that invisible connection with our audience. It’s chilling and it’s thrilling.
    Thanks for a terrific article!

  7. Good article, Randye. While I agree with you on all these points (I’m a 25+ year radio guy myself), unfortunately the agencies and production houses don’t realize these benefits. And I can understand why. As a producer myself, I’ll send copy out to be read ‘in a casual tone’ and I’ll receive the worst announcer-style read you’ve ever heard. Or I’ll email a 2-voice conversation spot and get back a delivery so stiff it’s unuseable. And it’s situations like these that make agencies back off when they hear you’re a radio person. I can’t blame them; it’s infuriating to me, and I’m IN radio! Only if they hear your demo first, or have some reason to think you know what you’re doing, will they give you a chance…and it’s at that point where our radio background can shine.

  8. Randye, In my previous life I was Jock, wait..I mean on air personality, Production Director and PD, and I couldn’t agree with you more. Everyone of your points is right on. Those who have the additional experience of producing their own spots know what it takes to make engineers lives easier. Showing them the respect they deserve goes a long way toward booking repeat business.
    Funny thing…after a recent session in NYC, the sound engineer asked me to stay after and collaborate with him on the editing the piece, which I gladly did. The following week I was booked again for another project. Don’t know if working with him got me the gig, but it certainly didn’t hurt!

  9. You are right on the money Randye. I spent more than 25 years in radio at a time when there were no computers to run things. We were live, the spots often live, the timing had to be precise and we had to develop the ability to read cold copy and make it sound like we knew as our best friend. News was “rip ‘N read” right off the teletype. Reading ahead is a skill that few in the field even know today. There are many of those old radio skills we developed that are valuable today in the VO business, except one – THE ANNOUNCER VOICE. Some of us struggle with that. We worked so hard to develop it and now we work hard to not sound like an announcer.

  10. Wow, Randye! I can’t say any better what those commenting before me have already said. But I’m sure there are some VO coaches who need to re-think what they teach with regard to radio and how it actually does relate to voice-over. I’m sorry I missed meeting you at FaffCon. Hopefully, next time!

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