I’ve been spending a lot of time with our fledgling new announcers this month. I was determined that during their first few weeks on air they would not be manning the airwaves alone. WSMC actually has a pretty extensive training program (which has since expanded even further under my direction). We employ students for nearly 3 months before we give them an official shift. During this time they come in as often as they can to learn, observe and practice. However, when I was a student, after the 3 months I was given a shift to run all by myself. Sure I had seen it done, but I soon learned seeing and doing are completely different things. I was beyond extremely nervous. I’m sure listeners heard my voice quavering with anxiety, but I survived the first couple of weeks and soon became quite at ease with running the studio by myself. However, I didn’t want my new trainees to feel the same terror I felt upon starting fresh and alone.
For the past two Thursday evenings, I have stayed well into the evening to help our new announcer Jonathan Harper cover his shift. He’d program the CD players and talk on the air, while I answered the phones for Classics by Request. We’d take turns finding CDs and working on the music playlist. He would be constantly rehearsing the names he would have to announce next and checking their pronunciation in our “Well-Tempered Announcer Book” or looking at this website which has quite an extensive music dictionary. However, the site uses some pronunciation conventions that make it hard to decipher what it’s actually supposed to sound like. I still can’t figure out what sound “6” is supposed to make, but for the most part, it can be helpful.
In between looking up names, talking on air, answering phones, looking for CDs, getting the playlist typed, Jonathan had to work on his billboards for A Little Night Music. If you’re not familiar with a billboard, anytime a student has a local music shift (that’s not Classics by Request) he is to pick a piece that will be his “feature piece” and talk about it at the top of the hour, in this case from 7:00-7:01; 8:00-8:01; 9:00-9:01. Billboards can be heard on anything from Performance Today to Talk of the Nation, so we try and model in their footsteps as close as possible.
Well, Jonathan happened to arrive at his shift with only 5 minutes to spare before he went live. He had planned on arriving earlier but got detained by someone else. As a result he was agitated and flustered when working the board. At one point he even absently turned the mic slider on and up and started to talk on air before I frantically gestured for him to turn it off because he was talking over Marketplace! In the rush to begin the program, he introduced his first piece without checking on its pronunciation and ended up introducing the Hebrides Overture as the “He-Brides Overture” *wince.* You can only imagine how that set the phones to ringing. Within several minutes I think we got 4 phone calls from listeners seeking to correct his pronunciation. He correctly back announced the piece and apologized; he also explained it was only his second week on the job and asked listeners to call him if they heard something wrong or had any concerns.
Here’s the thing. Those are classic moments and we actually laugh about them now. Everyone has one (or maybe several) of those times where they hang their head ashamedly and admit their biggest faux-pas on-air. Jonathan will probably forever now remember how to pronounce the Hebrides Overture after the events of last night. One of my favorites was hearing one of my announcers talk about “scattered temperatures” instead of scattered showers. Another announcer said he once announced the high in Fahrenheit and the low in Celsius for quite an extreme range of temperature!
At any rate, I kindly informed Jonathan that hearing a name slaughtered on the airwaves can make people upset and that’s why it’s always important to look things up. Ralph is not always Ralph, sometimes it sounds like Rafe. Kodaly and especially Milhaud sound nothing like they look! As it says in one of the WSMC audition scripts, the life of an announcer is not an easy one. It’s difficult work threading one’s way through the landmine of foreign, and sometimes difficult to pronounce names. Thanks for your patience as these students learn, feel free to call in with gentle reminders of how things actually should sound if you ever hear the “He-brides Overture.”
We all have to start somewhere,