Old Radio Guys

Full confession: I love old radio guys. Not the way Siegfried loves Roy but with great affection, none the less. I’m talking about the DJs who worked the air waves during the heyday of rock radio. By heyday, I’m thinking roughly Sgt. Pepper to Born In The U.S.A. I find their stories are so unique to the time period and to the medium.

Since I run a voice talent agency, I represent a number of Old Radio Guys – ORGs (If they’re bitter, they’re BORGs – with the most bitter being the Chairman of the BORGs of course). Over the years I’ve come to realize, to paraphrase Mark Twain, that the reports of the death of the ORG are greatly exaggerated.

The voice over industry is cyclical. Certain types of voices and certain kinds of reads weave in and out of fashion. The two constants seem to be: producers & advertising types claiming they no longer want “radio voices”, and producers and advertisers still hiring “radio voices.”

Advertisers always think they want to go younger so they get in this mindset that they don’t want older, mature, professional voices on their commercials and web promos. But I can’t count the number of times the audition call is “a voice that sounds in his 20s or early 30s” and they end up casting a guy who made his radio debut before the Stones played Altamont.

As a voice talent agent, I’m always going to recommend the ORGs. It’s not just the voice. It’s years of training – knowing how to interpret copy, what is being sold or what message is being conveyed (or attempting to be conveyed at least), how to deal with a range of personalities in the studio, patience, how to think on your feet…and not be intimidated by the (sometimes) 8 or 10 people who are staring at you through the control room windows. These are the skills of the ORG and why I always feel comfortable sending a radio veteran to a recording session or audition.

And the stories! Anyone who worked during the heyday of rock radio has the tales to tell – an era where if you were at the right station, you could play and say what you want. As an agent, who wouldn’t want to buy these guys a few drinks?! (Though come to think of it, they should do the buying since I work for them!)

But professionally, consider the ORG: He is likely to be on time (radio is timed to the second, even going back to the freeform days), be professional (see above), take the work seriously (but not too serious, without a sense of humor), be able to deliver a variety of reads and not only take but understand direction, and who’s kidding who, deliver a stellar read that will please the client and likely save time and money.

In short, I continually tip my hat – and hold it out for the commissions – to the skills and wisdom of the ORG. Next time you hear the industry only wants younger, non-radio sounding voices, smile to yourself and know the truth.

P.S. No sexism intended with the focus on “guys” and not “girls”. During the early heyday of rock radio, there just weren’t that many women. The ones who made it to big city stations were fantastic – I’m looking at you Meg Griffin – but they were few and far between. A shame really…but radio has fortunately rectified that in the last couple of decades. I do love Old Radio Girls too!

*A blog note: I often end blog pieces with the following: To keep up with the furious pace of the Voice Over industry and get a side order of radio tidbits as well, Follow Voice Over Canada on Twitter: https://twitter.com/voiceovercanada

So given that I’m sometimes tweeting about radio, I thought we’d open this blog up a bit to not only continue to wax rhapsodic about the voice business but touch on some radio topics as well. Stay tuned!

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10 Responses to “Old Radio Guys”

  1. 11 Top Voiceover Blog Posts This Week - August 11, 2013 | Derek Chappell's Voiceover Blog Says:
    August 11th, 2013 at 1:08 am

    […] Old Radio Guys – Roger King […]

  2. Jerry Reed Says:
    August 11th, 2013 at 4:54 pm

    What a great post Roger. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and insights. I’m one of those ORGs and I thought no one loved me anymore. I actually worked at a Merv Griffen station WENE-WMRV ( after the divorce), so I actually worked for his ex-wife Julanne. She’s a wonderful lady. If you ever need an ORG for one of your projects, I hope you’ll keep me in mind. I’m the guy with the “Warm Tone, Natural Finish.”
    Best to you Roger,

  3. Dwayne Says:
    August 12th, 2013 at 8:44 am

    Yea…I’m an ORG. Getting back into the business, as the technology made it easier. Worked here in Detroit for years, north of Windsor (Honest, look at a map). Have a bunch of BORGs’ for friends.
    Your article is spot on. ORGs’ never die, we just get more baritone…

  4. Ronald T. Robinson Says:
    August 17th, 2013 at 3:00 pm

    While the sun is shining on the “younger”-sounding talents – cudos to those who have the sound, the skills and can make some hay. There is no particular reason for this trend to go away anytime soon, but I will admit the rationalizations and justifications from the client and agency-level continues to make me crazy.
    Actually, there are no issues with the tonalities. The problem lies in the copy – unrealistic, one-to-one (as if) and authoritarian. Maybe the combination of such copy added to the authority that bigger voices suggest has become overwhelming to overly sensitive, PC-ears.
    It’s true: Those of us who are the (B)ORG have the patience and self-discipline to avoid charging into control rooms and choking the living shit out of the producer/directors. Maybe that’s a downside of being a pro. Maybe not.

  5. Dick Smyth Says:
    August 17th, 2013 at 10:13 pm

    Appreciate your remarks. I’m about as old an old radio guy as there is. Nobody ever taught me voice production. But you sure develop technique, style and ability over the years and I enjoy nothing more today than coaching newbies.(Guys, not women. Female voice production is a totally different thing.) One huge thing is smoking. When I quit, I found I could do new things with my voice. Another is earphones. Either don’t use them at all or, when they’re necessary, keep them low, on only one ear and not directly over the ear.

  6. David Marsden Says:
    August 18th, 2013 at 1:13 am

    What is this ORG you speak of?? Do you have to go to dot ORG to find them? I often hear about this place called dot ORG but never really understood what it was about.

    So now I know. Finally! With that knowledge I now aspire to be one of these ORGs. It seems the “O” in ORG stands for Old. That’s also something I hope to accomplish, but only in the future.

    The “R” – “G” letters standing for Radio Guy is something I’ve wanted since I was about 13. And I’m delighted to believe that, finally I may put them behind my name. Now I go ahead with great anticipation that someday way off in the future I will eventually be able to add the “O”.

    BTW – I know a lot of ORGs. Does that count?

    Thanks Roger. I loved it.

    david O.R.

  7. Bob Cook Says:
    August 18th, 2013 at 9:27 am

    As Manager of Audio Production at Citytv for years I produced alot of voices. Sometimes over 30 different voices a week. The people running Citytv never respected the VOICE. Mark Dailey, who everyone respected was THE voice of our station and lets be real he was one of the best OLD RADIO GUY voices you could ever get, but he was the exception there and why shouldn’t he be. I use to tell them that it was SOUND first picture second but the people running Citytv never believed it. I’ve written 2600 radio commercials in my time and believe me I love a good voice, young or old. I learned my skills from Zeke Zdebiak the man with the finest pair of ears I’ve ever met. He and Mark are both in that big radio station in the sky now and believe me they would love what you people have written about OLD RADIO GUYS….Be well people.

  8. Ronald T. Robinson Says:
    August 18th, 2013 at 12:05 pm

    In an earlier comments I claimed that, as a (B)ORG, I had a certain amount of patience and self discipline while in the booth. This is a tenuous situation – at best.
    There are many times I am being asked to read something along the lines of: “Come on down and make YOUR best deal today ’cause when they’re gone – they’re gone! Hurry! Sale ends Saturday!” and then…. asked to do so like the-guy-next-door and at just a bit quicker pace.
    I am not above approaching my friendly, neighbourhood practitioner of bad ju-ju voodoo for assistance.
    Besides and since we are The (B)ORG, it’s damn well time we were the ones to go out and assimilate somebody.

  9. Mary Anne Lisney Says:
    August 18th, 2013 at 1:11 pm

    Hi there! I am an ORG who worked commercial radio during the heyday with the greats like Smyth, Rivers, Steele, everyone. 1050 CHUM, where the “bigs” talked to the people in the “palace”, Toronto. My fellow announcers trained me in the essentials and the superlatives and we scored the numbers and the accounts beyond imagining. I didn’t get there overnight, I came to the air from radio in Montreal and was discovered by Lee Marshall, picked by Bob Wood and spent 25 years on the mike. I am still working.
    I was formerly known as Mary Anne (Carpentier, Pervin) and now Lisney. Good article, thanks.

  10. Steven Mittler Says:
    August 24th, 2013 at 7:17 am

    Great post, Roger. Thanks for this. You are spot on. ORGs have been forged in the fire of insane situations. We know how to perform professionally while the world is in turmoil. From live reads, to producing spots because the sales manager just sold a package and the client wants it on the air by 9 even though you’re trying to keep an a.m. drive slot running smoothly, to the 3 second record cue, to engineers stealing equipment at the last second, to traffic and production managers re-arranging logs and carts; ORGs always show grace under pressure. The ability to come off the back of a horrible record and sound like it was the best song ever is a testament to the ORG’s acting ability.

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