Let me start by saying that I love NPR. I’ve been a fan for many years, and ever since I moved to California it’s the only terrestrial radio I listen to. They don’t just rip and read, they tell stories by way of well-produced audio packages that completely immerse the listener in the topic.
My only gripe over the last few years was the bumpy road after Frank Tavares retired from being the “voice” of NPR - you know, the guy who read all of the underwriting. They first brought on Sabrina Farhi, and while she’s a great voiceover artist, she just wasn’t the right fit for that type of read. Sabrina was eventually replaced by Jessica Hansen, and she fits perfectly. I really hope she stays.
I mention all of that because that’s what this is all about - on-air announcers.
Here in the Bay Area we get NPR by way of KQED - a legendary public radio station that’s been around since 1953. In addition to nationally syndicated programming like NPR, The World, Marketplace, The PBS News Hour, etc., they also have excellent local programming that covers the Bay Area, and all of California. But that’s where the awesome ends, because all the world class programming can’t make up for KQED’s absolutely terrible on-air announcers.
Having been a radio program director, I regularly cringe when listening to these people. Every time they open the mic they sound like college students on the air for the very first time, and these are people who’ve been with the station for years. One of the cardinal rules of radio is that you should have your break completely organized before cracking the mic, yet I consistently hear stumbling and stammering over copy, even copy that they’ve read dozens if not hundreds of times already.
It’s not like they’re a part of some fast-paced morning show on a CHR station where they have three minutes to get the next bit ready. They have long, sweeping segments to collect their materials and thoughts, and plan for the next break, yet time after time they sound like they just ran back from the bathroom with barely enough time to sit and wake up the screensaver before the current segment runs out and they have to talk about something that they can’t quite find.
It’s maddening because I’ve heard better work from interns in Eugene, and this is San Francisco, the 4th largest radio market in the United States. Even worse is that they never, ever improve. Doesn’t the program director air-check these guys? A responsible PD sits with the talent on a weekly basis, listens to a handful of breaks, and coaches accordingly. From what I’m hearing this never happens because they all sound exactly the same today as they did three years ago when I started listening.
Not only would I love to air-check the staff, I’d also love to sit down with the PD and find out where their head’s at, because it’s not anywhere near developing top-notch air talent.
I know what you’re thinking, “If you can do better, why aren’t you working there?” I’ve actually applied for many positions at KQED, all of which I’m handily qualified for, but alas, they appear to be just like every other employer in this area - they completely ignore front door applicants; it’s all about who you know. A shame, really, because I would strive to bring KQED’s announcing team to where it should be - on the same level as those at NPR.