I Might Not Can Say That Word

Sitting in front of my studio speakers can sometimes bring loads of laughter. Nobody said this had to be a serious business, so I try to find humor whenever possible. But a lot of times, it happens all by itself. It's not easy for an announcer to sit in a vocal booth with a microphone stuck in his face, all ears and eyes on him, and have every word scrutinized.
Sitting in front of my studio speakers can sometimes bring loads of laughter. Nobody said this had to be a serious business, so I try to find humor whenever possible. But a lot of times, it happens all by itself. It's not easy for an announcer to sit in a vocal booth with a microphone stuck in his face, all ears and eyes on him, and have every word scrutinized. Talk about pressure, that's usually when the lid blows. I don't mean a tantrum or blow-up, although I've witnessed a few of those. I'm talking about bloopers, uncontrollable laughter, and just plain fun.

"Talk about pressure, that's usually when the lid blows."


Most people that work in the sound and video business probably have a dozen embarrassing stories about themselves that they're willing to share, and a few they won't. As an engineer I've witnessed plenty, and I'd like to share a few. I'll leave out the names to protect the innocent, and I'll even share a few of my own gaffs as well.

I've decided that the tongue is the most important part of speech. Sometimes it won't perform as planned and has a mind all its own. We all have words we can't say very well, but when you're an announcer it stops the show. One well-known radio personality couldn't pronounce "abdominal." A dozen takes later, he just gave up and said, "Oh, belly muscles!" (He also couldn't pronounce "formidable," which resulted in more than forty takes.) If a particular word was giving him fits, he used to say amusingly, "I might not can say that word." The tongue can also play cruel jokes on people by not allowing them to say words they need to use all the time. What if you couldn't say the name of the city you live in? Unfortunately, it's been the one word that an announcer I know still can't say without effort. Announcers usually poke fun at themselves when these goofs happen because we always try to keep things lighthearted during a recording session.

"Oh, belly muscles!"


Occasionally we get cracked up over the least little thing. You know, the uncontrollable laughter that just won't stop. One announcer I know still gets the giggles if a certain common horse term is in the script--and it's used all the time here in Kentucky. The first time it happened, it took some twenty minutes to get back to the script. Sometimes the script is either poorly written or just asking for a Weird Al Yankovic makeover. When this happens, just making it through the script with a straight face is hard. Of course there are sexual innuendoes flying everywhere with the right crowd, especially with a male/female combo in the booth that are revealingly very familiar with each other. Sometimes it's enough to make even Hugh Hefner blush.

Most recording sessions combine work and fun, or at the least work and pleasantries. But occasionally there are those who want to dispense with any pleasantries and go right to work. Sometimes this is necessary in a time crunch, but one session I did with a rather well-known voice was all business. We dialed in to the studio in Los Angeles using our ISDN (a form of real-time digital audio connection between studios), and began. The announcer gave the required hellos and then was silent awaiting instructions. The producer would describe the read she wanted, and the announcer wouldn't respond. We thought we had a dead connection, so let's give the announcer the benefit of the doubt and assume he must have been writing the instructions down. Well, he read the script and just went silent afterwards - no comments, no questions, nothing. We tried lightening things up a little with some jokes and such, but there was no response - zero. Without a window or video monitor to see him, you can only wonder what he was doing - filing his nails, looking at the ceiling, rolling his eyes. That was a session that seemed a lot longer than it really was.

"We thought we had a dead connection"


Okay, it's time for me to tell a few on myself. It's always rewarding to hear your work on the air, but not when it includes your mistakes. As I'm driving home from work one day listening to the radio, a commercial comes on that I had just produced. To my horror, the announcer stops in the middle of the spot, coughs, and says "Let's take that again." I about wrecked the car turning it around to head back to work.

Let's rewind to another gaff of mine, back to the good old days of reel-to-reel tape. I had been working on a project that required me to pitch the playback speed way down. Well, me being me, I forgot to reset the speed before dubbing off a radio spot. You guessed it, the announcer sounded like a chipmunk on the air. I got home late that day as well.

"The announcer sounded like a chipmunk on the air"


Did you ever get
too comfortable with a process that you repeat over and over again? I've recorded thousands if not tens of thousands of hours of narration, and I always push record and check the little red light. These days I also check to make sure that something is actually recording. I didn't in one session with a gentleman that drove a very, very long way to record in my studio. After a long and grueling hour, we released him for his long drive home. He had been gone about five minutes when I started to search the DAT tape for the good takes, but there weren't any because the tape was blank! The moment I'd realized what I'd done wrong, I jumped up and yelled to the surprised producer "I'll be back!" as I was running out of the room. The audio gods were smiling (or snickering) that day because the narrator was just about to turn out of the parking lot as I tapped on his car window. I like to think of the previous hour as a "warm up."

The next time you hear a commercial or program, just imagine what that recording session might have really been like: the straight-faced announcer stopping in mid-sentence after a goof, trying unsuccessfully several more times, and then finally declaring with a chuckle "I might not can say that word!"

Neil Kesterson is the owner of Dynamix Productions in Lexington, KY. He has been giggling at things coming from studio speakers for over twenty years.
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