Thursday, February 26, 2009

The Rest of the Voice Story

I was a lucky baby: My grandfather read aloud to me from the time I could sit up straight on his lap without falling off. He had a great voice and he read with tremendous expression. I guess you could say that's where I got my start: My parents put my reading-aloud skills on display whenever they had guests. My first, second and third grade teachers all put me to work reading aloud to younger or slower kids, so I got lots of practice.

When I was 12 or so I read a Reader's Digest article about how your voice can make or break you and followed the tips and advice they gave to train my voice and keep from getting a Texas accent. (To be fair, I had inherited my father's, two grandfathers' and a great-grandmother's velvet-steel singing voice.)

My first job, obtained for me by my mother, who worked in the lobby taking classifieds, was telephone soliciting newspaper subscriptions for the San Antonio Express-News. It made me an unaccustomed amount of money, but lord it was boring! I must have done OK at it, because they didn't fire me; I quit to go get married and have babies. I did telephone sales again, but the company was ahead of its time and went bust. And another such job, selling display ads for a "Jewish American News," followed but lasted only a few months. At length I joined the USAF so I could afford to get a divorce and still meet my kids' medical needs.

My voice "career" really started when I was in the Air Force, stationed on Guam. I answered the phone and called folks as part of my job, and all the guys just raved about my voice. So I went to the Armed Forces Remote Entertainment Services (I think that's what AFRES stands for) radio station on base and asked if I could do any voice work for them. They put me to work reading — and doing my own recording — on some 93 two-minute scripts describing different jobs that airmen could cross-train into, a program called PALACE CHASE. Only when I had finished did they inform me that you could make money doing this, and that there was a guy downtown who was always looking for voice talent.

Rather flattered to hear myself called that, I called "the guy", Joe Couch. A refugee from the rat race of, ironically, the Dallas advertising scene, Joe  co-owned Glimpses of Guam, the only advertising agency in Micronesia; he worked for all the big brands. I went and auditioned in a closet-size room, reading a 60-second Borden ice cream radio commercial; he promptly said, "I'm gonna use that. Send me an invoice for $45 (TV, I discovered, paid $60!), and see what you can do with this spot" — for Chevrolet.

For the next two-and-a-half years I worked nearly every week, often with Joe Cunningham; a real character and a real voice talent, besides doing commercials he made his living, I think, as a musician and guru in four or five languages including Tagalog, Chamorro and some Samoan. And maybe buying and selling just enough pakalolo to get his own for free. I was the only female voice on the air, and local radio station KUAM, the only 50,000-watt station in the Pacific, came looking for me, flattered me, offered me incredible money ($10 an hour) and hired me. I got my Class IV license (paid money and filled out a form, learned to read gauges and monitors and do all the legal paperwork), and I became a weekend broadcast announcer and newsreader. The program (and on-air talent) manager, though, was an ex-Navy weenie who reminds me now of William Macy. He ran far too military a ship for my liking, so I jumped ship and went to work for KSTO ("Kay-steree-ohhhhhh!"), still part-time but now on nights. That was the only FM station in Micronesia, way off in the boonies on a mountainside. It was fun.

At my next assignment, Rapid City, I worked briefly at KOTA but quit to do commercials. Radio is actually boring to me, and I find I do much better with a script than spontaneously. When I got out of the service and moved here to Fort Worth in 1982, I was too absorbed in trying to help my landlord and lover manage several careers — farming, excavating and hauling, truck brokering and running a front-end loader on the sand and gravel pit we had somehow acquired  — to think about voice work.

But in 1986, fresh from owning a Jacksboro Highway bar we similarly somehow had acquired and only too happily sold, we ran straight into the Recession. In desperate need of money to pay notes or lose land, I looked up "Recording Studios" in the YP and asked the guy who answered at one of the few in Fort Worth whether they needed any non-union voice talent.

Eagle Audio was a brand-new studio destined for big things, even though it's smack in the middle of what the founders laughingly called "Fort Worth's wine-tasting district." I went there and auditioned for them, reading scripts they supplied with lots of different voices and accents, and they put me on their demo reel. I've worked mainly for them — and often, to my delight, with fellow quick study Art Jones — ever since, though I've also worked for other studios on industrial and private gigs. And I never did join the union, so I never went super-national or got into cartoons: I've not been great at auditions, but now that my voice is older (and so am I!), I feel more comfortable about the way I look, so maybe that will change.

I don't really see that I did anything different or extraordinary, @BronxLens, but if any of this helps, I'm glad. It's been interesting! 


Femfelis said...

Hullo, Witch Azle!

Or maybe I should say, Blessed be!

I came across your blog while I was trying to track down my brother on Guam, Joe (Uncle Tote) Cunningham. Did you know he had a sister who's a pagan?

I look forward to hearing more of your words.

Femfelis (definitely owned by cats!)

Femfelis said...

Hullo again, Witch Azle--

I don't know how to tell you this. It may well be that you've already heard, possibly even attended the online memorial last month.

Tote "graduated" on May 17 (Guam time), 2012. It looks like he had heart failure at the Kloppenburgs' farm, where he was living amid loving people, wonderful dogs, and a skinny cat named Gil.

He posted on FB a couple of years ago that when it was his time to go, he didn't want people grieving for him. He wanted his friends to "ditch his mortal molecules" in the ocean, then head back to the island for a party. And that's pretty much what happened.

Cindy Hanson (besides organizing the party at Jeff's) got together with GoToMeeting and arranged an online memorial for folks who couldn't be there. This was on May 27.

It may well be that Tote has dropped in on you at LEAST once since his "graduation". He showed up here the day he died, though only Faji saw him. I was busy on the puter, but knew from the way Faj was following something in the living room (and the absence of flying insects to explain it) that it was a someone he was watching. The next day I got a phone call with the news.

I just wanted to let you know (if you hadn't heard), and to say that Joe loves you. If he hasn't visited you already (which I really doubt!), he most certainly will. That's how he always was, and he hasn't changed much, from what we can tell.

Blessed Be, Lass.

Femfelis and Faji
(And if you want, )easeign