Monday, October 28, 2013

The Mystery of the Headless Woman

with the Fluffy Cat.

This a true story. People that know me well know that I have been an avid genealogist/family historian for many many years. My search for tidbits of data on the various family lines has possessed a great deal of my spare time. I have dug deep into old history books, interviewed family members and pestered relatives for old photos.
I have discovered relatives that served in most military conflicts since this country's infancy. The research allowed me to join the Sons of the American Revolution and The Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War. Three great great grandfathers served in the War of the Rebellion (Civil War). My ancestor William Washburn bought Oyster Bay, New York from its Native American owners and that deed is on display in the Teddy Roosevelt Museum there. I can prove a connection to at least five people that journeyed to this foreign land on The Mayflower. I have traced family lines on my mother's side back to the early 1600s in England. Family lines take me back to Charlemagne, King Kunetta of Wales and William the Conqueror. I find the Reed Family living in Vermont before the Revolution. But there's one mystery I have yet to solve – The Mystery of the Headless Woman with the Fluffy Cat.

Tin-Type Photo of Mystery Woman and her Fluffy Cat
I found this tin-type photo in a family album from the turn of the 20th century about 20 years ago. I never thought much about it until now. The mystery came back to haunt me this week when I had a visit from a distant cousin who also has a great interest in family history. Her great grandfather and my great grandmother were brother and sister. So, we are cousins several times removed. We spent the day comparing data, scanning photos and telling stories that had been passed on to us from our families. The time flew by and near the end of the day she pulled out a couple of old photo albums and asked if I knew any of the people who were not identified. There she was in the last leaf of the final album – that mystery woman with the fluffy cat. Neither one of use can figure out why these two families would have this photo. She must have been someone important enough or at least the cat was. We will probably never know and are left with these questions:

Was it someone that didn't like how her photo turned out and just grabbed a pair of tin snips and cut the head off? Was she a former concubine or consort that was no longer important to this family?
Was she someone these families despised and could not stand the sight of? Who was she? She's certainly not the wife of the headless Hessian soldier detailed by Washington Irving in the Legend of Sleepy Hollow. Although our Washburn family did come from Tarrytown NY to Otsego County about that time.

We will probably never solve The Mystery of the Headless Woman with the Fluffy Cat.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Tossing in the towel...

But wait. I'm not ready yet.

When I was younger I swore that I would never fall into this scenario. But, here I am facing the inevitable, asking the question: When is it time to just say “'screw this” and toss in the towel? I'm not there yet. But my list this week certainly is weighing heavily on my decision making process.

I know I'm not alone. Many in this business have spent years and years developing skills that have been honed and refined only to be told that they are no longer needed or desired or just not hired. The reasons, if given, are often shallow, not valid and youth driven. I was told early on to refrain from criticizing those that write the paychecks. However, when you reach my age, a ripe old 66, risking being labeled an ogre is no longer a concern. Hey, I still have Social Security to fall back on. So I put together a list of things that make the hair on the back of my neck stand up.

Here is that list:

1. Youth and experience don't mix. Age and experience intimidate youth and youth intimidates age and experience. Youth have to fail on their own initiative and do. The angst goes both ways. Seniors, like me, often stand firm, a stance that breeds inflexibility.

2. Shallow excuses. They are used in the voiceover business to easily reject. I don't buy them at all. You have heard them: too announcery, not conversational, too folksy, too dry. I would much rather hear: “I didn't like your sound.” “Your interpretation sucks” ”You're too old for the part.” Just be honest, which leads to the next one.

3. Lying and insincerity. These permeate our business. There's a Jack Nicholson line “You can't handle the truth.” The fact is, I can. So just be honest and look me in the eye tell me how you feel. I can deal with it. Honest rejection is easier to accept than shallow lies. I don't need sugar coating. If I piss you off, tell me so. If my personality bothers you. Say so. I won't audition for you in the future, saving us both time and frustration. I'm real. Be real.

Image - man at microphone4. Technology barriers. You don't have ISDN. You don't have the right microphone. You don't use the software we use. Letting technology stand in the way is a poor excuse and is a lazy way to weed out the cast of candidates. The fact is technology has increased the talent pool, making the selection process a little more difficult. Picking from a group of ten voices is much easier than selecting from 100. I will change my technology if the reason is valid. If it means I need to buy an Apple product (Are curse words allowed here?) or one from the great Northwest, then so be it. So, let's have some standardization and not use technology as a barrier.

5. Distance. You're not in LA. You need to be in NY. Job requires talent to be in Dallas or Chicago or Atlanta. Go back to #4 and update your technology. If you do, I will. But we both have to be willing to adjust.

6. And this is the granddaddy of 'em all. The announcer is dead. What a friggin' lie. I hear it ever day in national commercials and promos, from the top people in our business and I won't name names. The fact is the announcer is NOT dead and is VERY much alive. So, don't give me that weak excuse.

So, there's my list. How bout you? Any others you would add?

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Ten Forgotten Small Market Radio Terms...

Diversion time again this week. Every once in a while I feel like writing something that's fun instead of venting or promoting one of my opinions. There are many of us who find ourselves in the voice over business having paid our dues at that little 1,000 watt am radio station in rural America. So, this week's blog is for all my fellow VO folks who have been there and done that. If you haven't, here's a peek at ten things we had to know in small market radio.

Jerry Reed as Announcer Graphic1. Rip N' Read - It is a term used to describe the process of retrieving the latest state and national news and sports from the UPI or AP teletype machine. The noisy typewriter of sorts banged out miles and miles of paper 24 hours a day. Usually, the announcer or DJ on duty had to read the news on the hour as well as being the DJ. He or she didn't have any time to write or edit news, so just ripped that long stream of paper off the machine and dragged it back to the on-air studio. Between records, the paper was ripped into pieces containing relevant news and weather and read live, usually without pre-reading, hence the term “Rip N Read.”

2. Slip Q – 45rpm and 33 rpm records were the source of most most music DJs played in small market radio. The equipment used to play these discs were usually huge heavy turntables made by companies called Collins, Gates, Russco and Rekokut. They were not known for starting instantly. So, to start a record without “wowing” (slowing gaining speed) we had to position the stylus on the disk where the music starts and hold the disc lightly with one hand letting it slip on on the felt pad that covered the spinning platter. When we were finished talking we would release the disc and it would start instantly and no one would know that it wasn't a perfect start.

3. Hit the Post - Today the DJs on the radio rarely talk over the beginning of music selections. But in the 50s, 60s and 70s a DJ was required to read liners, do the weather, and chatter up to the beginning of the vocal. He or she had to do this perfectly so that when the line ended the singing would begin. If he wasn't good at it he would “step on the vocal” or talk over it. If it worked perfectly it was called “hitting the post.”

4. Back Timing – Usually, the radio station was affiliated with a network, most likely ABC or Mutual as CBS and NBC went to the larger stations. The news or other programming from the network started at a set time. Some DJs were a bit lazy and usually selected an instrumental to play prior so that it could be easily faded down (lower the volume) at the appropriate time to allow the network program to start. But, if you were good, you figured out how much time you had left and selected a record of the appropriate length making sure you started it so that it would end exactly when the next program was to begin. This process is called “back timing.”

5. Cans – These are today known as headphones. But, prior to the hi-fi stereo days, headphones were pretty basic and crude objects resembling one or two cups held together by a metal band that would keep them on your head. You only used them for reference when your microphone was on and the studio speakers were muted so you wouldn't have screeching feedback. So, before you turned on the microphone you needed to make sure you put on your “cans.”

6. Carts – These were usually gray or blue in color, sometimes black. These were the predecessor to the ill fated 8-Track tapes and made primarily by two companies – Fidelipac and Audiopak. These cartridges contained an endless loop of ¼” magnetic tape that could be erased and re-recorded many times. Radio stations would record commercials that needed to be repeated often onto these and then played by the DJ on a special player when scheduled. There were longer length versions for up to a half hour in length but these were rare. Most of these cartridges contained enough tape for a 30 or 60 second commercial. Later, stations used these to play music rather that actual records that might get scratched. These were usually referred to as “carts.”

7. Ad-Lib – Today most radio performers are required to read scripts and commercials verbatim without any changes. But, in small market radio often the merchant would ask that the on air personality work from a fact sheet of information or from personal knowledge. The commercial might be considered “improv” using today's terminology. But in the day of small market radio the announcer might be asked to “ad lib” a commercial.

8. Daytimers – I know it's pretty obvious. Many small market AM radio stations often were restricted to operating between sunrise and sunset. The process dates back to the early days of radio and because AM radio waves travel farther at night, many small market stations had to wait to go on the air until after sunrise and had to turn their transmitters off at sunset. They didn't get much time in winter. These stations were known as “daytimers.”

9. 3rd Phone – Most every announcer and DJ had to have one. This is technically called a “Radio Telephone Third Class Operator Permit” and was issued by the Federal Communications Commission only after you passed a broadcast and electronic theory test. My first one was issued on April 17, 1964. and is still active, although no longer required.
Third Class Radio Telephone Operator permit This permit, with the added “broadcast endorsement,” gave you the authority to operate the radio station's transmitter. With it came the responsibility of making sure the station was transmitting with the correct amount of power and the requirement that you logged transmitter meter readings, usually once ever hour and if you didn't you might have your “3rd phone” rescinded.

10. Purple fingers – This goes back to item #1. Not only were you required to “rip 'n read” the news. If the ribbon containing the ink for the teletypewriter ran out, it was your responsibility to change it, and yes between records. It required a special skill to remove the old one and replace it with a new one that was saturated with purple ink. You had to do this without getting the ink all over your hands. If you were new at the task, you likely ended up the rest of the day sporting “purple fingers.”

Those are my ten forgotten small market radio terms of days gone by. I'm sure there are some I missed. If you can think of others, please leave a comment.  

Friday, October 4, 2013

Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves

or Wizards, Experts and Readers of Tea Leaves

45 RPM record sleeve - Cher - Gypsies, Tramps & Thieves
The recent announcement that Cher was to embark on a grand tour has her fans scrambling for tickets to be there in the front row on what could be her final go 'round. That's yet to be determined. One of her classic hits from the early 70s, Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves,
made me think about all the negative discussion I've seen in the past year or two about what some in the voiceover industry might label as
charlatans, shysters and snake oil salesmen (and women).

I grew up with a dad that didn't trust anyone. He was always looking on the bad side of people believing that everyone had thieving ulterior motives. He was not a trusting man. It was difficult for me growing up not to absorb some of the philosophy and I thought it was true most of my younger life. But, as I age, it can't help observe that most of the people I've come across in my career are pretty genuine. Most of them really want to do good things, but that addictive, dirty, physical thing called money too often clouds their “do good” vision.

Each day my email box and the social media sites fill up with offers of voice actor expertise, classes and events for a fee. Here are some actual headlines, subject text and event titles that I've seen recently:

Are You Ready To Make Money With Your Voice?
Break into V-O! Industry Secrets Revealed
How to become a voice over "A.C.E."
V-O Secrets Revealed: Get The Big Picture
Step Up To the Mic!
Voiceover Master Immersion Class
Voiceover for Gaming Course
Increase your chances of booking that really important audition
Are you serious about breaking into voiceover?
You're on the Air! (Make it in Voice-Overs)
Beginning Voiceover for Improvisors
Are your getting the best voice over rates possible?

Some in our industry question the motives of the people making these offers. But, I think they are all, for the most part, genuine and they all have something to offer. I know many professionals in our industry that offer to help struggling voice actors as mentors and yes there are many that charge for sharing their expertise. That's just the nature of the beast. Some are givers and some are profiteers. That doesn't make them bad. It just makes puts a dollar or many dollars between you and that info or training. But, that's a decision you should make and not let the “nay sayers” dissuade you. Everyone entering this line of work needs to establish a budget for training and pick the training that will benefit you the most. It's like being in a candy shop. “I want one of these, and one of these and two of those and a whole bunch of that one.” To which mom says: “But jerry, you only have a dollar. You'll have to pick the one you want most and can afford.”