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"Reading Fine Print."

In the WRBH Gumbo, Fluency is the Roux, Accents are the Okra (plus a message from Rhonda Faye)



“Hello, this is WRBH.”

“Hi, I’m calling because I’m curious about how I can become a volunteer.  I heard about your station from a friend, and since I used to be a disc jockey…”

“Have you had experience reading aloud?”

“No, but I used to have a radio show where my partner and I did a comedy routine with sound effects and took calls from listeners, and I’m great at making up jokes on the fly…”

Uh oh.  I’m not saying working as a d.j. for a radio station is a bad thing–it isn’t.  In fact, it’s great work if you can get it.   It’s just that the skills needed to talk off the cuff and spin records and ad lib and concoct hilarious banter with the people who call in to your show aren’t at all the skills you’ll be using if you want to be a reader at WRBH.  Whenever I get a call at the station to ask about volunteering, I always stress that THIS is the most important talent to possess in order to become a reader: an ability to pick up material you are unfamiliar with, and be able to read it fluently.  This is often called being a good “cold” reader, and many of our volunteers who work in theatre and in films are usually very good at it, because they so often have to audition with scripts they haven’t seen before and make snap judgments on how the character should be responding.  A beautiful voice is definitely a plus, but the number one thing we are looking for is being able to process quickly, clearly, and accurately the words on the page (or iPad) so that the recording can be edited and aired as soon as possible.  Usually only one engineer is in the studio per shift, recording the programming for the week, and if they  have to spend an inordinate amount of time fixing flubs and stumbles and start-overs, it’s almost easier to stop trying to find all the mistakes and just re-distribute the material to a volunteer more proficient in cold reading, and then use the new, near perfect recording.  A few mistakes are normal–after all, we understand that our readers are human!  It’s just that being able to read aloud fluently is one of those talents, like being able to sing, that you’re either really good at or not, and it’s the first thing we ask for in potential volunteers.   It’s especially important if you are ever called to substitute for the newspaper, since the broadcast is live and cannot be edited until later for the re-airing in the evening.  That’s one of the reasons we have designated newspaper readers for each day: we need to know those volunteers will be able to accurately (and pleasantly!) deliver the news since there isn’t any way to fix a mistake during the live broadcast, except for the reader to say politely, “Excuse me” and begin the sentence again. .


“Hello, this is WRBH.”

“Hi, I’d like to try to become a reader at WRBH.  I’m a teacher, I read aloud all the time, I am a lector at my church, I’ve volunteered at another reading radio service in another state…”

“Great! We don’t have a lot of openings right now, but we’ll be doing auditions again soon.  Would you like to get on the calendar?”

“Yes!  But I have an accent.  Is that a problem?”

Well…yes and no.  Usually if I am speaking to the person on the phone and I can easily understand everything they are saying, the accent isn’t a hindrance; once again, the main issue is clarity.   Every listener tends to have readers they prefer–Gavin Sutton, with his warm, articulate, and almost ribbony way of reading is a perennial favorite.  Although he is from New Orleans (a St. Aug grad) he’s spent time working in journalism in Washington and shed his twang sometime back (although he certainly can put it back on if he wants to.)  The many voices coming from 88.3 FM are a melting pot (or should I say gumbo pot?) of original and unique cultures and regions, and we like how the differences work to make our station original and unique.  We have readers from all over the country and all over the world (when New Zealander Jane Sumner and British Constance McEneny read the newspaper together after Katrina, their day was nicknamed “Live From The BBC”).  Natalia’s sister Gigi in Houston loves listening to Peter Spera whenever we broadcast a book he has recorded: his oh-so-New Orleans cadence triggers memories of home.  Ronnie Virgets’ earthy “yat” growl has graced our airwaves throughout the years, and his unusual pronunciations are instantly recognizable on local commercials, voice overs, and PSAs.   Allison Freeman and Cameron Gamble are as southern as magnolias in the springtime (just listen to her say the word “pie”– it comes out like “pah”). I personally love hearing Elizabeth Plauche McKinley’s soft Cajun lilt when she reads magazines–it’s a surprising and delightful antidote to the typical “newscaster” sound that the rest of the country perceives as NOT having an accent.  Now, I’m afraid if her accent was closer to Rhonda Faye’s I might have to think twice about letting her read.  Give this a listen to see what I mean:

There’s more to come about becoming a volunteer–in two weeks, I’ll be writing about other issues that come up on our quest for readers.  Be on the lookout for the next blog post!

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WRBH 88.3 FM, Radio for the Blind and Print Handicapped, is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization and is the only full-time reading service on the FM dial in the United States. At WRBH, our mission is to turn the printed word into the spoken word so that the blind and print handicapped receive the same ease of access to current information as their sighted peers.

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