Learning Lincoln On-line

TOPIC:  Old Time Radio-- Broadcast Voice & Putting Messages on the Air   #11
the Light of the Fire "


Recently a metropolitan radio station offered to give auditions to women. Nearly one thousand replies came in from all sorts of applicants, many of them having no idea as to what radio requires in the way of voice and reading ability. Doubtless a few were deeply hurt because they did not win a place for themselves.

No person would apply for a secretarial position without first having studied short­hand, but for some reason radio, like the stage, appeals to people who believe they may become famous overnight without any preparation whatsoever. Any person with brains can talk, they feel.

As a matter of fact, few people do talk or read well enough for radio. A really beau­tiful speaking voice is rarely heard, particularly among women. Men can "get by" with bad tone production because their voices are in low range and radio is kinder to them, but the shrill feminine voice or the thin, high, sweet voice is not pleasant when it is disembodied.

Any person who wishes to broadcast should make a recording of his voice to hear himself as others hear him. His first reaction will likely be "Oh, I don't sound like that," but it is just possible he may discover for the first time in his life what his voice really is.

In England, where dialects are so marked and where people frequently speak with an immobile upper lip, the British Broadcasting Corporation has made a practice of requiring advance recording of prospective speakers, not so much to keep bad voices off the air as to train speakers and let them know what is expected in the way of clear and natural diction.

In America, where until recently*we have not been so insistent upon a high standard of speech, we have heard over the air all types of voices—throaty, nasal, thin, or monotonously inflected—even among candidates for high political office, we have become aware of the many dialects that have developed in this country, and we are at last becom­ing speech conscious. We may be on the road toward a standard American speech.


    The human voice is a musical instrument. At its best it can express fine shades of feeling through changing inflection and tone quality. It possesses all the attributes of the violin plus the capacity to express concrete thoughts. Speech has pitch, tempo, dynamics, and resonance. The speaker who is master of his voice uses all these effectively, just as the master of a violin brings out its most beautiful and expressive tones to delight a listening audience.

Almost everyone is naturally endowed with a good voice. When we hear a person with a high-pitched or a low, monotonous voice, with indistinct enunciation or poor reso­nance, we know there is much to be done before a career as a broadcaster will be possible.

Radio speakers who most nearly approach perfection, like Milton Cross have studied singing. They have learned how to control the breath with the diaphragm, how to relax the throat completely so there will be no harsh or nasal tones, how to form the lips and use the tongue to enunciate clearly. Their ears have been trained to distinguish the many shades of difference in vowel pronunciation. One of the most versatile and effective voices in radio is that of David Ross. It can be crisp and staccato in advertising com­mercials or melodious and legato in the reading of poetry. It can change pitch, tempo, and volume at the will of its owner.

Far too many people in America speak the provincial language acquired in child­hood through imitation. Often it is extremely difficult for an unmusical adult to alter his provincial dialect. Sometimes he doesn't care to change. We've all heard of the South­ern mother who sent her daughter out for social conquest with the injunction, "Now, Honey, don't forget your Southern accent."

Any person with a trained ear can detect the section of the country in which a speaker spent his early childhood. For example, certain characteristic inflections abound in parts of Pennsylvania and parts of Arkansas; people from Tennessee and West Vir­ginia have voices with characteristic tone quality; the Southeastern seaboard produces a leisurely, drawling speech not at all in the same tempo as that to be found in the Middle West and New England. Climate, of course, and a preponderance of certain racial strains have much to do with speech provincialisms. A cosmopolite who has spent his entire life roving about is apt to have a speech free from eccentricities, but any person with a nor­mally musical ear and a true desire to overcome flaws in tone production and pronuncia­tion can do so by study. Even though he does no formal studying he can listen to the best moving-picture actors and the best radio performers.

A young person who is able to mimic comedians like Mortimer Snurd and Rochester can just as easily imitate cultured speech and make his voice a permanent asset to his personality.


Proper breath control is the basis of good speaking just as it is the basis of good singing. The infant breathes correctly as he sleeps peacefully in his cradle. The child or the athlete, after he has exercised in the fresh air, breathes the way nature intended he should. Tight clothing and the restrictions and inhibitions of so-called civilization have made most adults forget how to breathe deeply and naturally, letting involuntary muscles of the body do the work.

Stand erect, but relaxed, before a piano; push out the sides of the trunk as you sing "hng" explosively on a designated pitch (possibly c or f). After you have done this until you feel powerful vibrations in the forehead, nose, throat, and chest (but absolutely no tightness in the vocal cords) then add a vowel sound like ee or oo and sustain it (hng-ee or hng-oo). The corresponding string on the piano will vibrate and cause the piano's sounding board to reinforce the tone. If you listen carefully you will discover that other higher strings are also vibrating. For C the overtones are the tones of the C chord in harmony.


If the diaphragm is used correctly, and the throat relaxed so that the quality of the voice is resonant, the student may practice "throwing" his voice or projecting it by read­ing lines from different poems and orations. If he focuses his voice through the upper lip and calls to the rear of the room, the quality of his voice will improve. The same technique should be used before the microphone except that the voice should be normally soft.



Return to My Old Time Radio Activity



Learning On-Line