Where have the great voices of radio and television gone? Nowadays, listening to talk radio, especially National Public Radio stations in the U.S., is painful. Besides the repetitious “you knows” intersected every two minutes to fill the thought gap, listeners have to endure guests and hosts who talk in a steady monotone or speak in monosyllables, or even a cascade of talkers who don’t seem to ever need a breather.
In television we’re accustomed to having the sound volume go up during commercials, but now viewers have to adjust the sound every single time they change the channel as there no longer seems to be a technical mandate for a standard transmission sound level.
The situation is not better in other countries either. In Italy, for example, the new thing is to have three or more people (the more, the better) talk at the same time. In the U.K., the announcers, reporters, or hosts lower their voices during reports to the point that they become whispers. In LATAM, on the other hand, the tendency is to shout.
To be fair, there are “pockets” of good voices left in the U.S., for example Lakshmi Singh at NPR News (pictured above) and Brian Lehrer at WNYC radio, but not nearly as many as in years past, when we were blessed with the likes of Jonathan Schwartz, Wolfman Jack, Bruce Morrow, and Howard Stern on radio, and Dick Cavett, Merv Griffin, and Johnny Carson on television. In the U.K. there was Katty Kay (BBC-TV). And France had David Pujadas (on A2-TV now F2).
To further aggravate the situation, the new TV sets don’t help. As TV sets have thinned in the era of HD screens, most internal speakers are built at the bottom of the set or backward from the rear. That means that the sound isn’t directly going to viewers, and may be getting dampened or absorbed by the TV set’s surroundings.
Smart TV’s audio settings, which offer the option to automatically control the volume, could potentially help since it turns the dynamic range on or off, thereby reducing the difference between loud and soft sounds.
Joe Lewis, head of Audio at the London-based The Voiceover Gallery, an agency that sources voiceover talent, sound engineers, and translators, had this to say: “Too many people use great mics but don’t pay attention to the actual sound. The gear is there to assist you, it won’t do your job for you.” He continued: “Over-use of compression and EQ [equalization],” are also a problem. “Although these are great tools they are often misunderstood, and over-processed sounds can result in muddy sounds.”