Reading Services for the Blind and Visually Impaired

Although reading services for the blind and visually impaired have been available for many years, some folks may not know that volunteer opportunities exist as readers for these services.

If you’re a voice artist looking to improve your skills, while at the same time giving back to your community and beyond, this is an excellent avenue to pursue if a reading center’s recording studio is near you.   Using Google or other search engine can quickly identify the nearest one to your location.  For me, VoiceCorps reading service ( is located in Columbus OH, about a 20-25 minute drive from my house.

Sometime around 2008, a co-worker of mine who was in the communications department talked with me about my goals to become a voice artist, and recommended I sign up with VoiceCorps as a training and developmental tool, an addition to being a great volunteer opportunity.  In 2012 my life schedule had changed to where I could budget time for this.  I contacted VoiceCorp’s volunteer coordinator Amy Billerman, who had me fill out a questionnaire and come in for a brief recording audition, just to make sure I could make myself understood – fortunately, I passed, and I was placed on their on-call list, and given a tour of their studios.  There five or six individual studio rooms, and one studio designed for two readers to work from at the same time.  I was given a quick training session on how to use the computer application to begin recording, pause when I needed to know, and how to re-record a section if I’d made an egregious error (for most minor fluffs I was advised to just keep going and not worry about it).

VoiceCorps broadcasts 24 hours a day, playing a variety of programs under different subjects, many of which would play multiple times so that listeners on different schedules could catch their favorite.  While most of the readers came to the studio to record shows for a future date, some readers came in each day and did live broadcasts, typically reading from the local daily newspaper.  In fact, I was offered an immediate opportunity to come in Sunday mornings to read the paper, which conflicted with my church.   But after two weeks I was asked about recording a weekly one-hour show on technology, primarily on tech which assisted the blind, but also of general interest, which I agreed to do.

I was directed to a cubbyhole where a print copy of a monthly newsletter published on-line by the American Federation for the Blind (, containing 10 to 12 articles on technology for the blind.  Someone would also leave local news articles or national magazine articles on technology to use, so I would have enough material to fill an hour.

It didn’t take long into recording my show to learn that; A) reading coherently, clearly, and without making a mistake is a lot harder than it looks; and B) there were times when I simply could not articulate a particular group of words or letter combinations; and C) when I had to re-do those sections, I ended taking an additional 30 to 45 minutes to get one week’s program in the can.  One particularly rough week I was in there a little over two hours.

At the time, there were two blind engineers overseeing the studio control room, and who would come to your studio room to upload your recording to their master broadcast file.  It took a while before I realized they were doing most of the voiceovers for their station ID, ads, calendar reminders, etc., and that they were very, very good at it.

Did I ever listen to my shows afterward?  Yes. The VoiceCorps signal can be accessed streaming on the web, with the proper login and password.  In addition, they also broadcast on one channel of the old Time Warner cable system, which we had in our house at the time.  My show was broadcast Saturdays at noon, and again at midnight Saturday night, and I would try to listen each week and critique myself.

My goodness, those early attempts were, shall we say, unpolished.  In short phrases, I could sound suave, sophisticated, and professional.  But these articles had LONG sentences, and it was tough to be reading continuously and anticipate where to place short pauses, or slight accents, or emphasis on certain words.   At the end of one long sentence, my articulation and pacing might leave you wondering exactly what the sentence meant.

I would listen to other shows , and marvel at how smooth and relaxed other readers were. But I persevered each week, and once in a while Amy would tell me that a listener had called or emailed to say they liked my show and my work.  I knew wasn’t going to win any trophies, but eventually I reached a point to where I could be reasonably comfortable with my reading.

However, once in a while, a voice inside my head would give me a virtual slap to remind me that my work at VoiceCorps wasn’t about me – it was about those listeners who depend on the service because they were unable to read the articles for themselves.  And I was learning about things I had never heard of or considered as a sighted person.  For instance, did you know the Apple iPhone became a favorite of the blind and visually impaired because of its VoiceOver feature?  Apple tapped into a new market, other phone companies saw this and decided to add assistive tech features on their phones, and the world opened up for many.  I learned more about about digital scanners that can identify objects and colors and street locations.  Surprisingly, the on-line Uber taxi service quickly became a hot item for blind people as a way to hail a cab without having to call a local company, and I read articles on that service as well.

My time at Voice Corps lasted almost two years, until their evening engineer retired and they were forced to cut back on their evening studio hours.  I was still working for the Postal Service, and I couldn’t free myself up during weekdays before 5 PM to go to Voice Corps.  I reluctantly stepped down, but was gratified when I was told that I was welcome back anytime, especially when I retired.

And that time has arrived.  I’m going to call Voice Corps this week, and ask if they have any openings or need someone to fill in.  And I’ll do so with a brand-new perspective and confidence, as a trained voice artist with a portfolio of commercial work.   I recently met another Columbus voice artist in our monthly Meet-up group who just started at Voice Corps, so it’s nice to have someone who I can relate to in that area.

Anyone out there who also as experience working for a reading service, or who has questions?  Drop me a line and reply to this post, I’d love to hear from you.

Okay, back to work in my studio.  I think another cup of Tim Horton’s coffee from my Keurig is in order.  There’s definitely a chill in the air this week, autumn has arrived.  Until next time, keep putting your best voice forward, and remember that you can be a voice for others who need it.



VO as PA announcing, part 3

On what will be my final installment (for now) on public address announcing for sports, I’d like to share additional info on guidelines and ettiquette, game mechanics, my more memorable gaffes, and some personal interactions I’ve had over the years with players, coaches, and game officials.

To begin, guidelines for the PA announcing craft can be found at NASPAA. net (Code of Conduct), the National Federation of High Schools (, and from various state high school athletics governing body.  In my case, my work falls under the oversight of the Ohio High School Athletic Association (

Anyone starting out should research those guidelines and keep a copy for reference, as well as meet with the school’s athletic director or team’s general manager to determine what requirements they have as well.  This is a great way to start, because it gives you a framework to go by, instead of just making up things as you go.

Do I ever break those rules or choose not to follow guidelines?  Yes, but I do so cautiously, judiciously, and rarely.  One prominent example:  every guide I’ve read says the announcer should always be neutral and not over-emphasize a call for one team over another.  But even if you don’t consider certain big-time arena guys who sound like they’re working  a big-time wrestling match during every game, the best announcers I’ve ever heard at any level always puts a little spice or punch for the team they are associated with – certainly during team announcements, and frequently when the home team scores.  But remember – a little spice goes a long, long way!

I decided early on that I was going to be known for my professionalism, enunciation, consistency during games for “my team”, whether it was at my high school or somewhere else.  But I also decided I was capable of making a call just a tad punchier for the home team, just barely enough so those players (and their family members) could hear the difference.  Is it a fine line?  Yeah, but the good ones are capable of drawing that distinction, and I believe I’m in that camp.

I also began taking the time beforehand to go thru all the names on a roster – even if they were Dave Jones and Mary Smith – so that I was pronouncing them correctly.  Some names automatically demand your attention, but there are a surprising number of names both first and last that look “traditional” or “logical”,  but turn out to have more exotic pronunciations.  I’ve had coaches and players tell me I’m one of the few announcers at my level who takes the time to do this, and I hope there are others at the game who notice and who might be in a position to offer me a job.

To that end, whenever I go to an away football game for my high school, I’ve made a practice of bringing spare copies of my large-print football roster, key players by position,  team captains – and pronunciations!

On the plus side, by providing this I’ve made a lot of friends with the PA announcers at other schools, play-by-play radio announcers, and the local TV station crews who stop by to film highlights.  And this just popped into my head:  I’m going to list my VO business, website, email and phone on each copy, starting this week.  More subliminal marketing!

On the downside, it’s a tad disheartening when I bring those sheets to another announcer, and I still hear them mispronounce the names of some of my team’s players.  In fairness, it doesn’t happen often these days, certainly not as often as it before I started this practice.

Just as referees and umpires have to learn good “mechanics”, which includes where to position themselves on or during a play, what to look for, how to make proper signals, what to say, and what NOT to say, PA announcers need to learn good mechanics also.  My first year I probably said something like “Jones ran the ball on that play, he’s #24,…….boy, he was really tackled hard by Smith and got nine yards on that play … and now it looks like second down for the team”.

After hearing myself say this for a couple of years and not really liking what heard, I started to listen to other PA folks where ever I went, especially Bob Kennedy, the Ohio State football announcer.  Much of his professionalism stems from his consistency and pattern when making call.  So I trained myself to say “#24 Jones the ballcarrier, tackled by #99 Smith, gain of nine yards, second down”.   I even wrote my own reference page labeled “sample calls”, so that I could use a formula and just plug in names and numbers.  The result was that I didn’t stress over whether the choice of words sounded repetitive and trite, and I felt better about my work because I  sounded better – more consistent, and by extension, more professional.

Speed, accuracy, and timing are another part of announcing mechanics.  In football, this means finishing your play results call before the quarterback is calling signals behind center again.  This is harder nowadays as more schools install hurry-up offenses, but it forces you to focus and keep your words to the bare minimum.  In basketball, this means simply announcing a player’s name who scores (the only embellishment being “for three” if it’s a three-point shot.   For fouls, it means announcing the team, the name and number of a player committing a foul, how many fouls the player has, and possibly who the shooter is and how many shots – and doing all that before a free-throw shooter has the ball and is ready to shoot.  For this you have to watch referees carefully – and react quickly.  Sometimes, there’s not enough time to do it, and you just shut up.  That’s all you can do, and nobody is going to mind one bit.

I have seen a seen and heard a number of announcers with unbelievable great voices –  much, much better than mine  – but who have less than desirable mechanics when it comes to basketball and football.  The good news is great mechanics can be learned by anyone, with a little practice.  A well-organized announcer’s chart is also essential.  For football, I make up roster sheets with very large print so I can locate names and numbers quickly, and I’ll have separate large Post-It note with the key players like the quarterback and running backs.  For basketball, I’ve developed a spreadsheet that has the players for one team on one side of the page and the other on the other side.  I have boxes to make tally marks for personal fouls, team fouls, and timeouts.  Not only does that help  get a maximum amount of information out in a few seconds, but sometimes a coach or official will ask you for that information when you’re closer to them than the official scorer.  Being able to do this and save them a few seconds goes a long way to fostering sportsmanship and goodwill.

Track and field – believe it or not, the announcer plays an important role in this sport as well.  Letting folks know what events are coming up, and of course everyone wants to hear race results, places, and times.  It is time consuming, and there are constant race starts with starter commands on the track where you can’t talk – unless it’s a race or relay where the staggering is greater, and the starting official wants you to do the start commands over the air.  I work 4 or 5 invitational meets in a year, and by the end of the day, I’ve said “On your mark – Set… ” at twenty or thirty  different times.  Again, an organizational chart with the event order and what time I said “final call, 400 meter relay” is very helpful, along with notes and color-codes that tell me when I have to do start commands and relay zone checks.

Did I ever make a mistake?  Ha ha – let me count the ways.  The thing is, when a PA announcer blows it, everyone in the house knows it.  Sometimes, you just say “correction, that was 84 McGillicuddy” and move one.  Sometimes you just sit there with the mic dangling in your hand, asking yourself “Why in the world did I say THAT?”  Here are just a few of my better ones:

-my very first game, I learned early on that the field commander’s first name of “Mariah” was NOT pronounced the same as “Maria”.  Coincidentally, I got to know her parents rather quickly that evening ……….

-first year of high school football, a tough kid named Measler made a really nice tackle, and I called it.  The clock operator put his head down and couldn’t speak.  Apparently I’d pronounced his name “Measly”…….

– same sport, local news anchor Colleen Marshall was covering the game for NBC4, and was doing a live remote in front of the home bleachers.  I thought it would be nice to acknowledge her presence over the speakers, so I boomed out ” We welcome Colleen … Fitzpatrick……..”

-Two years ago, I had a play with #19 touching a punt to down it on the 41-yard line.  An unfortunate brain cramp made it come out, “The 19 year-old was touched at the 41 year …” .  I tried twice more, and it didn’t get any better, so I just shut up for a while until I could re-group.  Some of the fans were still laughing about it a year later …….

-In basketball, at first I never paid too much attention where a player’s foot was, so one time I gave a rather lusty call for a home player making a 3-point shot, without waiting first to check.  The closest ref came running past me yelling “Two!  Two points!  Or just don’t say anything at all!” ……..

-at another basketball game, one reserve player named Monty White came in.  Of course, I said “Monty Hall” without thinking.  While I’m doing a slow burn and trying to look cool, I can clearly see the difference in the fans’ reactions.  The ones my age are pointing at me and shaking from laughing.  The younger ones are all looking at each other, saying, “Who’s Monty Hall?” ………..

But these embarrassing moments have been far overshadowed by others that I treasure in my heart.  I’ve watched both my wife and my son fill in for me when I lost my voice.  I’ve had a former Ohio State football announcer, Ron Althoff, come up and compliment my work (I had to tell him that he was one of my role models).  Sometimes coaches or officials will come up and just shoot the breeze or share a joke.  I’ve certainly been treated more graciously by fans than I thought I deserved.

My favorite moment came a few years back at a college basketball game.  One young man on the visiting team had a particularly challenging name, but I learned the correct pronunciation ahead of time, and nailed it when I announced him into the game, and again when he scored.  Later in the game, he came back to the table to check in, and knelt down beside me to wait for a stoppage.  He turned to me and said, “Thank you”.  I said, “For what?”.   He said, “For saying my name right.  Nobody ever does.”  Then he patted my clipboard and re-entered the game.

Sometimes that’s what it’s all about.   Sometimes it’s good to remind ourselves that even on our worst day, our voice matters to someone.




VO as PA announcing, part 2

Hi, everyone.  Last week I began writing about public-address (PA) announcing, which I’ve done for over 20 years, and I would like to continue sharing information about my experience, I hope you find it helpful.  In my previous post I talked about this work as an option to explore for voiceover artists, whether as a self-development tool or as a possible income stream.  In my case it is both.

I had actually spent almost two full seasons working as a spotter for Jon Morris, the PA guy at my high school before I took over the mic.  In addition, I had attended many Ohio State football games and listened to the style and rhythms of two excellent college announcers, Ron Althoff and Bob Kennedy.  I had an idea of what to do, but not much clue on actually doing it.  So I showed up at that first game in 1996, and just dove in.

Three things I learned the hard way, right away.  One, mis-pronouncing a student’s name over the air is an efficient way to get to know that student’s parents – and to learn the correct way  to say their name after the fact. Two, I didn’t have a natural ability to know what to say extempraneously, so I sounded like a broken record of a bad parody of a cheap sportscaster – saying the same desperate cliches over and over, and in a timid manner.  And three, it’s hard to read the small print on those rosters they print in the program, especially if you don’t have much light where you’re sitting.

How to remedy this?  One, start taking the time to go over the rosters early and meet with a coach or administrator for correct pronunciations (more on this issue at a later time).  Two, create a binder with printouts, announcements, and a help sheet, in order to standardize what I would say in situations that kept repeating (which led to a series of Word documents and Excel spreadsheets that I have maintained for over 20 years).  And three, make the print BIG and bold, and organize how it looks on your page – right now I prefer Arial font size 16 or even 18, and arranged so I can find things quickly.

Taking these steps did two things for me immediately.  First, it reduced nervousness, because I felt better the more prepared I was.  Second, it gave a sense of professionalism to my announcing.  Not only was I more prepared and confident inside, I sounded more prepared and confident on the loudspeaker.

Over the next ten years (1996-2006), I did this for football, basketball, and track and field, and each year I reviewed my performance, vocal technique, style and rhythm, and the files I used.  Each  year I would look at what I could do to improve and be more professional – in my voice,  in my game mechanics, and in announcing sheets.

Voice – trust me, you don’t need a classic disc jockey voice to do good PA work, as long as you take the time to make yourself understood (a quality PA system never hurts) and you do it the right way.  I have met other announcers with twangs, growls, and high-pitched voices, but who get the job done correctly – and I’ve shamelessly borrowed from them when I hear something I can use.  I’ve seen one young man with cerebral palsy in a wheelchair with work athletic events with competence.  He doesn’t have the smoothest voice, but he takes his time, he pronounces his words correctly, and he works consistently.  I remember watching him and thinking “there’s a guy with a pro attitude”.

Game mechanics – more than once I’ve listened to an announcer who has a phenomenal “radio” voice, but doesn’t mesh it well with the game or sport – either by talking at the wrong time, or not getting the necessary information about a play out there quickly.  Whether it’s football, basketball, baseball, track, or field hockey, an announcer needs to say only the basic info (name, yardline, points, foul, how many outs, first place, etc.), and say it during a time when there is no action.

Help aids – over the years, I’ve developed and refined my announcing sheets, always with the goal of making my job easier, which helps me sound more professional.  My football sheets are printed in “portrait” orientation, while my basketball roster sheet is in landscape.  While other announcers might hate it, it makes sense to my eyes.

Finally, after ten years on the job at my high school, my persistence paid off.  An official from a community college in Columbus came up to me after a basketball game, said he liked my work, and asked if I was interested in working college games as a paid announcer.  I immediately said yes, and I’ve worked there for the last ten years.  As I said, pay for PA announcers can have a great range.  In my case, the hourly rate works out to roughly $15 per hour at that level.  I know voice artists strive for a slightly higher overall rate, but this job as the added benefit of getting to watch games from “the best seat in the house”, not to mention more chances to improve and be seen by other potential employers.

Can you get paid at the high school level?  Yes, but there are probably fewer opportunities, depending on location.  When my wife went to work at a Columbus city school, their athletic director asked her if I would help out at football games and basketball games, and offered to pay me.  Believe it or not, I declined his offer and chose to work as a volunteer, because of my wife’s position at the school.  However, I have been paid for working the Columbus city league boys’ basketball championship, and I’ve had another ongoing paid gig working an invitational track meet for another high school where their coach sought me out to work for him.  In those situations where I have no personal relationship with the school or league, I believe I should be compensated fairly for my work, and I will make sure I discuss it with those officials ahead of time.

But when I first went into PA announcing, it was more about doing something interesting than it was about doing something I could get paid for – and I went into without much help.  Many times I’m expected to come up with my own script, although it’s easier on my if an administrator has their own script prepared ahead of time.  Would it have helped me develop quicker if there were training or resources for PA announcers?  I’m glad you asked.

Probably the premier organization for sports PA announcers is  NASPAA (  They have a ton of information, training courses, links, and features on announcers at all levels.

In addition, some NASPAA members will sponsor local training seminars.  In my case, I mentioned Bob Kennedy, who is the current PA guy for the Ohio State Buckeyes football team.  Bob, whose smooth voice is also on the radio airwaves in central Ohio, is also a NASPAA clinician.  He coordinated a football announcer seminar about four years go in Columbus, and I signed up along with nine or ten other students.  I would say 90% of the material covered I had already learned on my own, but that additional 10% helped me refine what I do on the mic even more.  We got to compare notes, speak to football referees about how best to work with them during a game, and learned things about each other’s styles and experiences.

I’ll stop here for a moment to thank Bob Kennedy, because he is a true voice pro.  A year or two before the football seminar, I cold-called him through Ohio State, because I felt stuck in a rut as an announcer, especially during football games.    Bob got the message, returned my call, and we spent about 45 minutes talking about philosophies and techniques of the craft.  He was very friendly and supportive, and I was able to take some of the ideas he gave me that I still use today during football games.  I had a second chance to thank him for that conversation when I attended the announcer’s clinic.

Whew!  That’s a lot for now, so I’ll give the keyboard a rest.   Next time I’ll discuss some of the more interesting things I’ve learned and experienced as an announcer.  There have been some notable gaffes, of course.  But there also have been some very gratifying personal moments with players, opposing fans, coaches, officials – and my family.

Until next time, just remember that anytime you get paid for talking, it’s a good thing!  Take care.


VO as Public Address announcing

Today is week 3 of high school football in Ohio.  Tonight my alma mater Hamilton Township High School (Columbus OH) takes the field for their first home game of the season, and I will begin my 21st season behind the microphone as their PA announcer.

I had to stop there and remind myself I’ve been doing this for 20 years.  Where does the time go?

Anyway, together with my USPS experience as a classroom instructor/facilitator, PA announcing has done a lot to prepare me as a studio VO artist.

Mind you, it’s not a substitute for a quality voiceover training program.  However, working a microphone for every home home event for football, boys basketball, and track and field each year does wonders if you are interested in working on vocal quality and delivery.  And if you strive for continuous improvement each year (as I do), you will learn the important of sight-reading and reducing errors while working “live”.   Not only that, you get to meet a lot of interesting people, learn more about sports in general – and it’s fun!

Whether you are a newer VO artist looking for a developmental opportunity, or an established artists looking to expand your horizons, I hope you will find this post both beneficial and interesting.

What PA announcing opportunities exist out there?  Depending on where you live, there may be several.   The most obvious area would be athletic events  for middle schools and high schools, but there are a plethora of small colleges and community colleges to contact as well when just getting started.

Do PA announcers get paid, and how much?  It depends, and it depends.   Some elite announcers for professional teams have a per-game contract that provides a decent livable income.  Division I college football and basketball announcers may be paid on the order of $100 and up per event, depending on the sport involved,  budgets, the quality and experience of the announcer, and other factors.  For smaller colleges, it may be $20 to $50 per game.

In my case, I view my work for the high school as “paying forward”.  My parents worked as community volunteers for several years, including band and athletic events, just as many other parents and community members did and still do.  It just made sense for me to do likewise.

I am paid when my school hosts tournament events, but that money is paid by the Ohio High School Athletic Association, and typically happens only once or twice a year.  It’s not a huge sum, but it’s a nice check for sitting down, running your mouth for 2.5 hours, and having the best seat in the house.  Plus, I can take my wife out to a nice dinner afterward on that money.

In addition, I’ve been the PA announcer for Columbus State Community college men’s and women’s basketball for the last 10 years.  I am paid as independent contractor per-game, as are all the other workers on the scorer’s bench.   Again, I’m not getting rich on it, but you can’t beat getting paid to watch college basketball three feet away from the action.

What are some other considerations about getting started as a PA announcer?  Is there training involved?   What are the downsides?

I’ll be talking about those and other things in my next post, so stay tuned.  Until then, put your best voice forward!