You’ve come a long way, techie!

It didn’t dawn on me for a while, but one day in the last couple of years I woke up and realized:  both the Dick Tracy two-way wristwatch TV and the AT&T/Bell’s picture phone had finally come to fruition, in terms of availability to the masses. 

It probably happened more than two years ago, but it got me thinking of the changes in technology, particularly in communication, that I’ve seen in my lifetime, particularly those who were predicted in those stories that attempted to forecast who soon we’d be living in a Jetsons world.

I was never a tinkerer as a child, never had the desire to tear something down to figure out how it worked and then try to put it back together again. But I was curious enough to want to read about things like that, and how things worked.   I’d read a nice book in fourth grade on how Alexander Bell developed and patented the telephone, and I had a vague understanding of how he could transmit electrical impulses and convert them to sound.

However, the mystery of how a viewable image was broadcast to a TV screen was beyond me.  Broadcast TV had reached the masses by the time I started to attend kindergarten, as had telephones.  To use them as personal communication devices, the way Dick Tracy did, or the way the Bell Telephone TV commercials said we’d do in the future?  That was – well, in the future, and a distant one at that.  We could put a man on the moon and bring him back safely, but we couldn’t have a picture phone or a wrist-watch TV.  Can you tell I was an impatient young lad back then?

Well, these things take time.  In 1974 I saw and used a computer terminal for the first time in high school, in which you read data from a teletype printer sheets.  In 1977 during my second year of college at Ohio StateI tried taking a computer science course at Ohio State, which involved using Fortran language encoded on keypunch cards.  Unfortunately, I was lost after the second week of the class, and had to withdraw.  I did take another computer science course two years later, which was an introduction to computers, especially the trend to personal computers, which I found enlightening and useful.

About a year after that course, I finally saw an actual personal computer  – very cool at the time, although it used a cassette tape as its data bank and programs were accordingly awkward to access.

I first used a personal computer on the job – the Apple II – when I turned 25.  It was used by clerks to learn how to keycodes for mail separation. It was simpler than I thought, you just put the floppy disk in the machine, turned it on, and let the trainee follow the directions.  Truthfully, what I called a floppy disk then was actually a “diskette”, only 5.25 inches square.  The secretary where I worked used the real floppy disks – 10-inch monsters the size of a vinyl record album – on her monstrous word-processing machine.

Time and change wait for no one, and they also go at their pace, not ours.  When we USPS employees were finally able to access the Internet at work sometime around 1995, I could see the big technological shift we were making – a lot had changed since I had learned to turn on the Apple II eleven years earlier.

When webcams and smart phones came out and communication protocols had improved to where you had acceptable video and audio, I realized the things that the impatient 10 year-old Joe Jankowski was waiting on back then had finally arrived.  I just wish the younger Joe could have been transported forward 40 years to see it at that age, and to feel the rush of excitement that only a 10 year-old can feel, instead of growing up to be the gray-haired guy in his 50’s who just grunted and mumbled “how about that” when he finally noticed it.

Occasionally I have moments when I look at my studio equipment, note how well it functions, see how easily I can view things on a huge monitor, and I marvel that technology is more accessible than ever.   I also marvel at the incredible speed of change in technology in the last 50 to 75 years, and how I would not have foreseen this happening as a younger man.

In Arthur C. Clarke’s book “3001: Final Odyssey”, the body of the astronaut who was killed by the HAL computer in “2001: A Space Odyssey” is retrieved by a space probe, and the medical technology available in 3001 AD is used to revive him, despite the fact he’d been dead for a thousand years.  The doctors tell the astronaut about the changes in technology that have occurred over the previous 1000 years, and tell the astronaut he is better able to absorb that 1000-year change because of when he grew up.   They postulate that a man who died in the year 1000 AD and was revived in 2000 AD would simply not be able to cope psychologically with the changes over that particular millennium.

I don’t know – I’d say the changes from the year 1900 AD to today would be traumatic enough for someone who’d been in suspended animation during that time.  Fortunately, I don’t think it’s a problem I’ll ever run up against.  However, I’m still miffed that we can’t fly to work in our air-cars, like George Jetson does.  Maybe one day …..

How about you readers out there?  What technology changes do you think have been the most dramatic in our lifetime?  How do you think you’d cope with a thousand years of new technology if you were revived after that amount of time?  I’d love to hear from you, just click on “Leave A Comment” at the top of this post  (please, no spam messages or solicitations, they will be removed).

Well, that’s all for this week.  Keep putting your best voice forward, with every bit of modern technology available to you – it’s still just another tool.  Take care.


A voice as a role model

I went to a funeral visitation over the weekend, for the mother of a family I knew at our old church, a wonderful and beautiful lady who had passed away in her late 80’s.  I got to know the family nearly 50 years ago, because they lived not far from me and attended the same church I and my parents did back then, but I had lost touch with most of them since.

And that got me to thinking about our pastor back then, the Reverend B. Allen Reed (the B. was short for Baines).  We attended a Presbyterian  church in the south side of Columbus, unusual because there weren’t many Presbyterian congregations in Columbus, let alone on the south side.  In 1966 the full-time pastor, who was a popular friendly guy with kids close to my age, was transferred to Paw Paw, Michigan.  I was sad to see him and his children leave, and I never forgot the name of that town. 

It was another two years before the Presbyterian headquarters or regional office filled the job.  Before they did, we had a succession of temporary pastors – one young guy who was there a for maybe six months before asking to leave – and they ended up calling Rev. Reed out of retirement.  Rev. Reed was an ancient man to me, I’m guessing he was born around 1890 and looked like an old wizened schoolteacher character straight out of a movie in the 1930’s.  But such a wonderful, friendly man who could preach from the Bible.  And we younger children never had a more supportive guy leading the church, he was always good about answering a child’s questions that would come from out of the blue.

But it was Rev. Reed’s knowledge of the Bible, and his weekly sermons that made the greatest impression on me, from age 9 thru 12.   Now, he didn’t have a deep dramatic voice.  It had a thin quality  – you might even say it was  “Reed-y”.  Sorry, I couldn’t resist.  But he used it like the school teacher he’d once been to get his points across clearly and cleanly.

Rev. Reed retired a second time in 1971 – this time for good – and after going thru the summer with just the church elders keeping the Sunday services going, the Presbyterian Church organization for some reason refused fill the position, and closed and sold the building.   My parents looked around for a few weeks, and chose a Methodist church very close to our neighborhood for us to attend.  But I lost contact with many of the people from the old church, including the family of the lady who just passed away

So at the funeral home, while talking with the lady’s surviving husband and her children about our shared experiences at that Presbyterian church, it kept coming back to me how influential Rev. Reed had been in my life, possibly more than anyone else except my parents during that time in my life.

In fact, if I think about it, I can still picture exactly what he looked like and what that voice sounded like. 

Rev. Reed passed away ten years later.  I was an OSU student at the time, living on campus, and my appearance had changed somewhat – taller, longer hair, and I had a beard that I hadn’t  trimmed in over six months – but I made my way to the funeral home visitation.  Amazingly, Rev. Reed’s son-in-law, who was almost 70 himself, actually recognized me through all the shrubbery on my face.  And I told him then how I could still hear that voice talking to us on Sundays.

After yesterday’s visitation, it got me to wondering if someone who is not a close family member or acquaintance will think of my voice as one that made a long-lasting impression on them or influenced their lives in some way.  A casual schoolmate, a co-worker, an athlete playing in a game I’m announcing?  Or perhaps, someone listening to a commercial voiceover I’ve done?  I don’t  know if it will happen, but if it does, I hope it’s a good impression and a good influence.

How about you readers out there?  What voices have influenced you, especially those from a young age that made the biggest impression on you?  And what vocal legacy will you leave behind that others will remember?  Feel free to  respond by clicking on “Leave A Comment” at the top (please, no spam messages or solicitations, they will be removed).

That’s all for this week.  Keep your best voice forward, and remember:  someone may be listening!

Take care.


Your studio is where you are

When my VO instructor Ron Allan first showed me the components of a home voiceover studio and how one could install a dedicated space to work out of one’s own home, I was doubtful I could pull it off.  Fortunately, my desire to go into VO full-time outweighed my lack of confidence.  Once I determined how I was going to make the commitment to create a home studio, it was just a matter of figuring out where my space would be, and coming up with some homemade plans for constructing it.

Surprisingly, even though my mechanical skills are limited and tools don’t get along with me, after two months, I had completed the room’s basic form with a solid-core door that shut snugly.  It wasn’t pretty, and the angles weren’t always true, but it was certainly functional, and met my needs.  All that was left was to install acoustic foam and some bass traps, wait for my equipment to arrive (computer on the outside of the studio because of noise), and voila! – I had a functional studio with a “professional” industrial look and an acceptable noise floor.

Now, I had read some books on voiceover and perused a plethora of Youtube videos and websites on VO equipment and setups.  I knew some folks used laptops or iPads instead of PC’s.  I knew some people used a closet as their studio, because of a lack of space, and that one full of clothes did an acceptable job in absorbing echoes.  I was fascinated by some of the bigger-name guys in Los Angeles who appeared to have studios in open rooms with floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking a view of Beverly Hills.  But all of them had the same thing in common as me – lack of portability.

I saw some sources tout the inside of a car as a decent anechoic environment to do voiceover when all else failed.  Surprisingly, the car’s interior does a great job absorbing sound waves – even the steep angle of the front windshield helps.

A good example of this:  at a conference in Columbus OH last year, VO legend Joe Cipriano related to us how he did his nightly TV network promos when he arrived in Columbus the day before the conference, but he came later than normal and the local studio he usually used was closed.  While there was a pouring rainstorm, he parked his car at closed gas station under the overhang, hooked up his mic and laptop with a wireless connection, dialed in to the network’s studio, and cranked out the promo right then and there (he played a recording of his promo to us; the quality was unbelievable).  When the network asked him where he was, he truthfully replied, “I’m in my studio.”  After all, it was his car

I soon learned there were P2P audition warriors out there who traveled a bit and took their “studio” with them.  At that same conference I was fortunate to watch Dave Kaplan set up the proverbial “blanket tent” in his hotel room at a conference, and crank out amazing auditions with his laptop connected to a USB mic.  I’m sure the cleaning staff is mystified when the come in and see that setup. 

In addition, there was a product on display at the conference called VO2GO – a sturdy equipment case about 2 square feet, lined on the inside with acoustic foam, with a quality USB mic nested, along with connecting cables, a mic stand, and other needed connectors.  Once you connected the mic and laptop or iPad, you set the open case on its side like an open book, with the microphone “looking” into the corner of the case, providing a small echo-absorbing area in which to work.  Very portable and convenient.

Recently I saw a colleague ask on a VO forum if one could connect a microphone to a smartphone and do acceptable work.  While I wouldn’t have dreamed trying it myself, I replied that it was technically feasible in a pinch, provided there was no other option at the time.  I also opined that a well-known industry veteran stood a better chance of doing so, because they were a known quantity, and were more likely to produce the best results under the worst conditions.  After all, the industry impresses upon you the importance of using the best equipment to optimize results.

But no sooner had I said that when I came across a website with a story about none other than Joe Cipriano, and how he uses an Apogee USB mic paired with an iPhone loaded with Apple’s GarageBand software, and with good results.  While my (and our) prejudices may cause us to be horrified at the thought of doing so, a busy and successful pro like “Joe Cip” is in such demand that he might be called on to record on a moment’s notice at any time of the day, especially when it’s not convenient for him to be at his home studio or a company studio.  And Joe certainly knows how to maximize his environment to get the best results in such conditions.

The downside of having more flexible studio options is that clients have more flexibility to contact you and expect a product during all hours of the day – not just your “normal” workhours.  And each voice actor has to determine what they are willing to give up to get to that point.

For now, I’m happy with my home studio – after all, it’s my den.  My space.  A space I built with my own hands.  And that’s a good feeling.   I like my time away from the studio, but I certainly can see investing in some portable equipment to maintain an online presence when I’m away from home.  Of course, I’ll have to find where the happy medium is, between shutting down all business contact except daytime weekday hours, and bringing my work with me for every single day of the year, including romantic vacations to Hawaii.

How about you readers out there?  Do you have challenges, successes, or creative solutions to share regarding your recording space(s)?  I’d love to hear from you.  Feel free to click “Leave A Comment” at the top of the page, and let me know (please, no spam or solicitation messages, those will be deleted).

Until then, keep putting your best voice forward, and in the best space possible.  Take care.


New Year’s blessings

Whew!  I hope you all had a joyous holiday season, and a safe start to the New Year.

My wife and I are still recuperating from a short post-Christmas driving trip to Florida, primarily to watch our older son referee a huge soccer tournament in Orlando, at the DisneyWorld ESPN sports complex, and also to visit a high school friend and his wife. 

The hectic pace started on Christmas Day in the early evening, as we drove our son to Dayton to meet with a carpool of other referees heading to the Orlando tournament, and we followed suit the following evening as made the 15-hour drive, arriving just in time on the morning of December 27 to watch our son’s first two games.  We struggled to not look as frazzled as we felt, with little sleep, and wilting in the 83-degree heat and humidity – quite a change from Columbus OH weather – because we still had to drive to our condo in New Smyrna Beach on the Atlantic coast, another 90 minutes away.

With another trip back to Orlando to see our son in action, and two visits with my classmate and his wife who also live near Orlando, Kathy and I didn’t have much time to appreciate the view of the ocean from our condo, but we made the best of it.  We saved the best for last on the drive back home, stopping at Paula Deen’s restaurant in Savannah GA, enduring a 45-minute wait, and sitting down to a fantastic lunch of Southern cuisine and hospitality.  It meant we wouldn’t get home until 4:30 AM the next day, but it was worth it and a memorable experience.

We gave thanks that our son and his fellow officials arrived back safely in Dayton at 4 AM this morning.  We’re also thankful that our other son assumed the responsibility of caring for our dog and watching our house while we were gone.  Kathy and I are blessed to have these two boys as our sons.

For me, this was the first vacation I’ve taken since becoming a voice actor with a business.  It took a few minutes, but I finally figured out how to put my difference voiceover gig accounts on a temporary hold before we left, so that I wouldn’t get any urgent requests for jobs while I was away.  At some point I’ll make an investment in a laptop with a USB mic to take with me on the road, but I’ll use that option judiciously.   Until I’m at the point where I have regular business coming in, I’ll treat my vacation as a vacation, and then figure out where the happy medium is down the road.

My weather forecasting gig with RFN is going well.  I made arrangements for another gentleman to cover my stations for me last week, and when I resumed yesterday, I seemed to have gained some more confidence, speed, and a better sense of timing. 

So for now, I’m looking forward to success in 2017, and I wish the same for all of you.  How about you readers?  How is your year going so far, and what great things are you looking for in the next 12 months?  I’d love to hear from you.  Feel free to leave your reply by clicking “Leave A Comment” near the top of this post (please, no spam or advertisements, those will be deleted).

Until next time, take care, and keep your best voice forward.  Happy New Year!