Training Broadcast Announcers 

13 February 2018

When KDKA was first started and popular phonograph records comprised the musical entertainment, the announcers had little difficulty in properly pronouncing the singers’ and composers’ names. However, it was not long before the Westinghouse company decided to make the greater part of the radio program classical rather than popular, and the difficulties of the announcers really started from this decision.

The first announcers at KDKA were chosen for their voice modulation and the fact that their tones, when heard on the radio receiver, were pleasing and well rounded. The fact that they might not have great success at pronouncing the names of the composers and the additional fact that the French, Italian and German music might be announced in a manner which made it ludicrous, was not taken into account. However, the radio division was not kept in doubt very long as to the manner in which the announcers were fumbling the pronunciation of the foreign names.

For instance, one evening when there was a long list of French names confronting the announcer who boldly called them off one after another in his best Anglo-Saxon intonation and accent, he was interrupted by the strident voice of his manager.

“How do you pronounce ‘Berceuse,’ by Godard?”

The answer was short and to the point. It sounded something like “‘Ber-koos,’ by Goddard.” The manager’s next remarks were lost when they were choked off half-way down his throat, and he promised the announcer that in the morning he would receive some further instruction on pronunciation, adding some extra words that had very little to do with pronunciation.

However, the radio audience had started to object strenuously to the Anglo-Saxon pronunciation of the French and Italian words long before morning. The telephone kept ringing constantly. Many linguists all over the country were anxious to impress the announcers with the fact that their pronunciation was all wrong.

The next afternoon the colleges were heard from. Almost all the colleges in the East sent in protests against the improper pronunciation of these well-known words. The music lovers were even worse. Some of the more temperamental actually shed tears at the manner in which the names of the beloved masters were Anglicized.

So, in the morning, even before the protests began to arrive in great numbers, the announcers went into strict training. They were required to pronounce all the names of the pieces on the program for that evening and rehearse them several times in order to memorize them. This was the beginning of the Westinghouse system of training.

Rehearsing Program to Literary Critic

As the program has increased many-fold over the schedules of those early days, the announcers have found it much more difficult to guard against errors creeping into their enunciation. Therefore, before the announcer goes on duty he must rehearse his program in detail before the literary critic of the department of publicity. Every word uttered by the announcer during the entire program is first criticised and corrected, if in error, by the critic. The manner of delivery, the intonation, the pitch of the voice, and all the little details of announcing must first pass the critical ears of the man who sees that no errors are broadcast.

This does not mean that only those announcers whose experience is limited are required to rehearse their programs, but even the ones who have been on duty the longest, almost two years, are required to go through their daily paces just the same. They must have every word correct. If there is the slightest doubt about the pronunciation of a word, it is looked up in the encyclopedia and this authority used. If it is necessary to look up a foreign word whose accent is difficult to the American tongue, one of the linguists employed by the Westinghouse company is also called into consultation.

Even with all this care, an occasional error does crop out in the program, and with an audience of almost a quarter of a million there is bound to be some protests and criticisms. Perhaps the announcer is quite familiar with the proper pronunciation of the word, but a slip of the tongue in an unguarded moment, and he is in for it. Not only his immediate friends in the office in which he works, but also those who know him only remotely, take great delight in phoning him the first opportunity and telling him of his error. Then the returns from outlying districts make mention of it until the announcer feels that everyone in America must know of his error. This outside check, or the criticism of the radio public is the thing which the announcer feels most keenly, even more so than the correction of his manager. He is ever trying his best to improve his diction and to guard against the transmitting of any errors in speech.

So, between his daily training before the literary critic, and the criticism of the radio audience, which is always sincere, the announcer is kept on the qui vive to improve himself. It is, therefore, only rarely that a serious mistake is heard in Westinghouse broadcasting, and when this occurs the audience can rest assured that “coals of fire” will be heaped on the offender’s head, and that it will have been his first and last offense. Public opinion will see to it that he does not repeat.

You Say

1 response to this article

Joanne Gray 16 February 2018 at 3:38 pm

As a French and Italian speaker, I must admit that I do get more than a wee bit miffed when I hear words from these languages incorrectly pronounced. I often find myself shouting at the telly or the radio; I’m sure my cats think I’m mad.

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