From February 1986 to February 1996, I had the remarkable privilege of hosting a national contemporary Christian music radio program called Christian Countdown USA for most of those years, and The CCM Countdown with Bob Souer at the end.
The founder and owner of the program for the first several years was Chuck Wagner. Chuck, who worked for Moody in Chicago for 20 years, was the guy who taught me the value of good direction.
You see, at the time he hired me as his new host for Christian Countdown USA, I had been doing voice over work in the Chicago market for about 3 years. All of it at suburban production houses. But, I thought I knew quite a bit about how to use my voice in a profession manner.
Of course, the truth was, I didn’t know jack. But, I guess Chuck must have heard some promise in my audition, because he picked me out of the pool of about 5 candidates who applied. And we started working together. For a few weeks we recorded at Domain. Then, after it became obvious we couldn’t afford to keep working there, we scrounged studio time when and when we could, relying on the kindness of strangers and fellow broadcasters. Not a recomended way to meet a weekly production deadline!
Eventually, Chuck bought a home in Wheaton, not too far from where I lived at the time in Warrenville. We pooled our equipment. I bought a couple of new pieces of gear, including a custom “plate reverb” unit, a multi-track (4-track) Tascam reel-to-reel recorder and so forth. Eventually we were able to combine all of these random pieces into a pretty fair home production studio. Most of the equipment was mine, but I had no room in my little townhouse for a studio; so we set it up in Chuck’s house.
During the preceding several months, Chuck had been listening, guiding and directing; but because of all of the uncertainty of where and when we would record, and so forth, he was always at least a bit distracted. Now two things converged. First, we had the studio built, so we had a consistent place to work. And, second, Chuck had learned pretty well what my strengths and weaknesses were.
So it was in Chuck’s house in Wheaton where my education really began, into how valuable a good director really is. Chuck understood that the best direction never tells “how to say the line.” But, always, what are we trying to accomplish with this line. Now, there are times (especially when working under tight deadlines) when a line reading is the most effecient way to get something done. But, most of the really satisfying and excellent work stems from the synergy of the director’s guidance and the voice-over artist’s talent for reading and acting.
An authentic performace can’t be faked. (Once you learn to fake sincerity, everything else is easy!) It must come from the honest emotions and thoughts of the performer. Line readings, no matter how well given, are inherently fake; because they can’t come from the guts of the person actually doing the read. And, as is probably more and more obvious to anyone paying attention to the winds blowing through our culture, authenticity is critically important.