It was a pity party. There’s really no other term for it. I was working at a radio station in the west suburbs of Chicago and I was feeling sorry for myself, big-time. You see, the boss had taken the entire staff of the station out to lunch. But, because I was “on the air,” I had to stay behind. And when I say the entire staff, I mean the entire staff, even the receptionist. So along with being on the air live, and watching the transmitter, I had to answer the phone. I was feeling mighty sorry for myself. Yes, indeed.
But, then things took a turn. (Interesting, isn’t it, how the tiniest thing can have a life-changing effect?) Because while I was sitting there in the studio, indulging in my little pity party, the phone rang. Just another little phone call, out of several I had to answer that day, but one that would make all the difference.
The man said, “My name is Mark. My brother Mike and I have a small video production company we’ve just started. We listen to your station sometimes and we’re wondering if anyone there might be interested in auditioning for a voice-over job.” My reply was a sterling example of my quick wit and incisive grasp of the obvious: “What about me?” That’s right. “What about me?” As I think back on it, I’m surprised Mark didn’t just hang up in disgust. But he didn’t.
Instead, he asked if I had a demo. I didn’t, but I didn’t want to say so. Instead, I asked if he could stop by the station around 3 that afternoon to pick it up. He said, “Sure.” Thanked me and we hung up.
A few minutes later, the station manger and the staff returned from lunch. I immediately button-holed my buddy Todd, who was the station’s Production Manager (and who remains one of my very best friends to this day) in something just less than a full-blown panic. “Todd, you gotta help me get a voice-over demo together! There’s a guy coming at 3, who needs it. He called while you guys were all out at lunch. And I think this might be good!”
Now, let me fill in the back-ground a little bit. At the time, 1981, I had been working in radio for a grand total of 19 months; the first 4 of which were part time. Prior to that, the sum total of my professional voice work was a single session recorded 7 years prior. (That story is detailed here.) In other words, I knew essentially nothing. But, Mark had said they were a new company, so I thought that maybe the would be willing to give me a break.
Todd and I went into the production studio (in between my breaks on the air) and listened through some of the commercials I had recorded at the station. Todd picked out a few that he thought I had done well. We dubbed them back-to-back on a cassette tape we pulled from the discard pile. To it we affixed a highly professional typewritten file folder label, proudly proclaiming this tape was “Bob Souer’s Voice-over Demo.”
At 3 PM, the receptionist alerted me that there was man here to see me. As soon as I was done with the news break, I dashed up the stairs (the station’s studio were in the basement) and handed Mark my tape. He thanked me. Said it would probably be quite a while before I heard back from him, but that he would call me back.
Fast forward 9 months. I’m now working for a different radio station, an actual licensed-to-Chicago, union station, called AM820, WAIT. (Long since off the air.) I’ve been working there just a couple of months, when our Operations Manager, Ken, calls me to come to the phone. I have a call.
On the other end of the line, the guy says, “Hi, Bob. I don’t know if you’ll remember me, but my name is Mark and about 9 months ago you gave me a demo tape for a job.” Of course, I remembered him. Mark then told me that they had won the contact for this government job and that they had decided to go with me as the voice talent.
The client was the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory. The project was called Video News and it was (and still is) an in-house video newsletter, that is updated from time to time. Not as often in recent years, but it continues. The first sessions were in late 1982 or early 1983, I can’t remember anymore. And all these years later, I’m still working with Fred and Jim and their team in Visual Media Services at Fermilab.
And that was the start of my real voice-over career.