“From out of the past come the thundering hoofbeats of the great horse Silver! The Lone Ranger rides again!”
That line was a constant companion in my early childhood memories. The beginning lines to the most classic of the Old Time Radio Programs. Along with The Shadow and The Bob Hope Show, I grew up listening to the voices and radio programs from long before Podcasting made it possible for anyone to make their voices heard.
Nestled into my blankets before bed, my mother would take a cassette tape, and later a CD, and start either old time radio show or an audio book for me to listen to. To this day there are some stories I’ll hear told by a narrator that take me back to childhood memories, as clearly as if I was living within them again.
Some people are born with a particular disposition to learning from one sense or another, for most of us the default is our sight. However, there are exceptions. For some it’s by touch or emotion that we form connections and memories to what is around us, even smells. For me personally, it’s always been sound.
This early exposure to the theatrics and strength of a cast of voices telling a story, followed by the strength and power of a good narrator to bring a story to life, set me up to literally loving the way a story is told.
Reading, my favorite occupation, is a delightful way to learn and enjoy. We, in that scenario, form the voices and settings. The story is set through our minds eye, and sometimes the “voice” can become indistinct in the process.
I’ve always respected the power of a good narrator to not only articulate each individual voice and character, but also the delivery they use to bring a world to life. The filler words many of us would scan over in a book may be spoken with a strength and vigor which give them meaning and worth.
As you read these words, who’s voice do you hear? Is it your own, or is it who you wish you could be?
Over the years, my family becomes vexed with me from time to time. If I’ve been listening to a British narrator reading a book written with old English, like Ivanhoe, they suffer not only my syntax changing to Old English, but a British lilt sneaking into my voice also.
It is because of this love for the spoken word that I started Podcasting. Besides the obvious efficiency of recording audio instead of video, the ability to speak, of making words and their delivery the focus enchants me. The power of the speech, to not only set a sentence in proper order, but to share it in a coherent way.
Famous orators such as Patrick Henry, knew the efficacy of delivery in their speeches. Watching the preachers of his boyhood, Henry learned how to work a crowd with his words, how to engage and speak in a way that he could be both understood and moving.
Of course there is a great difference between giving a speech in public than reading a book from pages or a screen into a microphone. Yet, I would argue that the essential elements remain the same.
- To convey meaning
- To keep the attention of the audience
- Give an idea or story a voice
If when you have finished speaking, finished reading, or even writing, and your work has not provided the information or point you were trying to convey, you wasted your effort.
There can be no confusing the idea or story, the delivery should be such that there’s no question who said what and why. The purpose, the information, should be clear and precise. No garbled words or phrases.
Even the worst dialogue can sometimes be rescued by the delivery of a competent actor, and likewise the reverse holds true. Some great scripts have been massacred by inadequate actors hired because of a low budget production.
Perhaps the most important element of a good narrator or Podcaster is their ability to keep the attention of the audience. The audio format is unique in allowing the listener to do something else while listening to the program or book, yet it puts more of a burden upon the voice to keep the listener engaged.
Before I started Podcasting, my old pastor warned me it’s harder to speak to an audience you can’t see. When he preached he could see where the attention was lagging in the crowd, he could speak louder and move in that direction, using rousing focus from the dozy parishioners. Speaking to the unseen doesn’t afford you the same kind of luxury.
Truly talented and skilled narrators or vocal artists are amazing at this facility. With their speech they can draw in the listener, maintaining a rhythm to their words that delights their audience.
The audiobook version of The Origins of Political Order by Francis Fukuyama, is narrated by none other than Jonathan Davis, who usually narrates Star Wars audiobooks. Though it may seem a departure for the vocal artist, his facility to engage the listener even with content that may be dry and boring otherwise is incredible.
Give It A Voice
Articulation is literally the ability to make the ethereal real. To put words to something that is unknown or undefined. The power of a narrator is to give voice to the soundless, to form and shape how we hear an idea or story.
Within my mind, I can’t read some books without hearing the excellent diction of a particular narrator in my head. David Timson, a vocal artist who brought to life my first exposure to the Sherlock Holmes stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, will always read those tales in my mind.
Through the delivery, emotion and meaning is brought to simple words on a page, or ideas in someone’s mind. We feel the sorrow or joy, the hurt or heroics, all through the facility of someone opening their mouth and speaking.
I could fanboy about the audio format for hours. If I was to continue I’d probably be repeating myself, so I’ll quit while I’m ahead.
Next time you hop on audible (not a sponsor) and listen to someone new, please take a moment to hear the tenor of the voice. Evaluate the emotion the narrator brings to the role he has. Consider the voice within your mind and savor the sound like a fine wine.
Do the same with a Podcast, is the host clear in communicating? Are their words distinguishable out of noise?
In ending this little tribute to the audio format, here’s a list of some of my favorite audiobook narrators. There may be a pattern, maybe not. This is the first time this list is committed to paper, and I would encourage you to listen to give the referenced material a listen if you have the chance.
(In no particular order)
- Bill Homewood — The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas
- David Timson — The Hound of The Baskervilles by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
- Robertson Dean — The House of Morgan: An American Banking Dynasty and the Rise of Modern Finance by Ron Chernow
- Marc Thompson — Star Wars: Heir to The Empire by Timothy Zahn
- Jonathan Davis — The Origins of Political Order by Francis Fukuyama
- Cherry Jones — Little House In the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder
- Mark Deakins — The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt by Edmund Morris
- Jonathan Keeble — Lorna Doone by R. D. Blackmore
- John Lee — The Burning Land by Bernard Cornwell
- Rosamond Pike — Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austin
Who’s your favorite narrator?