12 May 2015

'Horses for courses' for radio voices

12:20 pm on 12 May 2015

Radio New Zealand receives emails sometimes critical of the sound or performance of an individual broadcaster.

These occasional messages will perhaps criticise a pronunciation used, but sometimes they express an opinion on the way a broadcaster sounds - his or her voice, or a particular manner of speaking.

Most readers will have their own preferences when it comes to broadcasters' styles and mannerisms. What might be helpful is for me to outline the policies and processes we follow in putting someone on air.

First it is important to establish that there are "horses for courses".

For example, the benchmark of on-air sound for a journalist, voicing a report in a piece of audio in Morning Report, or a news bulletin, is different from that required for a mainstream newsreader who presents the hourly bulletins.

Some may argue there should be no difference, but that fact is, if we were to apply the same threshold, we would never have enough reporters.

Times have changed and speech styles are different from that of 40 or 50 years ago. And the resources that once existed for training broadcasters in the way they might speak are simply not what they were.

Nevertheless, every on-air broadcaster at Radio New Zealand, except contributors and those being interviewed on air, has to go through an audition process.

Some pass with flying colours, others fail. If a candidate shows sufficient potential, but is considered not quite ready to be placed in front of the microphone, we will train them as much as we can.

All receive guidance on our pronunciation policies and on ways to present themselves to the listening public in a manner which provides you, the customer, as few listening distractions as possible.

We have to accept that there will be variations - some will always be "better" than others.

But to borrow and amend a phrase: "better" is often in the ears of the beholder.

*Hewitt Humphrey is Radio New Zealand's Presentation Standards Manager. If there are any words you would like him to address in future please send your query to rnzwebsite@radionz.co.nz and put in the subject field: Attention, Hewitt Humphrey.